The New Jim Crow
|Subject||Criminal Justice, race discrimination, race relations|
|Publisher||The New Press|
|LC Class||HV9950 .A437|
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is a book by Michelle Alexander, a civil rights litigator and legal scholar. Called the "secular bible for a new social movement" by Cornel West, the book discusses race-related issues specific to African-American males and mass incarceration in the United States — though Alexander notes that the discrimination faced by African-American males is also prevalent among other minorities and socio-economically disadvantaged populations. Alexander's central premise, from which the book derives its title, is that "mass incarceration is, metaphorically, the New Jim Crow."
Though the conventional point of view holds that discrimination has mostly ended with the civil rights movement reforms of the 1960s, Alexander claims the U.S. criminal justice system uses the War on Drugs as a primary tool for enforcing traditional, as well as new, modes of discrimination and repression. These new modes of racism have led to not only the highest rate of incarceration in the world, but also an even greater imprisonment of African American men. Were present trends to continue, Alexander writes, the United States will imprison one-third of its African American population. When combined with the fact that whites are more likely to commit drug crimes than people of color, the issue becomes clear for Alexander: "The primary targets of [the penal system's] control can be defined largely by race."
This, ultimately, leads Alexander to believe that mass incarceration is "a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow." The culmination of this social control is what Alexander calls a "racial caste system," a type of stratification wherein African-Americans are kept in an inferior position. Its emergence, she believes, is a direct response to The Civil Rights Movement. It is because of this that Alexander argues for issues with mass incarceration to be addressed as issues of racial justice and civil rights. To approach these matters as anything but would be to fortify this new racial caste. Thus, Alexander aims to mobilize the civil rights community to move the incarceration issue to the forefront of its agenda and to provide factual information, data, arguments and a point of reference for those interested in pursuing the issue. Her broader goal is the revamping of the prevailing mentality regarding human rights, equality and equal opportunities in America, to prevent future cyclical recurrence of what she sees as "racial control under changing disguise."
- 1 Overview
- 2 Summary of chapters
- 2.1 Chapter 1: The Rebirth of Caste
- 2.2 Chapter 2: The Lockdown
- 2.3 Chapter 3: The Color of Justice
- 2.3.1 Picking and Choosing - The Role of Discretion -
- 2.3.2 The Occupation - Policing the Enemy
- 2.3.3 Closing the Courthouse Doors - McCleskey v. Kemp -
- 2.3.4 Cracked Up—Discriminatory Sentencing in the War on Drugs
- 2.3.5 Charging Ahead—Armstrong v. United States
- 2.3.6 In Defense of the All-White Jury—Purkett v. Elm
- 2.3.7 Unconventional Wisdom
- 2.3.8 Hollow Hope
- 2.3.9 Race as a Factor
- 2.3.10 The End of an Era
- 2.4 Chapter 4: The Cruel Hand
- 2.4.1 The Cruel Hand
- 2.4.2 Brave New World
- 2.4.3 No Place Like Home
- 2.4.4 Boxed In
- 2.4.5 The Black Box
- 2.4.6 Debtors Prison
- 2.4.7 Let them Eat Cake
- 2.4.8 The Silent Minority
- 2.4.9 The Pariahs
- 2.4.10 Eerie Silence
- 2.4.11 Passing (Redux)
- 2.4.12 Gangsta Love
- 2.4.13 The Minstrel Show
- 2.4.14 The Antidote
- 2.5 Chapter 5: The New Jim Crow
- 2.6 Chapter 6: The Fire This Time
- 3 Praise and awards
- 4 Influences on society
- 5 Criticism
- 6 Court cases included
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
According to the author, what has been altered since the collapse of Jim Crow is not so much the basic structure of US society, as the language used to justify its affairs. She argues that when people of color are disproportionately labeled as "criminals," this allows the unleashing of a whole range of legal discrimination measures in employment, housing, education, public benefits, voting rights, jury duty, and so on.
Alexander explains that it took her years to become fully aware and convinced of the phenomena she describes, despite her professional civil rights background. She expects similar reluctance and disbelief on the part of many of her readers. She believes that the problems besetting African American communities are not merely a passive, collateral side effect of poverty, limited educational opportunity or other factors, but a consequence of purposeful government policies. Alexander has concluded that mass incarceration policies, which were swiftly developed and implemented, are a "comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow."
Alexander contends that in 1982 the Reagan administration began an escalation of the War on Drugs, purportedly as a response to a crack cocaine crisis in black ghettos. However this escalation was announced well before crack cocaine arrived in most inner city neighborhoods. During the mid-1980s, as the use of crack cocaine increased to epidemic levels in these neighborhoods, federal drug authorities publicized the problem, using scare tactics to generate support for their already-declared escalation. The government's successful media campaign made possible an unprecedented expansion of law enforcement activities in America's inner city neighborhoods, and this aggressive approach fueled widespread belief in conspiracy theories that posited government plans to destroy the black population.
In fact, in 1998 the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) acknowledged that during the 1980s the Contra faction covertly supported by the US in Nicaragua had been involved in smuggling cocaine into the US and distributing it in US cities. Drug Enforcement Administration efforts to expose these illegal activities were blocked by Reagan officials, which contributed to an explosion of crack cocaine consumption in US inner city neighborhoods. More aggressive enforcement of federal drug laws resulted in a dramatic increase in street level arrests for possession. Disparate sentencing policies (the crack cocaine v. powdered cocaine penalty disparity was 100-1 by weight and remains 18-1 even after recent reform efforts) meant that a disproportionate number of inner city residents were charged with felonies and sentenced to long prison terms, because they tended to purchase the more affordable crack version of cocaine, rather than the powdered version commonly consumed in the suburbs.
Alexander argues that the War on Drugs has had a devastating impact on inner city African American communities, on a scale entirely out of proportion to the actual dimensions of criminal activity taking place within these communities. During the past three decades, the US prison population has exploded from 300,000 to more than two million, with the majority of the increase due to drug convictions. This has led to the US having the world's highest incarceration rate. The US incarceration rate is eight times that of Germany, a comparatively developed large democracy. Alexander claims that the US is unparalleled in the world in focusing enforcement of federal drug laws on racial and ethnic minorities. In the capital city of Washington, D.C. three out of four young African American males are expected to serve time in prison. While studies show that quantitatively Americans of different races consume illegal drugs at similar rates,[verification needed] in some states black men have been sent to prison on drug charges at rates twenty to fifty times those of white men. The proportion of African American men with some sort of criminal record approaches 80% in some major US cities, and they become marginalized, part of what Alexander calls "a growing and permanent undercaste."
Alexander maintains that this undercaste is hidden from view, invisible within a maze of rationalizations, with mass incarceration its most serious manifestation. Alexander borrows from the term "racial caste," as it is commonly used in scientific literature, to create "undercast," denoting a "stigmatized racial group locked into inferior position by law and custom." By mass incarceration she refers to the entire web of laws, rules, policies and customs that make up the criminal justice system and which serve as a gateway to permanent marginalization in the undercast. Once released from prison, new members of this undercast face a "hidden underworld of legalized discrimination and permanent social exclusion."
According to Alexander, crime and punishment are poorly correlated, and the present US criminal justice system has effectively become a system of social control unparalleled in world history, with its targets largely defined by race. The rate of incarceration in the US has soared, while its crime rates have generally remained similar to those of other Western countries, where incarceration rates have remained stable. The current rate of incarceration in the US is six to ten times greater than in other industrialized nations, and Alexander maintains that this disparity is not related to the actual rates of crime or their increase, but can be traced mostly to the artificially invoked War on Drugs and its associated discriminatory policies. In 1973 the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals of the Justice Department found overwhelming evidence that juvenile detention centers, jails and prisons increase crime rather than reduce it. They recommended the elimination of existing juvenile detention centers and no further construction of adult facilities. During the next few decades, actual developments went in the opposite direction. The US embarked on an unprecedented expansion of its juvenile detention and prison systems.
Alexander notes that the civil rights community has been reluctant to get involved in this issue, concentrating primarily on protecting affirmative action gains, which mainly benefit an elite group of high-achieving African Americans. At the other end of the social spectrum are the young black men who are under active control of the criminal justice system (currently in prison, or on parole or probation) - approximately one-third of the young black men in the US. Criminal justice was not listed as a top priority of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in 2007 and 2008, or of the Congressional Black Caucus in 2009. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have been involved in legal action, and grassroots campaigns have been organized, however Alexander feels that generally there is a lack of appreciation of the enormity of the crisis. According to her, mass incarceration is "the most damaging manifestation of the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement," and those who feel that the election of Barack Obama represents the ultimate "triumph over race," and that race no longer matters, are dangerously misguided.
Alexander writes that Americans are ashamed of their racial history, and therefore avoid talking about race, or even class, so the terms used in her book will seem strangely unfamiliar to many. Americans want to believe that everybody is capable of upward mobility, given enough effort on his or her part; this assumption forms a part of the national collective self-image. Alexander points out that a large percentage of African Americans are blocked by the discriminatory practices of an ostensibly colorblind criminal justice system, which end up creating an undercaste where upward mobility is severely constrained.
Alexander believes that the existence of the New Jim Crow system is not disproved by the election of Barack Obama and other examples of exceptional achievement among African Americans, but on the contrary the New Jim Crow system depends on such exceptionalism. She contends that the system does not require overt racial hostility or bigotry on the part of another racial group or groups. Indifference is sufficient to support the system. Alexander argues that the system reflects an underlying racial ideology and will not be significantly disturbed by half-measures such as laws mandating shorter prison sentences. Like its predecessors, the new system of racial control has been largely immune from legal challenge. She writes that a human tragedy is unfolding under our watch, and The New Jim Crow is intended to stimulate a much-needed national discussion "about the role of the criminal justice system in creating and perpetuating racial hierarchy in the United States."
Summary of chapters
The New Jim Crow is divided into the Introduction, which provides an overview of the book's themes, and six chapters.
Chapter 1: The Rebirth of Caste
Chapter 1: The Rebirth of Caste reviews the history of racial social control in the United States. Alexander describes the changing forms and reemerging patterns of the "racial caste" system. She contends that proponents of "racial hierarchy" have been able to ensure its reemergence after successful collapses following the end of slavery and the dismantling of the original Jim Crow. Alexander believes this is accomplished, to a large extent, by appealing to the prejudices and insecurities of lower-class whites.
The Birth of Slavery
According to Michelle Alexander, there is still systematic discrimination of African Americans in United States. After colonization, plantations in the U.S. grew, and the need for free labor increased. Plantation owners were afraid to use Native Americans because they were afraid that there would be raids and a rebellion from the American Indians that would cause major losses and damages. One white property owner, Nathaniel Bacon, was upset about the way that the poor were treated and he united the slaves, indentured servants and poor whites in an attempt to overthrow the elite. After the Bacon rebellion plantation owners decided to ship in slaves from Africa instead of slaves or indentured servants from Europe because they thought that the African slaves would be less likely to form an alliance with the poor whites and the white indentured servants, which made them the safest slaves because they were less likely to rebel or cause any issues. According to Alexander the distinction in races is a "relatively recent development.". Once Europeans began to colonize other countries race became an issue because the white Europeans were coming in feeling superior to the indigenous race and taking over their land. Native Americans were turned into "savages" instead of people through negative media (books, newspapers, magazines). This was so effective because it made them less than human and made it acceptable to treat them as lesser. Keith Kilty and Eric Swank, two sociologists, observed that "eliminating 'savages' is less of a moral problem than eliminating human beings." Slavery could not have existed without turning the non-white races into less than human. Native Americans and African Americans were both held down as a group because they were seen as "uncivilized...lacking in intelligence." African Americans were seen as even more savage and unintelligent than Native Americans and that is what justified their enslavement.
The American Constitution was created to keep the social caste system intact and to maintain non-whites as less than people. The plantation owners and writers of the Constitution wanted to make sure that their property and livelihoods were protected which meant that they needed to keep themselves superior. In the Constitution, only 3/5 of the black population was counted when determining a state's total population for legislative representation and taxing purposes. American democracy was created around making sure that slaves were dehumanized.
The Death of Slavery
Alexander's main point is stated that "racial segregation would soon evolve into a new caste system" which in return verifies her claim that the backlash of slavery survived into a more "civilized" way of treating African Americans. Alexander goes in depth on her view of how Slavery was ended after the Civil War. Although this is true, slavery has left a remarkable impact into American society. It had given the idea that the White male was supreme over all others. Slavery flourished for more than four centuries, and that in turn gave birth to race supremacy. Slavery in its actions ended, but its ideas and overall impressions on other races lived on throughout the centuries. Alexander states that most white people believed that African Americans were lacking in their actions. They did not have the motivation to work, giving the Southern legislatures a reason to create black codes. This is was the foreshadowing of the New Jim Crow laws. Many whites were afraid of an uprising by the blacks, and many saw them as aggressive and were afraid to see them rise up and attack. According to Alexander, "some of these codes were intended to establish systems of peonage resembling slavery" meaning that they were still holding blacks on a certain level of freedom. She also states "prisoners became younger and blacker, and the length of their sentences soared." This was the first example of mass incarceration in the past, and still exists today. Slavery was not completely wiped out from society and instead transformed into the new caste system. The new racial caste system has taken a hold of what African Americans are viewed by the media today. The media is a big part of society today, and is playing a big role on current civil rights movements.
The Birth of Jim Crow
Many arguments are addressed as an attempt to widen the understanding of the new caste system which was being created after the Reconstruction Era. Alexander provides historical background to deepen the understanding of where and why the caste system formed. After African Americans were given legal rights, many white supremacists fought back for restoration. As stated by Alexander, "Once again, vagrancy laws and other laws defining activities such as 'mischief' and 'insulting gestures' as crimes were enforced vigorously against blacks." Laws were being passed in attempt to cement African Americans in a situation where rights could be stripped from them completely. According to Alexander, after these laws were deemed a success, the radical philosophy was presented and gained the attention of many African Americans as it promised protection and was eventually successful, "The Populists made strides toward racial integration, a symbol of their commitment to class-based unity." African Americans looked to the philosophy as it had potential to aid them in their quest for equality. Although the philosophy was successful, the push made many whites to rightfully discriminate seeped through and African Americans were placed in the position that they were formally in yet again. As specified by Alexander, new laws were formed that went against blacks in the South: "Every state in the South had new laws on the books that disenfranchised blacks and discriminated against them in virtually every sphere of life." African Americans remained in the lower class as put there by those who were against their right to freedom. Not only was discrimination and segregation recognized by many, it was considered a must as it became very common. Alexander states how the law was completely against African Americans and their freedom, "Politicians competed with each other by proposing and passing ever more stringent, oppressive, and downright ridiculous legislation (such as laws specifically prohibiting blacks and whites from playing chess together)." The new racial caste system became not only a law, but what seemed to be an everyday ritual that African American individuals had to go through just to get through the day. Alexander explains how the new caste system was a complete fallback to what the Reconstruction Era had fought for.
The Death of Jim Crow
Whites living in the South were not satisfied after the Jim Crow Laws were lifted because it gave African Americans freedom. Whites thoroughly believed that the Jim Crow Laws would have to be revised and modified, and if not, then overthrown. African Americans were finally moving forward past the Jim Crow Laws, racial segregation, and discrimination, but of course, there was still great amounts of resentment and hate towards them. Alexander mentions certain events like the Brown v. Board of Education debate, and how Brown was bringing an end to racial segregation in schools across the South. This brought upon anger and denial upon Southern Whites, as they were fighting for the Jim Crow Laws to come back into full effect. Despite the fact Brown had made his point very clear and concise, new Jim Crow Laws were being added on to the list. Of course, this brought upon plenty of violence. The Ku Klux Klan is a prime example of what African Americans in the South had to fear for most, as they would harass, castrate, and burn innocent African Americans because of the death of Jim Crow. Alexander mentions, "...Negroes stood only for a 'brief moment in the sun,'" whereas, they only saw the greater good and an evolvement upon the South for a short moment as the wrath and resentment grew in Southern Whites."
Chapter 2: The Lockdown
Chapter 2: The Lockdown describes the structure of mass incarceration, focusing on the War on Drugs. Alexander discusses the expanded powers and incentives of the police and the fate of those who become ensnared by the system. She points out that those arrested seldom receive meaningful legal representation and are pressured into plea bargain deals that involve extended control by the penal system, from which they have a slim chance of freeing themselves.
Alexander outlines how over time, rules and laws have been modified to fit certain situations especially in regards to person of color. She discusses how laws can be twisted around to fit the circumstances in hand. A while back, the police was not permitted to search citizens without a warrant and a factual cause. Whereas, now it has become very common for individuals, especially people of color, to be searched without warrants. The police labels these "safety searches" to benefit citizens. Citizens are not checked for legitimate reasons but are merely checked because of looks and other ambiguous reasons. Many times, there is no cause for the search and so these actions are labeled as safety procedures."
Just Say No
Alexander claims men of color are a greater target when it comes to being searched without a reason in comparison to white men. She states, "Interviews of passengers in these dragnet operations usually culminated in a request for 'consent' to search the passenger's luggage." This shows that these colored men are not fully aware that they are consenting to a search and seizure by the way the questions are stated. The increase in these "random searches" have led to finding contraband at the expense of the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures without warrants. The police has been violating this amendment by using their own intuition for searching colored men at random without legitimate reasons."
Alexander explains how police uses minor traffic violations to conduct what is called "consent searches". All that is needed is for the individual to "consent" to the question 'May I speak to you'. The police then use this opportunity as a means to search individuals for drugs. Since there is no reasonable cause to stop motorist for suspicion of possessing drugs, Alexander express how minor traffic violations have become a poor excuse, allowing officer to do these questionable searches. When "asked" for consent, many people don't refuse but if someone does refuse, officers have a way around it. Alexander states "The Supreme Court has ruled that walking a drug-sniffing dog around someone's vehicle (or someone's luggage) does not constitute a "search," and therefore does not trigger Fourth Amendment scrutiny. So either way, officers will find the means to proceed with these searches with or without one's consent."
According to Alexander people of color have been victims of police brutality in search of drugs. When completing illegal searches motorist cars are torn apart, and they have been roughed up all for the sake of an officer having a "gut" feeling that they were carrying drugs. Many citizens found in these situations become fearful of police and refuse to fight back believing the courts will be in favor of the officer. Alexander states "judges tend to imagine the police have a sixth sense—or some kind of special police training—that qualifies them to identify drug criminals in the absence of any evidence". For this reason it makes it very difficult for a citizen who felt violated or discriminated to have a fair case. The DEA has a program called Operation Pipeline. This is a program that can single out an individual without probable cause or reason. Alexander states, "95% of Pipeline stops yield no illegal drugs", so the police would harass many innocent people in search to find that one guilty individual. Racial profiling, power and "sixth sense" has become the guide to these searches leaving many people in fear and questioning the very entity that is supposed to protect and serve."
Chapter 3: The Color of Justice
In chapter 3, Alexander mainly discusses about how race works in the criminal justice system. How people of color, she argues, are treated unfairly throughout the entire system: the initial stop, search, arrest, and charging. In the introduction of this chapter, it is explained that African Americans and Latinos are the majority of the prisoners in the U.S. prison system, and Black people are 20~25 times more likely to be arrested for drug abusing at least 15 out of the 50 states, and 3/4 prisoners who are arrested for drug abuse are people of color. However, most drug users and dealers are white people, primarily youths, and illegal drug dealing is done everywhere in the U.S., not only in poorer areas. Alexander believes that this racial discrimination within the War on Drugs is done in two steps: allowing the U.S. criminal justice system to use more discretion and not allowing any claims toward court.
Picking and Choosing - The Role of Discretion -
In this section, Alexander argues that African Americans are set up to be biased unconsciously and that they are more likely to commit drug related crimes than other races. Drug-related crimes are different from other kinds of crimes, and it is impossible to arrest all the drug offenders. Thus, the criminal justice system has to decide the field they are mainly working on: black community. Also, the media plays an important role in it, which helps in making people biased against people of color as main drug abusers, Alexander believes. As a result, the majority of people now think of people of color when they are asked to imagine of drug users, which leads the discrimination in the criminal justice system "consciously" and "unconsciously."
The Occupation - Policing the Enemy
Both discretion and authorization embody a procedure of racial bias, in which the Supreme Court has authorized enforcement. The police are discrete in locating, examining and deciding the location and the person of target of the operation, which in this case are black and Latino people in the ghetto neighborhood. This is evidenced by numerous studies, which shows that the police stop-and-search people based on their race, predominantly Blacks and Latinos. In Alexander's view, since the police 'prioritize' patrolling colored people, it became common for the police to investigate them. Thus, Alexander relies on understanding that youths refer police as an occupation of policing the enemy, black and Latino people.
Closing the Courthouse Doors - McCleskey v. Kemp -
Alexander says that the court system in the U.S. is also biased against colored people, and the court allows judges to use it during a trial without offending the Fourteenth Amendment. McCleskey v. Kemp case is discussed to explain this. This case shows that there were racial biases and discrimination because the black man Warren McCleskey was sentenced to the death penalty for killing a white police officer, and it was not a fair judgement. It actually offended his rights to the Fourteenth and Eighth Amendments. In answer to his claim, the Baldus study, in which more than two thousand murder cases were researched, was done. According to the study, murder cases with white victims result in a death penalty sentence on the criminal 11 times more often than the cases with black victims. Thus, Alexander believes that bias surely has an affect on the discretion in the criminal justice system.
Cracked Up—Discriminatory Sentencing in the War on Drugs
According to Alexander, racial discrimination still exists in "crack sentencing laws". To support her statement, Alexander used a controversial court case (United States v. Edward Clary) as an example. She claimed that the court treated Edward Clary, an African-American boy, unfairly. Clary was convicted of crack cocaine possession for the first time, and was punished more severely compared to powder cocaine users. He was sentenced to a minimum of ten years in prison. Clary's lawyers argued that the law was unreasonable and deliberate as to segregate African-Americans, who were the major users of crack cocaine at that time. In the end, however, Clary lost the case. This leads Alexander to believe that racism plays a role in criminal punishment.
Charging Ahead—Armstrong v. United States
Alexander argues that the color of your skin determines how you will be treated in society. She also briefly mentioned about a study that shows that more colored youths are transferred to adult courts than white youths. With that being said, Alexander also mentions that "in the State of Washington, it was found that in the juvenile sentencing reports, black and white cases were written and described very differently". Implicit bias plays a role in this whole process. African-American teenagers were accused of committing crimes because of their awry personality; however, White teenagers were tolerated as they were considered victims of external pressures.
In Defense of the All-White Jury—Purkett v. Elm
An all-white jury is a situation where a jury in a criminal trial or grand jury investigation is composed only of white people. There was never an African-American who was in a jury until 1860. According to Alexander, jury discrimination prevails, yet, the court did not give any attention or substantial protection. There are many practices that can exclude black people from becoming prospective jurors. One of the examples Alexander used to support her argument is that 30 percent of black men have no chance of becoming a juror as they were not on the list of registered voters. In Purkett v. Elm, the defendant was guilty of second degree robbery. Alexander mentioned that "any race-neutral reason is accepted by the Supreme court". Therefore, the lawyer attacked the black jurors by their appearances, stating that they were cynical as they had curly hair, mustaches, and goatees. Hence, this case example showed that the Court declared the reasons offered by a prosecutor were justifiable for eliminating black jurors—even if the reasons were irrational and illogical.
Alexander equips her argument with evidence from a study from a group of researchers from the University of Washington in 2002 that conducted a study about the relationship between drug and law enforcement in Seattle (SPD). The researchers discovered that the police, as expected, concentrated their inspection in colored neighborhoods, one with lower illegal activity rates. Critics even complained that drug activities mainly come from a residence that is predominantly white and known as the "closed-air" markets for their drug trade. As a result of the study, in which Alexander complies, the researchers assume that the police think that drug problems are related to the Black and Latino communities.
As racial segregation occurs, Alexander believes that the Fourteenth Amendment, in a matter of equal protection has failed because the Supreme Court crossed the law. Alexander interprets that it is hard and almost impossible for someone to "win over the judicial process," especially since the Supreme Court has legalized the State and its offices to be immune from constitutional violation, unless they assent. As an example in Alexander's writing, she mentions City of Los Angeles v. Lyons case. Lyons is an African-American man who was chokehold by the LAPD and he tried to sue the city police. He succeeded at first before the Supreme Court dismissed the case due to the absence of "standing". Therefore, she believes that it is indeed hard to challenge the presence of conscience and unconscious bias in the law enforcement.
Race as a Factor
Alexander argues that the Supreme Court has granted and indicated that police can use race as a factor in making a decision. Police departments don't advertise this fact, because law enforcement officials know that the public wouldn't respond well in the era of colorblindness. Alexander, the former director of ACLU, illustrates the use of the Fourteenth Amendment by police to justify racial profiling with United States v. Brignoni-Ponce case. In that case, the Court concluded that under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, police could use race as a factor in making decisions about which motorists to stop and search. Although police departments stated that racial profiling exists only when race is the sole factor, a series of studies commissioned by the attorney general of New York found that African Americans were stopped six times more frequently than whites, and that stops of African Americans were less likely to result in arrests than stops of whites.
The End of an Era
According to Alexander, the litigation that swept the nation in the 1990s challenging racial profiling practices has nearly vanished. This is not because the problem has been solved, but because in a little noticed case called Alexander v. Sandoval, decided in 2001, the Supreme Court eliminated the last remaining avenue available for challenging racial bias in the criminal justice system. In addition, she also argues that the Supreme Court has now closed the courthouse doors to claims of racial bias at every stage of the criminal justice process, from stops and searches to plea bargaining and sentencing. The system of mass incarceration is now, for all practical purposes, thoroughly immunized from claims of racial bias. Alexander claims that the legal rules adopted by the Supreme Court guarantee that those who find themselves locked up and permanently locked out due to the drug war are overwhelmingly black and brown.
Chapter 4: The Cruel Hand
Chapter 4: The Cruel Hand states the facts commonly misunderstood about African Americans. Alexander explains the effect that criticizing and judgment has on a person, and how African Americans are perceived as criminals. She also goes into detail explaining the issues one would face after being released from prison. Throughout this chapter Alexander goes into deep detail explaining the effects and issues accompanied by being a criminal.
The Cruel Hand
Alexander's main argument for this section is that African Americans continued to be mistreated despite their "freedoms" that were granted. They were not yet socially accepted because they could not vote, they had less or no job opportunity, and they were still viewed as criminals. Job opportunities for African Americans were very hard to come by. There were so many prejudices when it came to hiring help and most shops would not hire any African Americans. Being viewed as a criminal is a huge issue because criminals are viewed as dirty, awful people. The worst type of people are criminals, and according to Alexander, criminals are the only people who are allowed to be hated by others. This chapter begins with a quote from Frederick Douglass, which explains that he feels as if African Americans are being misunderstood because white people do not know them for who they are. Instead, white people view African Americans in a very negative manner based on the color of their skin. Although African Americans were no longer able to be slaves, there was still a mass issue of conviction and discrimination.
Brave New World
Alexander continues her argument explaining that she does not agree with stripping the civil duties from criminal defendants. Criminal defendants are being told that they are not able to perform citizen duties such as being on a jury or to vote in any upcoming elections because of the crime or crimes they have committed. Alexander is heavily against this because she believes that it is the underlying basis in any civil democracy. Criminals also are not informed in what they are about to endeavor. They will stumble upon shame, discontent, implementation, and discrimination. When people are labeled as criminals it changes their whole outlook on life. It changes the way people view them along with the way they view themselves. Aside from all the negative consequences, courts have refused to find the punishments as actual punishments. Once put into the criminal system the individual is no longer apart of normal American culture. The individual loses all responsibility and becomes unable to drive, find housing, or get a job. African Americans are viewed as criminals in society and the effect that this has on them is tremendous. African Americans still face this constitutional issue today along with ex-offenders. Each live their lives striving daily for acceptance and reassurance of their remaining life in this world.
No Place Like Home
Alexander brings up the issue of the difficulties prisoners face after being released from containment. She points out that finding a stable place to live is difficult because of housing discrimination- which was perfectly legal due to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. This act allowed public and private landlords to pick and choose who they would lease to and gave them the power to evict anyone who engaged in criminal activity. Housing discrimination was allowed based on race, their families' behavior, criminal records, and even any criminal suspicion. Alexander adds that more African Americans than Caucasians are targeted during this time due to the War on Drugs.
Alexander describes the difficulties ex-convicts experience when it comes to getting a job. It is unlikely for an ex-convict to become employed since it is required by law that they check the "yes" or "no" box of whether or not they have been convicted of a crime- even if it might be a crime committed when they were a teenager. According to a survey, forty state parole agencies out of fifty-one required convicts whom were released to be employed as soon as possible, otherwise they could face more jail time. Additionally, Alexander mentions that it is legal for employers to discriminate and even deny ex-convicts of a job or of people who have been arrested but not convicted.
The Black Box
According to Alexander, some businesses will deny someone's request to work for their company if they know the person has been convicted and has gone to jail. Alexander states this is much stricter on African American citizens because they are seen as people of color. In the text Alexander also wrote about a nonprofit organization dedicated to end hate on ex-offenders called All of Us or None, which is located in San Francisco, it stops employers from not hiring someone because they have gone to jail. This organization seeks to remove the black box off of all job applications. The black box is for people who have gone to jail. Millions are being denied jobs because of this box and Alexander is seeking to end the discrimination brought to these ex-offenders.
The government makes it very difficult for the newly released criminals to be able to get back on their feet after being released. Alexander states when the convicts are released from prison they are charged with numerous charges such as drug testing, drug treatment, child support, and fees that have to do with their imprisonment. Alexander states that the money that recently released criminals earn tends to be very little and not enough for themselves and especially not enough to pay back the government. If the individual does not pay the fees or fails to pay them in time they will be sent to prison again. Alexander feels that the criminals are being treated like the slaves after the Civil War earning as little as 25 cents an hour. She also explains how after the criminals are released they can get arrested for minor violations. Alexander clarifies that most of the newly released prisoners will end up with serious debt and are kept in prisons in some cases until their debt is gone which Alexander shows to be impossible with how poorly treated these people are.
Let them Eat Cake
Alexander states that prisoners are being release with tons of debt, and the government will not allow them to receive any federal help. If a felon is found to receive help from the government they will be sent to jail. There is a five-year limit of lifetime on benefits that the federal government gives to families with needs called the temporary assistance for needy family program (TANF). But once someone is labeled as a criminal they will not be able to receive any of these benefits.
The Silent Minority
Alexander argues that the government uses mass incarceration to take the minorities out of the voting population. She shows the fact that when they are released from jail they are stripped of their right to vote. Even though there are ways that have been put into place that allow them to re-register to vote, testimonies say the process is too difficult to be even practical, saying that there are so many ways that it can go wrong and they can keep them silent.
Alexander says that ex-cons face major discrimination not only in their social life, but also in the workplace. How most employers won't even consider twice if you are a black male, but that they will have even harder times if they have a felony on their record. Sources she provides say that they were accepted to many jobs accepted them, but then called them once they found out they were felons and told them they weren't hired.
Alexander explains the overwhelming power of discrimination. Families of convicted felons are often afraid to tell people they know personally, and in the workplace, that they know or are related to a felon, in fear of discrimination. One woman says that she wouldn't even tell the people in her church.
Alexander argues here that people who are related to, or are close with a felon or ex-con, are afraid to give that information out to the public in fear of being discriminated against. She tells stories of people who wouldn't dare to bring up the topic of their criminal acquaintance in fear of being treated differently. She shows here that not only does mass incarceration affect the people who are being jailed, but it also affects all the people they are close to in the workplace, and in public.
Alexander explains that many young black men embrace their stigmas by acting like criminals. She argues that poor people of color want safe and peaceful neighborhoods, just like everyone else. She believes that it is racist to think that colored families are content with living in these dangerous neighborhoods. She thinks we should be concerned about the crimes that happen in ghettos and find ways to help young men stay out of crimes. Instead, people should embrace their stigmas with loving sayings. For example, to counter the discrimination of the new Jim Crow, saying "black is beautiful," or using "gangsta love" for the mass incarceration of people of color. Alexander believes that if everyone accepted their stigmas, they would gain more self-esteem and learn to love themselves more.
The Minstrel Show
Alexander writes that today's display of black people on television is generally for white entertainment, similar to the Jim Crow days when the black image was exaggerated in minstrel shows. She questions why many people choose to hate these minstrel shows and the people of color who were subject to them. Alexander explains that even though the men in the minstrel shows entertained white audiences with their exaggerated racist portrayal and stereotypes, he may be doing it to support himself and his family and might even be treated as a celebrity. She uses VH1's Flavor of Love as an example. Flavor of Love had its best rating during its first season because it was largely popularized by white audiences. She also uses rap music as an example. Rap music attracts mostly white teenagers. After the War on Drugs began, rap music changed. It went from rapping about the day's events to rapping about crimes. Alexander explains that while rap music changed, so did black communities. African American men became the victims of the War on Drugs and began to listen to rap music and other forms of black entertainment in a way to embrace their stigmas.
Alexander believes that we must embrace black prisoners' humanness rather than their criminality. She explains that it is amazing how many men that are released from prison survive, stay out of trouble, get married, raise families and completely turn their lives around. Alexander believes that when the mass incarceration of poor people of color collapses, historians will look back and find it surprising that the government targeted them just to gain a system of crime control. She concludes this section with the saying: "You hate the crime, but love the criminal."
Chapter 5: The New Jim Crow
Alexander uses The New Jim Crow as an analogy to show different parallels and similarities between the old racial caste systems and the system of mass incarceration, which she argues is creating a modern racial caste system. She begins by presenting the audience with the question, "where have all the black men gone?", opening with examples like Obama's speech on the black stereotype of missing fathers and also explaining how many touch upon this idea but don't quite answer the question. Her answer is simply that "they are warehoused in prison, locked in cages". Throughout the chapter she details many implicitly oppressive laws and regulations within mass incarceration which, for the most part only seem to be affecting the poverty-stricken African American population and how similar the situations are compared to the old Jim Crow era. In addition, Alexander references racial indifference as a main contributor to past and present racial caste systems. The main theme that echoes throughout this chapter is that mass incarceration is the New Jim Crow because of how it works to trap mostly people of color, and how similar it is to the old racial caste systems.
Beginning of chapter
Alexander argues that prisons are caging in black men, which takes away from their responsibilities, such as fatherhood. According to Alexander, more black men are incarcerated now more than ever before, even more than how many were enslaved during the Civil War. She explains that so many black men are disappearing and it is due to the fact that all of them are being locked up due to crimes that whites aren't even charged for when committed by them. A statistic according to Emily Alpert Rays from the L.A. Times, many fathers who do leave their families, still stay in contact with their children. About 35% of black fathers who have left their homes still stay in contact with their kids while 30% of white fathers have kept in contact with their children. Many people assume black men are irresponsible and leave their families, when in fact they are just being incarcerated for crimes uncommitted, yet still try to stay in contact. Alexander covers how once black men are incarcerated for one crime, they will always be treated poorly due to that, and be discriminated against because of that single act, or even because of the fact they went to jail. When these black men would get released from prison, their lives would forever be altered. Always getting treated for what they supposedly did, getting looked down upon, and never being treated the same again.
States of Denial
Due to stereotypes of blacks, Alexander argues that many people are in denial of how society really works. People nowadays know that racial oppression, discrimination, and stereotyping occur, yet when asked about it, deny that it happens because it is such an uncomfortable topic to talk about. According to Alexander, media sources are the major influence on society's denial and the cause of many stereotypes. They influence our view of the world, which contributes to the country's denial and discrimination. The media implies that all blacks are as seen on TV, or music videos, or the news. Alexander says the media leaves society in one mindset that of which is negative against these men being incarcerated, pointing to the fact society does not know how the criminal justice system works. In today's society, we still have a racial caste system, according to Alexander. She bases this on the fact that people think racism comes from individuals and biases, but it comes from the way society is formed. Alexander explains that people solely look at black people when it comes to racism, yet it is against all different races. Alexander points out that the criminal justice system isn't just based off race anymore, but rather how society is structured.
How it Works
To understand how victims become trapped within the new racial caste system mass incarceration is explained as a whole and the Drug War plays a key role. According to Alexander, it works in three phases to trap its victims, the first being the round-up. In this stage, the police round up as many people as possible into the criminal justice system through drug operations and they are free to use race as any factor. Anyone who is convicted enters the second phase, the period of formal control. As convicts of the War on Drugs they receive harsh sentencing, some receiving life in prison, but those who are released face the final phase. Sometimes called the period of invisible punishment, it works hidden from public view barring its victims from mainstream society. Felons are stripped of many basic rights and privileges known commonly to the "normal" American citizen. They'll be discriminated against being denied housing, employment, and education numerous times. The final phase is definite and inescapable.
Racial bias has always existed in the United States criminal justice system as well as discrimination against criminals. The old and current criminal justice systems mainly affect racial minorities. Young men of color are prime police suspects for convictions while white offenders are systematically more likely to avoid felony charges. The Drug War has given rise to drug crime rates, as much as 2,000 percent in some cities. Now, nearly everyone in communities of color is at risk of conviction. Upon prison release, drug offenders enter the new racial caste system, making it difficult to find employment. Education will also be difficult to obtain since funding for public education is dropping, and funding for prison budgets is increasing at incredible rates due to the demand from increasing incarceration rates.
Mapping the Parallels
Alexander follows through this section by discussing the parallels of how mass incarceration has many similarities to Jim Crow. Alexander highlights that African Americans were and are primarily in segregated communities from whites, where whites would never see the poverty enriched neighborhoods that Blacks lived in. This says she signifies that Whites denied and ignored their suffering. She goes on to say that prisons are resembled in a similar way in which Blacks are kept locked out of mainstream society. "Rural counties contain only 20 percent of the U.S. population, however 60 percent of new prison construction occurs there". Prisoners are sent back to "ghetto" communities after release where many of other prisoners are released as well. Alexander says that poor whites are not in or released in poor communities as often as African Americans in which Africans American felons across an ongoing circle of prison to ghetto that is continuous today. Alexander deduces from past research that slavery was to be black, Jim Crow was to be a black second-class citizen, and that today incarceration is to be a black criminal. This is verified by the War on Drugs that has made blacks prone to becoming criminals, but she argues that whites who may have more drug-related activity are not suspected due to being white. "White seems to qualify the term criminal — as if to say, "he's a criminal but not that kind of criminal." Or, he's not a real criminal — i.e., not what we mean by criminal today." White crime, she says, lacks social meaning, and can be brushed aside from real crime that is committed primarily by African Americans. She says that blacks are always potential suspects for police due to their prevalent connection with felony that whites think most African Americans are affiliated with felony." Whiteness mitigates crime, whereas blackness defines the criminal." She says that racial stigma is prevalent within society due to incarceration and African Americans being branded as felons for simply the color of their skin.
The Limits of the Analogy
In this section, Alexander discusses the differences between the old racial caste system, Jim Crow, and the new racial caste system seen by her as mass incarceration. Though she sees them both as systems of control and having similarities, they differ from each other in major ways. One such difference that she points out is that mass incarceration appears race-neutral. this means that while the laws themselves are race-neutral (or appear to be race-neutral), the enforcement of these laws (and sometimes the laws themselves, like drug laws) is where the discrimination occurs. She expands more on this in the sections "Absence of racial hostility" and "White victims of racial cast".
Absence of racial hostility
With the change in public view regarding racial hostility, there is a decline in outright racial hostility and violence, but it does still exist in public and in the prison system, according to Alexander. She states that racism isn't based on doing harm to a certain race, but about controlling that race or racial group. Alexander makes the argument that racial indifference, not racism, is the main driving force behind the current racial caste system, mass incarceration, and past racial caste systems. With the public view of outright racial hostility becoming more unacceptable, Alexander points out that racial indifference has taken a more central role in the new system of mass incarceration. She also points out that racial hostility being used as a means primarily for harm is misguided. To build on that, she mentions that in times of slavery plantation owners were more focused on making money cheaply and used slavery to accomplish that goal in a cost effective manner.
White victims of racial caste
Alexander points out one important difference between Jim Crow and mass incarceration is that the current racial caste system also includes poor whites, meaning that this racial caste system has evolved to meet the needs of the current times. Alexander explains that this racial caste system is only able to work in this day and age because of the "colorblind" mentality that America has adopted. This allows us to "maintain our self-image as a fair and unbiased people."
She goes on to declare that Whites being caught in the Drug War doesn't mean that they are the true targets, but that they are collateral damage. the true targets are African Americans. However, currently, as reported by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the percent of White inmates in Prison is 59.1% while black inmates account for 37.5% and the majority of offenses for these statistic are drug offenses which could indicate a change in the system. The drug war on crack would not have occurred if the major dealers and sellers were white, Alexander claims. In addition, she references Economist Gary Loury: "Can we envision a system that would enforce drug laws almost exclusively among young white men and largely ignore drug crime among young black men?"
To better understand the divide in drug law inequality, Alexander delves into the differences between drunk driving offenses and offenses concerning crack. She points out that while the drug war was a movement started by politicians, the movement against drunk driving and alcohol related issues was a bottom-up movement, pushed into the spotlight by the Carrollton, Kentucky bus collision. In addition, deaths associated with drugs and drug offenses (including violence associate with drugs) was approximated at 21,000 deaths, the deaths from drunk driving, which were approximated at 22,000, and other alcohol related deaths which totaled at about 100,000, are considerably higher. and goes on to say: "The criminalization of white men would disturb us to the core." With these death counts in mind, the punishments for each offense are staggeringly different. As Alexander explains, many states have a mandatory sentence for both drunk driving and possession of crack. Possession of crack holds a minimum sentence of 5 years in prison, while drunk driving is punishable by a couple days in jail for a first offense and two to ten days in jail for a second offense. Alexander goes on to explain that the majority of offenders for drunk driving are white (78% in 1990 when these laws were initially being implemented), which has been shown as more dangerous than crack offenses, are offered programs to be reintegrated with the community while crack offenders are sent to prison with little to no help at all.
Chapter 6: The Fire This Time
Chapter 6: The Fire This Time raises the issue of present and future approaches to dealing with the mass incarceration crisis. The chapter's title is based on James Baldwin's seminal forewarning The Fire Next Time. Alexander believes that pushing reforms through a broad-based social coalition, as has been done in the past, while possibly helpful, will not be enough, because "a new system of racialized social control" will eventually appear, assuming forms impossible to predict now. If a movement emerges to confront mass incarceration, Alexander believes it will need to address the underlying causes and ills of society at large, which needs to "cultivate an ethic of genuine care" for every individual, regardless of ethnic background, gender, class, or other considerations.
Tinkering Is For Mechanics, Not Racial-Justice Advocates
Alexander argues that we must challenge the mass incarceration problem, even though it could possibly disrupt the new caste system. She starts out with talking about how the criminal justice system is pointless. Today, it is said that the prison system would need to release about four out of five people who are presently in prison today. Primarily wanting to end the whole mass incarceration system would have to result in the War on Drugs being terminated. The drug cartel has a huge part in the why the prisons are so compact and why they are expanding. Trying to end this enormous part in society cannot be terminated by just a court order or decision. Alexander explains when people think about crime they think about minorities and people in the ghetto. They think about the black and brown because they are racially profiled as the ones who commit crimes and it needs to come to an end. These types of racial profiling would include African Americans or Mexicans that tend live in the ghetto neighborhoods/communities with a lot of drug activity that law enforcement officers target. Alexander begins to give an example with the Brown v. Board of Education decision, where the schools were separated by color. If we do challenge the new caste system and successfully win along with making changes in the system, we will break the racial equilibrium. In all, Alexander concludes that the new caste system is a way of life along with what your social stance is.Race takes a primary toll on jobs, school, money, drugs, etc. There will never really be a termination of the War on Drugs so prisons will continue to incarcerate prisoners.
