The New Jim Crow

  • February 7, 2013

    Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, in a recent column for The New York Times explores the incentives for police officers to dissemble before criminal juries. For starters, police officers largely can get away with it. In cities, quotas for arrests further incentivize police to lie about what actually happened during apprehensions of suspected criminals. The failed war on drugs and its laws promising federal dollars “have encouraged state and local law enforcement to boost drug arrests in order to compete for millions of dollars in funding.” As Alexander notes, defendants are justifiably afraid to raise these issues in court because what jury would believe a minority drug offender with a criminal record over a decorated police officer?

    posted by ESA

  • February 24, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Inimai Chettiar, the Policy Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, where she serves as national legislative counsel to end mass incarceration in states across the country. This piece is cross-posted at the ACLU’s Blog of Rights, as part of its celebration of Black History Month.

    I spent this past New Year's Eve lying on the floor of a New England police station. Just hours before, I was enjoying sushi with my best friend Jamal; excitedly discussing his possible political appointment and promising career.

    On our way home, we were pulled over for driving 37 mph in a 25 mph zone. Jamal was directed to perform a sobriety test although he was clearly not drunk and had explained that a back injury and current spasms would affect his performance. I got out of the car to speak with Jamal, but an officer whipped out his Taser and screamed at me to get back inside. While I tried to explain to him that I wanted to speak to Jamal as his attorney, Jamal declined a breathalyzer test because he didn't believe there was cause for an arrest. Apparently, declining the breathalyzer results in a mandatory arrest, incarceration, and a one year driver's license suspension, but cops aren't required to notify drivers of these consequences. Jamal was handcuffed and thrown into the back of the police car.

    Happy New Year: My best friend was now a statistic, part of the 1 in 3 Black menwho have been behind bars in this country. During the 12 hours I waited at the jail for Jamal's arraignment, I thought about how he felt locked in a cell the size of my Manhattan bathroom and about the 2.3 million people in similar cells across the country at that very moment.

  • March 11, 2010

    The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously endorsed a compromise to decrease the federal sentencing disparity for possession of crack versus powder cocaine today. Considering Sen. Dick Durbin's bill to eliminate the 100-to-1 sentencing ratio, Democrats acquiesced to an amendment proposed by ranking Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions (right), which would reduce the disparity to a 18-to-1 ratio. By a vote of 19-0, the committee reported a bill bearing the reduced disparity to the Senate floor.

    The virtues of ending the sentencing disparity were laid out by Adam Serwer, in The American Prospect this morning: 

    More than 20 years since the passage of the law [responsible for the sentencing disparity], the arbitrarily draconian penalties for crack cocaine have contributed to the increasing racial disparities in the U.S. prison system and helped swell the number of those behind bars to fully more than 1 percent of the entire U.S. population.

    The sheer number of people behind bars isn't just busting state budgets; it's helped destroy families and neighborhoods with not much discernible effect on the drug trade.

  • March 4, 2010
    The New Jim Crow
    Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
    Michelle Alexander

    By Michelle Alexander, Associate Professor of Law, Ohio State University Moritz College of Law

    It's not easy to admit mistakes. It's difficult to acknowledge that one's world view has been seriously flawed - that you've been willfully blind to extraordinary injustice, complicit in the very forms of bigotry, social exclusion, and discrimination that you thought you opposed. But once you see the truth - once you truly reckon with it - nothing is ever the same. You can never look at the world through the same distorted lens or claim not to know. Perhaps that's why we resist knowing the truth about the devastation wrought by the mass incarceration of poor people of color. We don't want to know the truth about what's happening in ghetto communities, prisons, jails, and detention centers. We'd rather not know about that parallel universe, because if we did know all of our illusions about modern America might be shattered. We might not have any more excuses for our silence.

    I worked as a civil rights lawyer at the ACLU for several years on issues of racial profiling, police brutality, and drug policy before I finally had my awakening. Looking back, it astounds me that I could have been so blind to what is blatantly obvious to me now: Our system of mass incarceration has emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racial control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow.

    As I explain in The New Jim Crow: