Black Male Incarceration and the New Jim Crow…
(ThyBlackMan.com) “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