Let's Talk About Race - Resisting the Temptation of Colorblind Advocacy
The current justice system is oblivious to the term colorblindness. Minorities are currently being incarcerated for minor crimes, such as drug possession, far more often than their Caucasian counterparts. Also,minorities are subjected to serving longer prison sentences. When the minority inmates come out of prison, the impact of the incarceration and the magnitude of their crimes changes how society views the inmates and how it chooses to accept them. According to Alexander, families are being torn apart because the mass incarceration creates more crime instead of solving it. Many of the former inmates return to the life crime. Alexander states that mass incarceration is the causation of racial control. In the last past years, society has slowly become protective of innocent people.
The term colorblindness refers to Americans and society in general who refuse to see anything beyond race. Society now has become blind to race and are judging people of different races, particularly African Americans, of what they do. According to Alexander, African Americans are being rounded up for drug crimes when in fact it is their white counterparts who are committing and leading these crimes. The criminal justice system is systematically flawed in judging a criminal by their color not by who they truly are. Alexander states that the severely broken criminal justice system views the incarceration of African American not as people with race who are in jail, but just as men, just as human beings with no race. In this example, Alexander is trying to show that the criminal justice system overlook the race,but it looks at the crime that is being committed by the individual. However, the criminal justice system treats all criminals the same even though an African American has done it for the first time whereas their Caucasian counterparts tend to be undercover officers or confidential informant.
The Racial Bribe—Let's Give It Back
In addition to chapter 6 of The Racial Bribe-Let's Give it Back, Alexander argues that racial justice advocates should change their ways of approaching affirmative action, which Alexander believes has helped render a new caste system invisible to the public. Alexander has expressed concerns with whether or not affirmative action has become a good thing or bad thing, like abandoning more radical movements and a promise to change the nation's economic and social structure. She believes that with affirmative action, has changed the media's view and general public view toward African Americans. Alexander compares the year 1968 to the present, and makes remarkable points, like how unemployment rates in black communities rival those in third world countries with affirmative action. She mentions stories of how there are successful African Americans who came from poor backgrounds and rose to fame, but argues that it helps shadow the new racial caste system. She questions multiple times whether affirmative action has helped dismantle the structures of racial inequality. She claims that even though affirmative action has done some good, she believes just as Martin Luther King Jr. does that with special treatment to the African Americans would be looked down upon.
Obama—the Promise and the Peril
Alexander criticizes President Barack Obama for his failure to revamp the laws that have made it difficult for African Americans, that suffer from the increase efforts in with his support for the drug war. Alexander questions the public, whether or people would stand up for themselves instead of relying on someone on the top of the government like Obama.
The consequences of leaving trust in Obama, was that he chose Joe Biden as his vice president, who is known for being the senates most strident drug warrior, and picking Rahm Emanuel his chief of staff, who was a major proponent of the expansion of the drug war and slashing of welfare rolls during President Bill Clinton's administration. Rahm Emanuel was also known as a former U.S attorney for the District of Columbia who tried to hyped up the drug war in Washington D.C. and tried to impose heavy fines on marijuana possession towards the Black Community in Washington, D.C. Alexander's view towards Obama is vastly different, and points how Obama is increasing his support in programs like Community of Oriented Policing Services (COPS) a program he revived from the Clinton Era. Obama is increasing its funds dramatically, which Alexander believes is one of the worst programs ever introduced in Clinton's time as president. The funds were increased twelvefold, and the dramatic increase funding for Byrne grants was included as part of the Economic Reinvestment Act of 2009. These funds, however, were wasted dollars, because there was no sudden spike in the crime rate to justify it.
Praise and awards
The New York Review of Books called the book one that would "touch the public and educate social commentators, policymakers, and politicians about a glaring wrong that we have been living with that we also somehow don't know how to face... [Alexander] is not the first to offer this bitter analysis, but NJC is striking in the intelligence of her ideas, her powers of summary, and the force of her writing."
Forbes wrote that Alexander "looks in detail at what economists usually miss," and "does a fine job of truth-telling, pointing the finger where it rightly should be pointed: at all of us, liberal and conservative, white and black."
The book received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, saying that Alexander "offers an acute analysis of the effect of mass incarceration upon former inmates" who will be legally discriminated against for the rest of their lives, and described the book as "carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable."
Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, said it "offers a timely and original framework for understanding mass incarceration, its roots to Jim Crow, our modern caste system, and what must be done to eliminate it. This book is a call to action."
David Levering-Lewis said the book was "a stunning work of scholarship." Daily Kos called the book "invaluable," and "a timely and stunning guide to the labyrinth of propaganda, discrimination, and racist policies masquerading under other names that comprises what we call justice in America."
The New Jim Crow has won several awards including:
- Winner, NAACP Image Awards (Outstanding Non-fiction, 2011)
- Winner of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency's Prevention for a Safer Society (PASS) Award
- Winner of the Constitution Project's 2010 Constitutional Commentary Award
- 2010 IPPY Award: Silver Medal in Current Events II (Social Issues/Public Affairs/Ecological/Humanitarian) category
- Winner of the 2010 Association of Humanist Sociology Book Award
- Finalist, Silver Gavel Award
- Finalist, Phi Beta Kappa Emerson Award
- Finalist, Letitia Woods Brown Book Award
Cornel Ronald West, an America philosopher and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America says "[An] instant classic... The New Jim Crow is a grand wake-up call in the midst of a long slumber of indifference to the poor and vulnerable."
Ronald E. Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association calls The New Jim Crow "A powerful analysis of why and how mass incarceration is happening in America, The New Jim Crow should be required reading for anyone working for real change in the criminal justice system."
Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project and also the author of Race to Incarcerate says "We need to pay attention to Alexander's contention that mass imprisonment in the U.S. constitutes a racial caste system... Her analysis reflects the passion of an advocate and the intellect of a scholar."
Influences on society
Alexander was able to influence society by her thoughts on the caste system and racial discrimination in the United States. On Alexander's web page for the New Jim Crow, the public have created groups to take action against the caste system, such as The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference which is a group committed to consciousness raising and movement building from a faith perspective., The Campaign to End the New Jim Crow is an organization dedicated to structure a movement with the goal of replacing prisons and lifelong discrimination with caring communities, and the Formerly Incarcerated Peoples Movement is a group dedicated to achieving the full rebuilding of civil and human rights for all people, especially those who have been convicted by the criminal justice system. Alexander was able to reach a large group of people with her book, The New Jim Crow. They work together to make a difference and stop the discrimination as well as to bring a final end to all forms of hate brought to people of color.
Readers of Alexander's book, like Dennis Moore, can relate to the events it details. Moore's son is one of many young African American men who was sent to prison. Moore recalls that seeing his son in chains inside the courtroom reminded him of when blacks were first forced to America from their homeland.
Moore is not the only one to speak out about the mass incarceration of young black men. An article from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA's website provides an essay written by a 14-year-old girl who has never spent time with her father because he has been in prison her entire life. She describes the incarceration of young African American men as "a judge locking away your freedom and throwing away the key."
Many of Alexander's readers have expressed their opinions and ideas of her book on discussion pages. One reader, a reporter named Michelle, shared her experience in the comments section of an article by The Atlantic. She noticed the mass amounts of African American men that were being brought into a criminal courthouse because they were caught carrying small amounts of marijuana with them. She explains that she knew there was something wrong with this image and reading Alexander's book helped her to better understand her view on the subject of African American mass incarceration.
For the fall of 2015, all freshmen enrolled at Brown University read The New Jim Crow as part of the campus' First Readings Program initiated by the Office of the Dean of the College and voted on by various members of the faculty.
The New Jim Crow has received national acclaim since its debut. However, sociologists, race relations and black studies scholars have criticized Alexander for misrepresenting the problem of mass-incarceration in the United States by augmenting and "repackaging" existing social justice research on mass-incarceration to suit white middle-class consumers. Critics have argued that Alexander creates a strained analogy to the original Jim Crow laws, employs a counterrevolutionary conceptual framework, and marginalizes black and brown voices in favor of more mainstream and less radical perspectives. These critics agree that mass incarceration in the United States is a catastrophic situation, but disagree with Alexander with regard to its history, causes, and possible solutions. According to Alexander, her target audience are "people who care deeply about racial justice but who, for any number of reasons, do not yet appreciate the magnitude of the crisis faced by communities of color as a result of mass incarceration."
Strained analogy to Jim Crow
Yale University Clinical Law Professor James Forman Jr., son of James Forman, prominent civil rights leader of the 1950s and 1960s, while acknowledging the many similarities and insights in using the Jim Crow analogy, has argued that Alexander overstates her case, and leaves out important ways in which the newer system of mass incarceration is different.
