inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #101 of 174: David Wilson (dlwilson) Sat 29 May 10 14:32
    
I had an easy task of it. All I had to do is tell my friend that we've
been talking about him here.  He asked for the book back and now plans
to read it.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #102 of 174: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 29 May 10 14:53
    
The insane perversity of those SC decisions ruling statistical proof
of discrimination moot was also something I didn't know about.  I'd
heard of the decisions (you know, in the background on NPR, while half
paying attention) but I thought they had something to do with
affirmative action.  I had no idea that, for example, you can now have
a law in which 98.4% of the people convicted are black and it's not
considered discriminatory.  

And I know I'm tracking my muddy sneakers all over finely crafted
legal reasoning here, but that's the gist of it.

I thought "The New Jim Crow" was sort of a hyperbolic title before I
read the book.  It isn't.  
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #103 of 174: Jack Kessler (kessler) Sat 29 May 10 15:05
    
The problem needs precise definition and focus. Right now it is too
diffuse: if it includes racism against Blacks, and discrimination
against Latinos, and The War On Some Drugs & Three-Strikes Laws &
Initiative / Referendum Laws & Prison Guards Unions power & elimination
of our Welfare Safety Blanket & Gini coefficient division of income
increases & a whole lot of other Favorite Issues of a whole lot of
folks, then it is going to be too easy to shoot down in debate. All the
Opposition has to do is divide & conquer, or simply confuse.

Political consolidation of all the above issues & groups is possible.
But they need to know what it is they have in common. So that when the
Opposition descends, in Congressional hearings or at vote time or
whenever, they will stick together rather than get pulled apart.

I suggest the unifying issue is "too many people in prison, now". We
all need those prison numbers reduced. It's bankrupting our state
governments, ruining too many local communities, corrupting our souls.
Each of the above groups needs to find what, among their various
issues, contributes to there being "too many people in prison, now",
and work on that one angle alongside other groups. 

There are lots of "Prisons Projets" now. They need to join together,
get lobbyists going, fight the now-enormous and $$$ Prison Guards
unions, get some legislation moving. Yes disproportionate numbers of
prisoners are Black -- The New Jim Crow -- so the old-line Civil Rights
organizations, which still are some of the most powerful lobbies in
the country, need to get firmly on-board with their "Prisons Projects",
finding common ground with similar efforts by Latinos, Asians,
Homeless groups, Welfare groups, academic projects.

That's a program. But it needs a united front. United purpose: "too
many people in prison, now".
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #104 of 174: Jack Kessler (kessler) Sat 29 May 10 15:22
    <scribbled by kessler Sat 29 May 10 15:25>
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #105 of 174: Jack Kessler (kessler) Sat 29 May 10 15:24
    
We had a good thrash about some of this some time ago, here on The
WELL, at --

<current.1323>: US Prisons -- who's in, who's out ?

-- situation decried back then has only gotten worse since -- your
book will help greatly, Michelle.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #106 of 174: Michelle Alexander (m-alexander) Sat 29 May 10 20:07
    
I agree wholeheartedly that we need focus and definition for the
movement.  We need to be able to answer the question:  What is this
movement ultimately about?

I worry, though, about reducing the movement to an anti-prison slogan.
 Slogans are needed, but I fear that slogan is too narrow. 

As I explain in chapter 2, this system of control depends on the
prison label - not prison time.  Reducing the amount of time people
spend behind bars will alleviate some of the unnecessary suffering
caused by this system, but it will not disturb the closed circuit of
perpetual marginality.  Unless the number of people labeled felons is
dramatically reduced, and unless most forms of discrimination against
them are repealed, the current caste system will continue to function
quite well.  

Even if the number of people behind bars is reduced, those labeled
felons will still suffer severe discrimination in every aspect of
social, economic and political life.  They'll still have to "check the
box" on employment applications no matter how minor their felony
conviction and no matter how long ago it occurred.  They'll still be
barred from public and private housing, and if convicted of a drug
felony will still be denied food stamps.  They'll still be forced to
pay thousands of dollars in fees, fines, court costs and accumulated
back child support.  Those who are lucky enough to get jobs, will still
find that fully 100 percent of their wages can be garnished to pay
back those debts.  They'll still be stigmatized and will continue to
try to "pass" among co-workers, friends and family.  In short, unable
to find work or housing, and subject to severe stigma, most people
labeled felons will continue to cycle in and out of prison, and will be
subject to perpetual surveillance by police.  

