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PORTSIDE  April 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDE April 2011, Week 3

Subject:

More Black Men Now in Prison System than Enslaved in 1850

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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Date:

Mon, 18 Apr 2011 01:32:10 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (126 lines)

More Black Men Now in Prison System than Enslaved in
1850
By Dick Price
LA Progressive
March 27, 2011
http://www.laprogressive.com/law-and-the-justice-system/black-men-prison-system/

More African American men are in prison or jail, on
probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before
the Civil War began," Michelle Alexander told a standing
room only house at the Pasadena Main Library this past
Wednesday, the first of many jarring points she made in
a riveting presentation.

Alexander, currently a law professor at Ohio State, had
been brought in to discuss her year-old bestseller, The
New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of
Colorblindness More Black Men Now in Prison System than
Enslaved in 1850. Interest ran so high beforehand that
the organizers had to move the event to a location that
could accommodate the eager attendees. That evening,
more than 200 people braved the pouring rain and
inevitable traffic jams to crowd into the library's main
room, with dozens more shuffled into an overflow room,
and even more latecomers turned away altogether.
Alexander and her topic had struck a nerve.

Growing crime rates over the past 30 years don't explain
the skyrocketing numbers of black - and increasingly
brown - men caught in America's prison system, according
to Alexander, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice
Harry Blackmun after attending Stanford Law. "In fact,
crime rates have fluctuated over the years and are now
at historical lows."

"Most of that increase is due to the War on Drugs, a war
waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color,"
she said, even though studies have shown that whites use
and sell illegal drugs at rates equal to or above
blacks. In some black inner-city communities, four of
five black youth can expect to be caught up in the
criminal justice system during their lifetimes.

As a consequence, a great many black men are
disenfranchised, said Alexander - prevented because of
their felony convictions from voting and from living in
public housing, discriminated in hiring, excluded from
juries, and denied educational opportunities.

"What do we expect them to do?" she asked, who
researched her ground-breaking book while serving as
Director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of
Northern California. "Well, seventy percent return to
prison within two years, that's what they do."

Organized by the Pasadena Public Library and the
Flintridge Center, with a dozen or more cosponsors,
including the ACLU Pasadena/Foothills Chapter and
Neighborhood Church, and the LA Progressive as the sole
media sponsor, the event drew a crowd of the converted,
frankly - more than two-thirds from Pasadena's well-
established black community and others drawn from
activists circles. Although Alexander is a polished
speaker on a deeply researched topic, little she said
stunned the crowd, which, after all, was the choir. So
the question is what to do about this glaring injustice.

Married to a federal prosecutor, Alexander briefly
touched on the differing opinion in the Alexander
household. "You can imagine the arguments we have,"
Alexander said in relating discussions she has with her
husband. "He thinks there are changes we can make within
the system," she said, agreeing that there are good
people working on the issues and that improvements can
be made. "But I think there has to be a revolution of
some kind."

However change is to come, a big impediment will be the
massive prison-industrial system.

"If we were to return prison populations to 1970 levels,
before the War on Drugs began," she said. "More than a
million people working in the system would see their
jobs disappear."

So it's like America's current war addiction. We have
built a massive war machine - one bigger than all the
other countries in the world combined - with millions of
well-paid defense industry jobs and billions of dollars
at stake. With a hammer that big, every foreign policy
issue looks like a nail - another bomb to drop, another
country to invade, another massive weapons development
project to build.

Similarly, with such a well-entrenched prison-industrial
complex in place - also with a million jobs and billions
of dollars at stake - every criminal justice issue also
looks like a nail - another prison sentence to pass
down, another third strike to enforce, another prison to
build in some job-starved small town, another chance at
a better life to deny.

Alexander, who drew her early inspiration from Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr., devotes the last part of "The
New Jim Crow" to steps people can take to combat this
gross injustice. In particular, she recommended
supporting the Drug Policy Alliance.

___________________________________________

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