In his paper Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow, Forman Jr. identifies Alexander as one of a number of authors who have overstated and misstated their case. He observes that her framework over-emphasizes the War on Drugs and ignores violent crimes, asserting that Alexander's analysis is demographically simplistic. Forman also points to the support, in many cases, for tough-on-crime policies among African-American public and elected officials themselves, in particular, in majority-black Washington D.C. He suggests that Alexander does not analyze the way imprisonment is now heavily stratified by class, even among African-Americans, and notes that Alexander does not discuss the mass incarceration of other races, including whites. In the section "Overlooking Race" Forman Jr. writes that the Jim Crow analogy "obscures the extent to which whites, too, are mass incarceration's targets," noting that "Alexander mentions them only in passing. she says that mass imprisonment's true targets are blacks, and that incarcerated whites are 'collateral damage.'"
Forman Jr. further suggests that the original Jim Crow should be kept separate as a unique historical event, and that The New Jim Crow's writer leaves out descriptions of atrocities, like lynching and torture, that the original Jim Crow entailed. In conclusion, Forman Jr. cautions that a movement against mass incarceration will need to address community safety and the treatment of prisoners, in addition to the sheer number of people imprisoned.
Recuperative and counterrevolutionary tendencies
The discourse of The New Jim Crow has been noted for its recuperative tendencies:
In his study Toward Détournement of The New Jim Crow, or, The Strange Career of The New Jim Crow, political sociologist Joseph D. Osel writes that The New Jim Crow is an "exceptional example of recuperation." According to his study the book promotes a false understanding of mass incarceration in the United States. He observes that The New Jim Crow "paradoxically excludes an analysis of mass incarceration's most central and defining factors," "omits all truly revolutionary stances from its discourse" (especially those of African Americans), "quietly denies the relevance of controversial American history," and "engages in a paradoxical counterrevolutionary protest that misleads readers about the context, causes and possible remedial methods of mass-incarceration in the United States." To support his disputed contention Osel cites several contradictions from the text, including that the book does not contain the word "capitalism." He writes: "The New Jim Crow is a book about a modern American "caste system" without even a single reference to the modern economic paradigm," noting that "the particular omissions and critical immunizations in The New Jim Crow serve to limit the discursive consciousness of the potential revolutionary subject" and that this limitation "runs contrary to the actual needs of the subject(s) under consideration."
In conclusion, Osel writes that social justice advocates should be deeply concerned about The New Jim Crow's wide acclaim and argues that a détournement of the text's "commercial misinformation and half-truths" could salvage the book as an instructive category of race relations, providing readers with "a powerful lens through which we could view the strange depths and modes of ideological domination and rhetorical schisms, which sustain societal problems even while challenging them." In his initial review of the book he also notes that The New Jim Crow lacks perspective on the larger systems of capitalism, colonialism, and racism that generate mass incarceration—partly, because Alexander's audience would be uncomfortably complicit with these systems.
In his essay Why Some Like The New Jim Crow So Much, Greg Thomas, an Associate Professor of Africana Studies and English at Tufts University, also criticizes Alexander's understanding of mass incarceration, emphasizing problems with her terminology. He observes that she uses the terms "Jim Crow," "mass incarceration," and "slavery," but not "racism," "white supremacy," or "capitalism," noting that these choices serve to isolate the problem of mass imprisonment from larger systems of domination. Further, Thomas argues that Alexander's isolation of the War on Drugs bars an understanding of mass incarceration, writing that "The rhetoric of a "War on Drugs" does not share space in Alexander's work with other language that is basic to other, prior political analyses of Black imprisonment or "mass incarceration," and that there is "no critical language of "capitalism" or "class" or "exploitation" in The New Jim Crow." Thomas also observes that The New Jim Crow "hides from consumer view" more insightful, radical, and fearless ideas, writing that "Alexander cites everything but traditions of Black political and even academic radicalism," marginalizes longtime activists as "conspiracy theorists" who are misguided to accuse the American government of genocide or to challenge the prison system itself," and ignores the history of political hip-hop, making only the broad generalization about "gangsta rap" that it enables black youth to identify with the stigma of being criminals.
In conclusion, Thomas argues that Alexander's solutions to the problem of mass incarceration are counterrevolutionary. Instead of demanding changes to the social structure of the United States, and "in lieu of any radical political action or activism," she asks for Christian love and for "civil rights," positions that will not create radical change.
Whitewashing and ahistoricism
One of the major criticisms Alexander's detractors have raised is one of "bizarre omission." According to Osel's review Black Out: Michelle Alexander's Operational Whitewash, "while Alexander's book claims to be concerned with exposing and describing the history and mechanisms of mass incarceration or the American "caste system," which affects the poor and people of color systematically and disproportionately, her work systematically, strangely, and emphatically excludes these voices."
Osel contends that Alexander's work provides the history of criminal justice and imprisonment with "a vast rhetorical and historical facelift where the most relevant and affected voices on the topic at hand are safely expunged from the discussion, from relevance, from history." He observes: "According to Alexander's history, there is no Malcolm X or George Jackson, no Frantz Fanon, no Richard Wright, no Eldridge Cleaver, no Angela Davis, no Huey P. Newton, no Bobby Seale, no Black Panther Party, no Black Power Movement, no self-determination, no prison-struggles, no political prisoners… Suspiciously there is almost no 1960s, no 1970s, no Black History, no Black Criticism, no Black Radicalism, no radicalism, no class struggle...the radical voices of America's black and brown inmates, the strong voices of anti-oppression, anti-imperialism, anti-exploitation, the voices of revolt, rebellion, revolution, Black and Brown power, the most salient historical texts, speeches, time-periods, and philosophies - all these things have been miraculously purged from Alexander's lens in a sort of operational whitewash, a black out, apparently unnoticed."
Greg Thomas' heavily referenced essay Why Some Like The New Jim Crow So Much also criticizes Alexander for her Eurocentrism and omission of black history, noting that her historical points of reference are the "founding fathers," "democracy," and "Obama," rather than radical black anti-prison leaders. He observes that Alexander meticulously ignores "all of the Black and non-Black radical movements of the 1960s and '70s…" and repetitively affirms the reality of "colorblindness", noting that Alexander describes the marginalization of blacks as almost accidental. According to Thomas, "Alexander writes as if she wonders: 'What, then, does explain the extraordinary racial disparities in our criminal justice system? Old-fashioned racism seems out of the question' (Alexander 2012, 103)."
Further, Thomas observes that the first chapter of The New Jim Crow, "The Rebirth of Caste," is a rewriting of history, calling it "a self-contained or isolationist U.S. history disconnected from the history of the world." He notes that The New Jim Crow "moves first from 'The Birth of Slavery' to 'The Death of Slavery,' despite the fact that 'slavery' does not "die" " pointing out that "Alexander first lauds the 'achievement' of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for 'abolishing slavery (29),' and only belatedly concedes that it reframed or rearticulated slavery instead of abolishing it. For 'slavery remained appropriate as punishment for a crime' (31)."
Thomas concludes that "there is literally next to nothing to be learned from The New Jim Crow," writing that "The New Jim Crow is not for 'everyone' because from cover to cover 'everyone' except advocates of white and middle-class liberalism – in the imperial context of U.S. settler nationalism – are placed totally and completely beyond the pale."
No real discussion of gun control
One of the more glaring omissions in Alexander's book is a discussion of Black people having equal gun rights, as in both the colonial and immediate post-revolutionary periods of American history, the first laws regulating gun ownership were aimed squarely at Blacks and Native Americans. After the Civil War, many Southern states enacted Black Codes to prohibit ownership of guns by Blacks, with the measures served their purpose. In her 1892 disquisition on the evils of lynching, the writer Ida B. Wells noted that "the only times an Afro-American who was assaulted got away has been when he had a gun and used it in self-defense." Wells offered some blunt advice: "a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give." The gun control laws that banned or put restrictions on African Americans from owning firearms in the United States are documented on a timeline from 1640 to 1995 by the National Rifle Association’s Institute of Legislative Action.
Court cases included
- Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275 (2001)
- Armstrong v. United States, 182 U.S. 243 (1901)
- Atwater v. City of Lago Vista
- Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986)
- Brawnfield v. South Carolina, 189 U.S. 426 (1903)
- Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)
- California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565, 600 (1991)
- City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 105 (1983)
- Cotton v. Fordice, 157 F.3d 388 (5th Cir. 1998)
- Department of Housing and Urban Development v. Rucker, 535 U.S. 125 (2002)
- Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. (How. 19) 393 (1857)
- Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 441 (1991)
- Florida v. Kerwick, 512 So.2d 347, 349 (Fla. App. 4 Dist. 1987)
- Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405 (2005)
- Illinois Migrant Council v. Pilliod, 398 F. Supp. 882, 899 (N.D. Ill. 1975)
- Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63 (2003)
- McClesky v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279, 327 (1989)
- McLaurin v. Oklahoma, 339 U.S. 637 (1950)
- Monell v. Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978)
- Miller El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322 (2003)
- Neal v. Delaware, 103 U.S. 370 (1880)
- Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332 (1979)
- Rucker v. Davis, 237 F.3d 1113 (9th Cir. 2001)
- Ruffin. v. Commonwealth(Virginia) (Note: the index cites this as "Ruffing" and an endnote states "Puffin" research and a best guess indicates the intent was "Ruffin.")