So what to do?  Well, I think we've got to reduce the number of people
in prison, but we should be careful not to mislead people that we can
measure progress simply by counting heads.  

One study indicated that we could end mass incarceration (i.e. go back
to the incarceration rates of the 1970s) simply by reducing sentence
length!  In other words, we could slash prison terms and return to
pre-drug war incarceration rates, but keep processing the same number
of people through the system.  That would NOT be success, in my view. 

So we've got to reduce the size of our prison population, but we've
got to do much more than that.  We've got to overturn a caste system
that is linked, in no small part, to a domestic economy that no longer
depends upon unskilled black labor.  Our economy don't require
unskilled black folks anymore, but as a society we're unwilling to fund
quality schools in ghetto communities or raise taxes to pay for
desperately needed social services.  What we are willing to do is spend
billions of dollars disposing of poor people of color.  That
inclination lies at the core of this system of control.  

So we've got to reduce prison size, yes, yes, yes. But we've got to do
 much more than that.  We've got to build a human rights movement that
is dedicated to creating a more compassionate society.  A society
committed to education, not incarceration; a society that genuinely
values lower-class people of all colors.  Returning to the
incarceration rates of the 1970s would put more than a million people
out of work - many of whom live in rural communities where work is hard
to find.  A backlash would necessarily erupt, one that would (once
again) pit poor whites and blacks against each other in a fight for
scraps from the table.  It's not difficult to predict who the winners
and losers would be.  The fight wouldn't be framed as a fight about
jobs; it would be framed as a fight about who's soft and who's tough on
"criminals" -- the dark skinned pariahs.  

This movement has to provide an analysis of a very complicated social
and economic reality.  This will be difficult, but it's not impossible.
 A slogan may be needed, but I think it has to capture more than the
need to reduce the number of folks behind bars.  This movement may need
more than one slogan to define it.  If you can come up with a slogan
that captures all of what I've described, I promise to make it the
title of my next book.  :-) 
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #107 of 174: Jack Kessler (kessler) Sun 30 May 10 07:06
    
You got a deal! The WELL loves a slogan-challenge.

So how 'bout, "When prisons are outlawed, only outlaws will be..."
no...

:-)
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #108 of 174: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sun 30 May 10 08:16
    
I can definitely see where we don't want to simply reduce sentences.

"New and improved prisons - permanently stigmatize just as many people
in 1/3rd the time!"

I think we should legalize all drugs, period.  But beyond that
specific issue (not that it isn't a central issue in our current
dilemma) we need to ask ourselves the question "does this really need
to be a felony?"  
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #109 of 174: Maria Rosales (rosmar) Sun 30 May 10 08:41
    
I agree, but also I also agree with Michelle's point that, without
also doing something about education and resources, the fight will move
to different terrain but will not be over.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #110 of 174: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sun 30 May 10 08:47
    
To wax philosophical (and I realize we're sorta trying to get tactical
here), I think the massive campaign of social control Michelle
describes in her book is part of a larger pattern.

Our society has gone in a very punitive direction right across the
board.  There is no problem that can't be solved by punishing,
excluding, or executing someone.  Well, except for all the problems we
can't address, like poverty, declining incomes, disappearing jobs...
The U.S. in 2010 is a pretty crazy place to live.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #111 of 174: David Wilson (dlwilson) Sun 30 May 10 11:08
    
It should be clear to anyone that the priorities in our society are
incredibly skewed away from the basic democratic principles that we
appeal to and draw meaning from. 

Emotions, polemics, and a sense of justice get tangled up.  But just
to focus on the economic implications(which are always the first thing
that comes to most people) there should be a self-interest argument. 
It is in our interest to shift money away from the drug war and prisons
to education, job creation, housing, and rebuilding poor communities. 


Prisons and police operations function economically like sports
stadiums.  They benefit portions of the local economy like bars,
hospitality and restaurant industry, t shirt stores, parking lots and
the team owners.  They take more than they give back.  We should be
arguing over the size of the subsidy to mass incarceration and how it 
is deployed and should be redeployed. 
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #112 of 174: David Wilson (dlwilson) Sun 30 May 10 11:14
    
I left out from the above post, that if you are seeking certain
outcomes from education, community and economic development, then
deploy it right.  That is the lesson from "The Wire."  Don't fund your
initiatives in a half-assed manner while you pour all your resources
into a societal deadend.  Don't reward juking the stats.  Don't expect
the schools or police to perform according to the ideals you set out if
you are undermining them at a fundamental operational level.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #113 of 174: Michelle Alexander (m-alexander) Sun 30 May 10 14:01
    

I think our tendency towards punitiveness is linked, not only to race,
but also to our economic system - what I like to call
hyper-capitalism.  In a society in which people are encouraged to view
each other fundamentally as competitors, it's not surprising we are
eager to punish "others" and get angry when anyone seems to be getting
anything they didn't directly pay for.

Each individual wants to maximize their own advantage, as well as
advantages to members of their own "team."  It's perceived as a zero
sum game, where there will be clear winners and losers.  The losers are
understood, in this so-called "land of opportunity," to be bad people
- people who are less smart, less capable, less hard-working, less
worthy of winning the game and sharing in the spoils.  This competition
makes us more than a little aggressive and very, very angry when
anyone who is not on our team gets not only an unfair advantage - but
gets anything at all.  "Others'" success implies our own failure.  When
"others" get something, it means the rest of us lose.  The fear of
being "a loser" is profound, and every effort is made to distance
oneself from the losers.  Punishing "others" harshly is thus an
expression of fear and resentment.  It's an outlet for the emotional
anxiety created by a society in which we are encouraged to compete with
each other and fear each other, rather than view each other as part of
a large, extended family.  It's probably not a coincidence that our
society has become more punitive at the very same time that wealth
inequality in our nation has grown exponentially.

The myth that our society is a nearly "level playing field" is one of
the reasons I deliberately chose to use the terms "caste" and
"undercaste", rather than "class" and "underclass" in the book.   


  
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #114 of 174: Michelle Alexander (m-alexander) Mon 31 May 10 12:43
    
I watched American Violet last night, available now on video. See
http://www.americanviolet.com. It's a powerful film based on the true
story of a young woman arrested on drug charges in Texas during a sweep
of a public housing project.  Dozens of black residents were arrested
based on the testimony of a single confidential (lying) informant.  The
film manages to highlight so many of the themes of The New Jim Crow,
including how harsh sentences force so many innocent people to plead
guilty; how pitiful the system of public defense is in so many places
in the country; how terrifying the criminal justice system is for those
swept into it; how people's lives are destroyed by being branded a
felon; how difficult it is to find work or housing once branded; how
food stamps are off-limits to drug offenders for the rest of their
lives; and how devastating all of this is for young children, who must
witness this madness happening to their parents and who may feel the
stigma and shame most acutely.  

The one major limitation of the film is that the DA is so blatantly
racist, appallingly so, that it may leave the misimpression that this
stuff happens only when open bigots are running the show.  Also, the
young woman who fights back against the system by participating in an
ACLU lawsuit actually wins -- leaving the impression that it's possible
to change this system just by filing a lawsuit.  What the movie
doesn't tell is that, if the DA hadn't been caught using the n-word
repeatedly and if DA's own family members hadn't testified that he was
a horrible racist eager to lock up as many n-words as possible, the
case would have FAILED.  Without evidence of overt racial bias --
evidence which is extraordinarily rare today since most law enforcement
officials know better than to go around saying they want to lock up
black people -- the lawsuit would have gone nowhere.  Also, it's worthy
of note that even though the lawsuit succeeded and the drug task force
responsible for the raids was disbanded, the DA has been re-elected! 
So the more things change, the more they remain the same . . . 
Litigation alone will not end The New Jim Crow.  We need a mass social
movement, built from the ground up.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #115 of 174: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 31 May 10 15:11
    
You are right Michelle, that this will have to be fought on many
fronts, as the issues are so complex.  How about a slogan like "...and
Justice for ALL" for the legal front?  This would turn the issue on its
head and might help to focus the actions of civil right's and
community support groups in working to overturn the War on Drugs,
prisoners release and all their related needs.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #116 of 174: David Albert (aslan) Tue 1 Jun 10 08:36
    
> ... but dismissed as implausible my claim
> that the majority of young black men were under the control of the
> criminal justice system in many large urban areas.

I remember that quotation, because it was the first place in the book
where I thought, "No, that simply can't be true; she's exaggerating or
getting her information from some silly, untrustworthy source.  One in
three nationwide I can believe, but 3 out of 4 just seems impossible."

Can you remind us of the source of this particular point of
information?  
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #117 of 174: Michelle Alexander (m-alexander) Tue 1 Jun 10 13:48
    

Actually, I didn't claim that 3 out of 4 black men in large urban
areas are currently under the control of the criminal justice system;
instead I noted it's been estimated that 3 out of 4 young black men in
D.C. (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) could expect
to serve time in prison.  Those figures are based on data from the D.C.
Department of Corrections analyzed in a major study (which eventually
became a book entitled Doing Time on the Outside) by Georgetown Law
Professor Donald Braman.

I like the slogan, Justice For All, but unfortunately it's been the
title of one too many movies and documentaries . . . .

 
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #118 of 174: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 1 Jun 10 14:05
    
The public has learned to expect that problems such as this will have
an "Erin Brokovich" ending - plucky hero or heroine finds the right
lawyer and justice prevails.  

As you point out, barring the occasional presence of a complete
buffoon who actually brags about how he's trying to lock up black
people, that's not going to happen in this case.  This story doesn't
neatly fall into Hollywood plot lines.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #119 of 174: Michelle Alexander (m-alexander) Tue 1 Jun 10 16:49
    
And yet Hollywood plot lines are precisely what civil rights advocates
are trained to spin in the media and in court.  Civil rights lawyers
search for "model plaintiffs" and compelling media spokespeople --
people whose stories conform to well established tropes. Every lawyer
wants to find the next Rosa Parks.  Adding to the difficulty, decades
of mythology about the success of cases like Brown v. Board of
Education have persuaded the general public (and civil rights lawyers
themselves) that litigation strategies alone can trigger profound
societal transformation.  The reality, of course, is that Brown
accomplished relatively little.  A full decade after Brown was decided,
schools in the South were as segregated as before and Jim Crow was
alive and well.  

All of this gets back to the need to tell stories that humanize those
who are currently beyond society's circle of care and concern. These
stories must challenge prevailing conceptions of who is "deserving" of
our concern, rather than merely conforming to those conceptions.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #120 of 174: Gail Williams (gail) Tue 1 Jun 10 17:20
    
I was thinking about this topic while away from my computer, and about
several of the themes that have come up here.  One was all the
recommending of "the Wire" earlier in the topic, and another was the
friend of one of the posters here who is an older African American
gentleman who seemed to be alarmed about coddling or condoning
criminals.  

In "The Wire" season 4, the teachers in the Baltimore public schools
describe the kids as "stoop kids and corner kids."  The corner kids are
likely to be going into the drug trade if they are not already
involved in it. They have no sense of needed to be in school.  The
stoop kids get to play on the front steps of their homes.  They have a
parental figure who makes them go to school, stay off the corners.
Someone who worries about them and hopes they can stay out of trouble,
actual or perceived.  When the teacher in the TV series gets order by
asking kids what their mama would think, she is pulling the strings
that don't work at all for the corner kids.  

So I don't think it is just generational when working or middle-class
African Americans are cautious about illegal drugs, or less interested
in rebelling against some of my more bohemian friends.  I think the
stakes are higher, and the need to establish oneself as Not A Felon is
crucial.  

