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