Saturday, June 6, 2020

Black Male Incarceration and the New Jim Crow…

March 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Misc., News, Opinion, Politics, Weekly Columns

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( “More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began,” according to Michelle Alexander, a law professor at The Ohio State University.  Alexander is the author of an interesting new book called “The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindedness.”

According to Professor Alexander, increases in crime rates do not explain the massive growth in black male incarceration that has taken place over the last 30 years.

 “In fact, crime rates have fluctuated over the years and are now at historical lows,” according to Alexander.  “Most of that increase is due to the War on Drugs, a war waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color.”

The professor also mentions that whites use and sell illegal drugs at rates that are as high or higher than African Americans.  In many inner city communities across America, four out of five black males are expected to be in the criminal justice system at some point during their lifetime.

Where the Jim Crow aspect of Professor Alexander’s argument comes into play is primarily during the disenfranchisement that occurs after a man or woman has become part of the criminal justice system.  After committing a  crime at a very early age, a convicted felon then has his/her right to vote stripped away, along with the ability to obtain gainful employment.  This forms a legalized caste system that keeps many families, particularly black and brown ones, in the bottom rung of our society.  The same way the government once served as an accomplice in keeping black people from having opportunities, it does the same thing now with convicted felons and their families. 

 “What do we expect them to do?” asked Professor Alexander. “Well, seventy percent return to prison within two years, that’s what they do.”

Professor Alexander accurately notes that money is part of the reason that the prison industrial complex remains intact.  She says that if prison populations were to go back to what they were before the failed War on Drugs, more than a million people would lose jobs in the system.  Additionally, corporations now earn billions of dollars every year from cheap prison labor that they can’t find anywhere else in the world.

What I respect about the work of Michelle Alexander is that she is using her scholarship for a productive purpose, instead of writing a bunch of research papers that no one will ever read (as many black scholars are unfortunately conditioned to do).  Mass incarceration is one of the most devastating problems facing black America today and it also serves to undermine the stability of the black family in America.  When the Reagan Administration allowed drugs and guns to enter black communities during the Iran Contra Affair, this set off a sequence of events that would serve to devastate black America over the next several decades.

The crack cocaine epidemic led to the addictions of millions of parents who abandoned their children in search of the drug.  This also brought on an unprecedented amount of violence in urban America, where law-abiding families were no longer safe.  The violence not only led to homicide being the leading cause of death for young black males, but also skyrocketing rates of incarceration for black men as a result of gun, drug and murder convictions.

What added insult to injury in the War on Drugs is that not only did the government play a role in allowing guns and drugs into black America, they were the first in line to chastise African Americans for possessing these items.  A large percentage of black males behind bars have been convicted of drug possession, even though the major producers of both drugs and guns happen to be white.  So while the state and American citizens are more than happy to see black men go to prison for possessing guns and drugs that have been created by someone else, there is almost no effort to go after those who create these deadly products in the first place.

I agree with Professor Alexander, who argues that a revolution is necessary for this system to be fixed.  We’ve seen that a black President and Attorney General won’t do the trick, so it’s entirely up to the people.  Black folks are starting to realize what has happened to us over the last 30 years, and we shouldn’t be happy about it.  Now it’s time for our community to rebuild. 

Staff Writer; Dr. Boyce Watkins 

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  For more information, please visit


10 Responses to “Black Male Incarceration and the New Jim Crow…”
  1. Mike C. Okereke says:

    I certainly do agree that the still increased incaceration rate of Black men is a direct aftermath of Jim Crowism. It is very prepsteruos that an incacerated man, would, after paying his proverbial dues to sovciety be subjected to another round of, well, this time, mental incaceration or torture by him not being able to get a job, not to talk of a decent job, and the denial of his voting rights. The mental incaceration is probably worse than the physical one because it could lead the victim back into the prison system – making the American judicial system a sorry case (mochkery), of what crime, punishment, and redemption combination ought to be.
    Mike C. Okereke

  2. Gerry says:

    Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

  3. freesoul says:

    NO PEACE NO JUSTICE NO FREEDOM.. The New Middle Passage equals Jail Time.. It’s sad to say but alot of Blacks Celebrate doing jail Time, before & after the FACT (it you Rap about it more than 3times it Glorifies it to the YOUTH). So we can complain all we want but until we change the environment in our communities let the silly games play on. We LoVe Gangter RAP (generalizing) but not Gangters in our HOOD, We LoVe GUN play on Album Covers/Videos but Hate Gun play in our HOOD.. Lol Crazy.. Yes the MAN has US locked DOWNED but we also LOCK ourselves DOWN. Money is flowing in & out of the HOOD but never circulates, we just give it right back. Bling Blinging.. All the Black Professional Ball Players, Musicians, Lawyers, Doctors etc.. spending MONEY.. Where does it all go??

  4. oren elow says:

    Talk, talk ,talk yet the prison system is still full of Black men while Black men on the street cannot find jobs or places to live. The educational for Black is the poorest . . . and the fuss goes on. To change from talk, talk, talk to solid action – to Civil Rights protest. It worked for us in the ’60s and we can, in numbers, make it work again. We just cannot keep tell the Man what Black needs in America are – no – we must show them by gathering in the streets, peacefully. For really, we are not much better off than the protesters in the middle east. Every Black man in America is in prison, whether we’re incarcerated or not. We are locked up in our blackness and even President Obama cannot avoid it.

  5. J W says:

    Even though the African American condition is much more seen as a travesty in the minds and lives of many of us but rather a celebrated condition by many of our counterparts. Especially the astronomical number of black incarcerants.
    Who ever wins at anything generally celebrates…lest I use up to much space or lose your attention my point is staring right at us on this very page by the picture that does not fit on this page. I agree with much of what I’ve read re: our brothers and sisters condition but much of it is just “tinkling cymbals and sounding brass”. Look at the picture on this page and the words that accompany it. What’s up with that?

  6. lionel scott says:

    AFRiCAN americans human rights have been violated since the inhuman passage from africa brutal conditions on plantations treated less than human to jim crow laws the constitution does not apply to african american males this country wants to talk about human rights violations in other parts of the world the united states musts make a move on there own violations so they can start the redemption process so the african american children will not have to deal with the conditions their parents and grandparents did

  7. Halston Morgan says:

    There is definitely a problem with the way the construct is built. It is engineered to keep the black and brown down, and this effect is felt with every person, in every community. Although it is the way it is, we as black men and women have to be able to fight the demon of violence and genocide. Granted it is very difficult to do when youths see these people riding and shining, but i’ve been exposed to this lifestyle practically the entire 23 years ive been on this earth, and im in college, trying to make a way for my young daughter. If its not anything financial, it is definitely something with intellectual substance. A firm knowledge is exponentially greater than a any amount of money.

    We have to stand up and wise up to this monster and devise a way, although seemingly impossible, to fight it.

  8. Chris Jeff says:

    Now is the time for African-Americans to be pissed.


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