This is just a personal observation, but when I thought about it,
first I thought about internalized racism. I also about the need to put
somebody else down so that you are "better" than they are, as you
expressed so well a while back, Michelle.  Then I thought it is really
not like that at all. It's a life long task of learning to
differentiate oneself from those who society is punishing as losers,
simply to survive with a little dignity, and that's a tough thing for
people to have to unlearn. 
 
Mythic story lines and factual books like yours have all got to help.
People who speak out about this hidden agenda of The War on Some Drugs
and Some People may be able to help too.  
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #121 of 174: Gail Williams (gail) Tue 1 Jun 10 17:23
    
That should read "So I don't think it is just generational when
working or middle-class African Americans are cautious about illegal
drugs, or less interested in rebelling against [mainstream culture
than] some of my more bohemian friends. "  Sorry I dropped a few words
in a cut and paste.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #122 of 174: Michelle Alexander (m-alexander) Tue 1 Jun 10 17:27
    
Gail, your post slipped in, just as I was about to post this:

Speaking of compelling stories, remember the Jena 6?  Remember the
extraordinary level of media attention their case received?  The media
went wild as thousands of protestors descended on the small rural
community to condemn the attempted murder charges filed against six
black teenagers who allegedly beat a white classmate at a local high
school.  The fight was apparently related to a noose that had been hung
from a tree in the school's courtyard.  It was a story about (old) Jim
Crow justice, and so the media ate it up.  

By contrast, there was no national media attention to a paramilitary
drug raid that occurred in the Jena area in which a dozen black people
were arrested.  No drugs were found.  Many residents believe the raid
was in retaliation for support of the Jena 6.  But there was no
national media coverage.  No CNN.  Paramilitary drug raids of black
neighborhoods are normal, even when no drugs are found.  See
http://theloop21.com/society/drug-bust-or-racist-revenge-louisiana.  

Who's to blame for this?  It's easy to blame the media, but those of
us in the civil rights community must take some responsibility for the
fact that we've treated these events as normal.  If we don't seem
appalled, why should the media get worked up?  Our relative quiet has
made us complicit.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #123 of 174: Michelle Alexander (m-alexander) Tue 1 Jun 10 17:29
    
I agree, Gail, that the process of learning to differentiate yourself
from the "losers" begins at birth and is a survival technique of sorts.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #124 of 174: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 1 Jun 10 18:35
    
I'm sure that this occurred to you long ago, but it certainly is
ironic that you're a civil rights lawyer saying that in this case,
civil rights lawyers aren't going to fix the problem.

Now and then I see stories about those paramilitary raids in the
papers, but only when something goes wrong in a particularly egregious
way - a baby gets killed, or someone gives an old lady a heart attack
by breaking into the wrong house.  Or, heaven forbid, they actually
raid a middle class white person's home by mistake - that happened in
suburban Maryland a few months ago.  The cops shot the dogs, handcuffed
everyone for hours - it was in the papers for days.  Guy was the mayor
of a small town, as it turned out, and some smugglers had sent a box
of pot to his wife w/o her knowledge, planning to snatch it off the
porch as soon as the delivery guy left it.

I read all the coverage, and not once did anyone covering the story
muse that, hey, maybe this stuff goes on in some neighborhoods all the
time.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #125 of 174: David Albert (aslan) Wed 2 Jun 10 06:27
    
One approach might be to work against all laws that can be applied
arbitrarily.

(If that is most laws, then so be it.)

In this week's Parade Magazine, for instance, there's a little snippet
about a Florida noise ordinance that was overturned after the ACLU
argued that the standard ("noise audible at 25 feet") could apply to
just about every radio in existence, and thus allowed police to enforce
the law arbitrarily.

The same, of course, is true about our speeding laws, given that just
about ever car on the highway is traveling above the speed limit at any
given time.

Frankly I'm not sure which laws CAN'T be applied arbitrarily.  Murder,
perhaps?  Armed Robbery?  Those seem a bit more cut and dried, but I'm
probably missing something.
  

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