- Schneckloth v. Bustamonte
- Skinner v. Railway Labor Executive Association, 489 U.S. 602, 641 (1980)
- Smith v. Allwright(1944)
- State v. Rutherford, 93 Ohio App. 3d 586, 593-95, 639 N.E. 2d 498, 503– 4, n. 3 (Ohio Ct. App. 1994)
- State v. Soto, 324 N.J.Super. 66, 69-77, 83-85, 734 A.2d 350, 352-56, 360 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. 1996)
- Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 308 (1880)
- Smith v. Mississippi, 162 U.S. 592 (1896)
- Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202 (1965), overruled by Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986)
- United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873 (1975)
- United States v. Caroline Products Co., 301 U.S. 144, n. 4 (1938)
- United States v. Clary, 846 F.Supp. 768, 796-797 (E.D.Mo. 1994)
- United States v. Flowers, 912 F. 2d 707, 708 (4th Cir. 1990)
- United States v. Lewis, 921 F. 2d 1294, 1296 (1990)
- United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543 (1976)
- United States v. One Parcel of Real Estate Located at 9818 S.W. 94 Terrace, 788 F. Supp. 561, 565 (S.D. Fla. 1992)
- United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696 (1983)
- United States v. Reese
- Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 373-74 (1886)
a.^ The persistently lingering result of the lack of land reform, of the fact that the former slaves were not granted any of the property on which they had long labored (unlike many European serfs, emancipated and economically empowered to various degrees by that time, their American counterparts ended up with nothing), is the present extremely inequitable distribution of wealth in the United States along racial lines. 150 years after the Civil War, the median wealth of a black family is a small fraction of the median wealth of a white family.
b.^ According to Ruth W. Grant of Duke University, the author of the book Strings Attached: Untangling the Ethics of Incentives (Princeton University Press 2011, ISBN 978-0-691-15160-1), the expediency-based plea bargain process, in which 90 to 95% of felony prosecutions never go to trial, but are settled by the defendant pleading guilty, undermines the purpose and challenges the legitimacy of the justice system. Justice won't take place, because "either the defendant is guilty, but gets off easy by copping a plea, or the defendant is innocent but pleads guilty to avoid the risk of greater punishment". The question of guilt is decided without adjudicating the evidence-the fundamental process of determining the truth and assigning proportionate punishment does not take place.
c.^ Michelle Alexander suggested in a March 2012 New York Times article a possible strategy (she attributed the idea to Susan Burton) for coping with the unjust criminal justice system. If large numbers of the accused could be persuaded to opt out of plea bargaining and demand a full trial by jury, to which they are constitutionally entitled, the criminal justice system in its present form would be unable to continue because of lack of resources (it would "crash"). This last resort strategy is controversial, as some would end up with extremely harsh sentences, but, it is argued, progress often cannot be made without sacrifice.
- Alexander (2010)
- Alexander (2010), pp. 10–12
- Alexander (2010), pp. 1-2
- Alexander (2010), pp. 2-5
- Reinarman & Levine (1995)
- Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, Whiteout, The CIA, Drugs, and the Press (New York: Verso, 1999)
- Alexander (2010), pp. 5-6
- Mauer (2006), p. 33
- PEW Center on the States, One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008 (Washington, DC: PEW Center, Feb. 2008), p. 5
- Donald Braman, Doing Time on the Outside: Incarceration and Family Life in Urban America (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004), p. 3
- Results from the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings, NSDUH series H-34, DHHS pub. no. SMA 08-4343
- Human Rights Watch, Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs, HRW Reports vol. 12, no. 2 (New York, 2000)
- Paul Street, The Vicious Circle: Race, Prison, Jobs, and Community in Chicago, Illinois, and the Nation (Chicago Urban League, Department of Research and Planning, 2002)
- Alexander (2010), pp. 6-7
- Michael Tonry, Thinking About Crime: Sense and Sensibility in American Penal Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 14, 20
- National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, Task Force Report on Corrections (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1973), p. 358, 597
- Mauer (2006), pp. 17-18
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- Alexander (2010), p. 33
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- Alexander (2010), pp. 39-40
- Alexander (2010), pp. 128-129
- Alexander (2010), pp. 140–144
- Alexander (2010), pp. 144–148
- Alexander (2010), pp. 148–151
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- Alexander (2010), pp. 158-168
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- Alexander (2010), p. 205
- "Inmate Race". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved February 25, 2015.
- Loury, Glenn (2003). The Anatomy of Racial Inequality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Reinarman & Levine (1995), p. 162
- Mauer (2006), p. 150
- Mauer (2006), p. 151
- Alexander (2010), p. 233
- Alexander (2010), pp. 237, 241
- Darryl Pinckney (2011-03-10). "Invisible Black America". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
- Sudhir Venkatesh (2010-02-13). "Crime and Punishment". Forbes. Archived from the original on 2013-02-16. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
- Reviewer (2009-11-02). "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
- Moore, Dennis. "Book Review: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, is an Enlightening Read". East County Magazine. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- "Prisoner's Daughter Writes on Devastating Effects of Mass Incarceration". Revolution. RCP Publications. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
- "Books for the Horde: The New Jim Crow, Chapter One". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
- Forman, Jr., James (26 February 2012). "RACIAL CRITIQUES OF MASS INCARCERATION: BEYOND THE NEW JIM CROW" (PDF). Racial Critiques 87: 101–146. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
- Joseph D. Osel (2012-12-15). "Toward Détournement of The New Jim Crow, or, The Strange Career of The New Jim Crow". INT'L J. RADICAL CRITIQUE 1:2. Retrieved 2012-12-20.
- Joseph D. Osel (2012-04-07). "Black Out: Michelle Alexander's Operational Whitewash" (PDF). INT'L J. RADICAL CRITIQUE 1:1. Retrieved 2012-05-04.
- Greg Thomas (2012-04-26). "Why Some Like The New Jim Crow So Much". Vox Union. Archived from the original on 2013-04-27. Retrieved 2012-05-04.
- Charles CW Cooke (2014-10-25). "Do Black People Have Equal Gun Rights?". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-08-15.
- Parker, Star (February 22, 2013). "Blacks Who Back Gun Control Need to Study History of Slavery and Jim Crow". CNSNews.com. Cybercast News Service. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
- Richard Overy (2010), The Times Complete History of the World, Eights Edition, p. 200-201. London: Times Books. ISBN 978-0-00-788089-8.
- "Downturn widens racial wealth gap". BBC News. 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
- Nancy F. Koehn (2012-02-04). "When Life Is a Bunch of Carrots". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- Michelle Alexander (2012-03-11). "Go to trial: Crash the Justice System". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-03-25.
- Alexander, Michelle (2010). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press. ISBN 978-1-59558-103-7.
- Mauer, Marc (2006). Race to Incarcerate. New York: The New Press. ISBN 9781595580221.
- Reinarman, Craig; Levine, Harry G. (1995). "The Crack Attack: America's Latest Drug Scare, 1986–1992". In Joel Best. Images and Issues: Typifying Contemporary Social Problems. New York: Aldine De Gruyter. ISBN 9780202366739.
||This article's use of external links may not follow Wikipedia's policies or guidelines. (July 2013)|
- The New Jim Crow official site
- In Prison Reform, Money Trumps Civil Rights, Michelle Alexander (The New York Times, May 14, 2011)
- Justices, 5-4, Tell California to Cut Prisoner Population, Adam Liptak (The New York Times, May 23, 2011)
- Trend to Lighten Harsh Sentences Catches On in Conservative States, Charlie Savage (The New York Times, August 13, 2011)
- Sex Offenders: The Last Pariahs, Roger N. Lancaster (The New York Times, August 20, 2011)
- Tortured by Solitude, Sarah Shourd (The New York Times, November 5, 2011)
- Why Is the N.Y.P.D. After Me?, Nicholas K. Peart (The New York Times, December 17, 2011)
- Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow, Critical Review (Radical Critiques, February 27, 2012)
- Black Out: Michelle Alexander's Operational Whitewash, Critical Review (International Journal of Radical Critique, April 7, 2012)
- Why Some Like The New Jim Crow So Much, Critical Review (Vox Union, April 26, 2012)
- Toward Détournement of The New Jim Crow, or, The Strange Career of The New Jim Crow, Critical Analysis (International Journal of Radical Critique, December 15, 2012)