Do you ever wonder if many of us have been brainwashed into believing that impoverished Blacks, men in particular, are solely to blame for much of the problems we face as a community? Civil rights lawyer and scholar Michelle Alexander’s tireless research indicated just that, as well as a heartbreaking ton of additional facts that are outlined in her latest book, The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

In the midst of a thriving law career, Ms. Alexander described an awakening of sorts. Rather than remaining an agent of ‘the game,’ she followed her instinct which led her to detect a larger, more sinister modus operandi of the criminal justice system that looked a lot like Jim Crow for the new millennium. According to Alexander’s findings, many of the tenets of the Jim Crow regime of the not-so-distant past are now accepted as fully legal  - “felon disenfranchisement laws” as she coins it.

Last year we looked at the staggering statistic revealing that more African American adults are under correctional control (in prison, jail, probation or parole) today  than were enslaved in the 1850 – a decade before the Civil War began. Additionally, in 2004 more black men were disenfranchised than in the year 1870. Alexander explains with sobering clarity, that when it comes to the war on drugs & the mass incarceration of black men, the criminal “justice” system is creating an under caste – not to be mistaken with under class. A caste, as she illustrates, is defined as a group of people defined largely by race that are relegated to permanent second class status by law.

During a speech at Riverside Church in New York City, the civil rights activist exposed what she called the biggest myth about mass incarceration: It is not driven by crime rates. In her words, Our prison population quintupled in 30 yrs, from 350,000 to well over 2 mil for reasons that have little to do with crime or crime rates. Crime rates have fluctuated over the years while the prison population (especially African American) continues to soar… Crime and prison population rates move independently of each other.”

As a matter of fact, Alexander claimed emphatically that there are more people in prison today, just for drug convictions, than were incarcerated for all reasons in 1980. Drug convictions have increased by more than 1000% since the war on drugs began. Incidentally, this battle has been disproportionately fought in poor communities of color – although it’s a proven fact that black and brown folks are no more likely to use or sell drugs than any other group.

Apparently there are many benefits arresting youth of color. For one, as Alexander explained, “federal funds flow to those state & local law enforcement agencies that boost dramatically the sheer number of people swept into the system.” The emphasis is does not lie with bringing to justice king pins or violent offenders (quantity not quality). The ‘war on drugs’ won public support in large part due to a massive propaganda effort kicked off by the Regan Administration which developed a ‘task force’ to publicize/demonize early victims of the crack era such as “inner city” crack babies, crack dealers, crack whores & crack related violence “in the hopes of making crack a media sensation.” This act, Ms. Alexander said, provided the rationale for these agencies to receive millions of taxpayer funds to carry out the fight.

As her findings indicate a collage of misery, an interesting fact is uncovered that paints black men of this caste in a positive light:

Although a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery she cited a study studies that have found that black fathers that have lived outside of the home (including formerly incarcerated dads), are more likely to be a part of their children’s lives more than any other group.

It’s not a new revelation. In fact, her claim (& that of Michael Eric Dyson) that contradicts the enduring stereotype of the absentee black father was published in the HuffPo 2 years ago – and expanded on in more than one of her enlightening lectures.

Bearing witness to endless debates on who’s to blame for the deterioration of the community, doesn’t it always seem to come down to black men (despite a national law enforcement presence which demonstrates a low regard for folks of color)? Can the work of scholars like Michelle Alexander have a positive effect how we perceive the most troubled in our community, or can we expect more of the same?

Dig Ms. Alexander at Harlem’s Riverside Church…

And on Democracy Now

  • Tonton Michel

    Great research by Alexander and the author of this article for pointing this out. I am afraid that this will fall on deaf ears in a country that is now making money on the incarceration of POC. I hope the book includes solutions and a plan of attack against the justice system.

  • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin’)

    Cut black men some slack??? How about cutting black men off completely!?!

    Stop coddling black men and HOLD them responsible for THEIR ACTIONS.

    It ain’t the white man. It ain’t the system. It IS them.

    I read this book some time ago and it was one of the most ridiculous books I’ve ever read.

    This author actually advocates for CRIMINALS as opposed to doing what the black community should have done a long time ago: abandon them in the criminal justice system.

    Black women like her make me sick.

    Then she goes on to say that these individuals should be able to get foodstamps and other benefits provided by TAXPAYERS.

    Let me get this straight: You break the law, become a convicted felon, ignore society’s social contract yet the taxpayers should pay for your groceries??? I think not.

    “Bearing witness to endless debates on who’s to blame for the deterioration of the community, doesn’t it always seem to come down to black men (despite a national law enforcement presence which demonstrates a low regard for folks of color)? “

    And doesn’t it always seem to be the truth!

    No doubt…the hoodrat population has played a part in this mess too, but let’s be real here…as someone who works in the criminal justice system…and someone who KNOWS most of the young men in the criminal justice system aren’t coming from a fatherless background (yes, it is true…at least here in Georgia…stop spreading the myth…as this article points out)…I can safely say black men’s poor leadership as men is what got the black community in this hole.

    These “men” aren’t out here trying to get drug dealers out of their community. Instead they BEFRIEND THEM! Protect them! If not for law enforcement, the law, the white man, whatever, black urban communities across this country would STILL be riddled by gang warfare, crack houses and crack cocaine.

    I’m here to tell you delusion people that the “war on drugs” was REAL and it was not a “war” on innocent people! It was a war on the filth taking up space in poor black communities. We should be HAPPY to get rid of these CRIMINALS.

    I mean what does it say when black boys WITH fathers are ending up in jail/prison? That is what I saw when I was working in corrections. And most of them weren’t in there for “small” non-violent crimes either.

    I blame black men for their destruction. Forgetting cutting them some slack…I say cut them off.

  • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin’)

    Last year we looked at the staggering statistic revealing that more African American adults are under correctional control (in prison, jail, probation or parole) today than were enslaved in the 1850 – a decade before the Civil War began.

    I just wonder…when people write/repeat the above statement do they ever think about the reality that there are MORE African American adults living in this country now than there were in 1850???

    With that said it makes perfectly good sense why there are more African Americans NOW under correctional control than there were enslaved in 1850.

    If I’m not mistaken, post civil war, there were only a little over 4 million black people in this country. It was probably a little less than that in 1850. Compare that to today with a population said to be a little over 40 million.

  • Wow!

    Thank you Clutch for posting this. I will be picking up this book during my lunch break to day. Of course despite this ladies credentials someone nincompoop with motive other than healing and improvement of black people will try to debate the reality that is painted here. Great work expanding the discussion.

  • JoJo

    @ Toppin

    Well said!

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