Thursday, September 13, 2012

Alexander: mass incarceration "New Jim Crow"



The United States has a label for non-white men: felons.

Anyone believing that African-Americans, Latino-Americans, or American Indians are disproportionately imprisoned because they are more often criminals is wrong. In fact, white people per capita commit at least as many drug-related crimes than their non-white brethren o amigas.

Michelle Alexander is an associate professor of law at Ohio State University, a civil rights lawyer, an activist, and was a law clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun. She is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

As part of the Lannan Foundation's Cultural Freedom Lecture series, the Lensic Performing Arts Center in downtown Santa Fe was packed to the rafters with one of most multicultural audiences this interested party has ever witnessed in one room.

A plank of the Southern Strategy seeking to assuage poor white people in the wake of the civil rights movement, the so-called 'War on Drugs' declared by the Nixon White House, then institutionalized by the Reagan and Clinton Administrations, redefined caste in the United States becoming a policy tool for the mass incarceration of non-white men.
Jarvious Cotton cannot vote. Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy. Cotton’s family tree tells the story of several generations of black men who were born in the United States but who were denied the most basic freedom that democracy promises—the freedom to vote for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one’s life. Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation. His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole. --excerpt from The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
Ms. Alexander reminded the mostly flaming liberal attendees that had Barry Obama been raised in the 'hood his chances would have been unremarkably grim.

At one thought intersection she used the example of any kid in South Dakota (a state where suicide is the 9th leading cause of death) having easy access to illegal drugs but whose family can't afford or lives too far from clinical care.

Plea agreements are legal coercion. Alexander called on those asked to serve jury duty to lie to the court about your feelings and nullify convictions of any person accused of non-violent drug crimes. She counsels people arrested and indicted for non-violent drug crimes to refuse plea agreements then force jury trials to overwhelm the broken system.

The next guest in the lecture series is Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!

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