The New Jim Crow Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Pdf Download

“Jarvious Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole.”

As the United States celebrates the nation’s “triumph over race” with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status–much like their grandparents before them.

In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community–and all of us–to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.

About The New Jim Crow Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Pdf Download

In February of 2016, a powerful article appeared in The Nation: “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote.” The name of its author—Michelle Alexander—struck me as familiar. Then I realized she was the Ohio State law professor who had caused some stir five years ago with her book The New Jim Crow, a book which demonstrated how our criminal justice system was in effect little more than a system of racial oppression. It was then I decide I had put off reading The New Jim Crow long enough.

Alexander has the credentials and the experience to know whereof she speaks. After graduating from Stanford Law and clerking for Justice Blackmun, she went to work for the California ACLU, specializing in criminal justice reform. It was there she began to realize that the American criminal justice system was not designed to reform criminals, or to control them, or even merely to punish them; instead, like the Jim Crow laws in the old South, its result was a virtual caste system, a method of social control that excludes black people in general—and poor black males in particular—from full participation in American society. Its most noticeable effect is mass incarceration: today, the United States locks up more people per capita than any other country in the world, and the number of black people in prison is three times greater than their percentage of the general population.

But The New Jim Crow demonstrates that it is not merely the large number of people in prison, but the severe curtailment of their rights after they leave prison that generates much of the system’s hopelessness. Felons are excluded from public housing, welfare, employment opportunities, and even in many states the right to vote. These felons—a significant percentage of the urban black population—become an underclass unable to rise, an underclass filled with pariahs who are excluded from America’s freedoms.

Although many people see the rise of mass incarceration as a response to the crack “epidemic” of the 80’s, Alexander argues persuasively that it was instead a retaliation against the civil rights gains of the 60’s and 70’s. “Law and Order” had for years been a code phrase for racial control, exploited by Nixon and others, but it was Reagan’s “War on Drugs”—unleashed two years before cocaine was any kind of a problem—that put the system in operation. But it was not until the ’90’s when Bill Clinton signed the the 1994 crime bill (which Bernie Sanders voted for), and subsequently ended “welfare as we know it,” that the system achieved the merciless efficiency that it maintains to the present day.

This is an important book, and one that progressives like myself—who have put the Bernie shirts away and now display a Hillary sign on the lawn (or at least displayed one until some joker in the neighborhood stole it)—should read carefully and take to heart. It outlines the formidable task–whoever may be president–that we have ahead of us in the years to come. 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander will pick up your everyday white liberal guilt, tie it in knots, and leave you wondering how you could have ever been so simple-minded as to think colorblindness was benign, let alone desirable. While the “War on Drugs,” hopped up on federal funds and confiscated property, is systematically exploiting African American neighborhoods to supply the ever-growing prison industry with human beings to incarcerate, the mass imprisonment of young black men is inevitable. Felony convictions of African Americans for simple possession of the kinds of drugs that white youth are routinely expected to “experiment with” are easily obtained, but incarceration is just the beginning. Once branded a felon in America today, one has no future–no job, no loan for tuition, no food stamps to help feed the children, no vote, no jury service. In some states, no amount of restitution can change a felon back into a citizen. Alexander’s scholarly study is more than convincing and, as she admits, its lesson is more than challenging. While the best and brightest of African American leaders merely provide evidence for those who insist that racism is not the problem, the future remains grim.

About The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Author

Michelle Alexander is an associate professor of law at The Ohio State University, a civil rights advocate and a writer.

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