Discussion of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Book Cover for "The New Jim Crow"


"What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it. In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt.

So we don't. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color "criminals" and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you're labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination--employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service--are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it."

...Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

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Selected Chronology of Federal Government's War on Drugs since 1954

1954 - President Eisenhower assembled a 5-member Cabinet committee to "stamp out narcotic addiction"

1971 - President Nixon called drug abuse "public enemy number one" at the same time that his administration repealed the federal 2-10 year mandatory minimum sentences for possession of marijuana and started federal demand reduction programs and drug-treatment programs. Robert DuPont, the "Drug czar" in the Nixon Administration, stated it would be more accurate to say that Nixon ended, rather than launched, the "war on drugs."

1973 - President Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to announce "an all-out global war on the drug menace."

1975 - The federal government's attention turned to Colombia's cocaine industry. When Colombian authorities seized 600 kilos of cocaine hidden in everything from shoeboxes to a dog cage containing a live dog, drug traffickers retaliated by killing 40 people in one weekend. Nicknamed the "Medellin Massacre" after the city at the center of Colombia's drug trade, the murders ignited years of raids, kidnappings, and assassinations.

1980s - The number of arrests for all crimes increased by 28%, while the number of arrests for drug offenses rose 126%.

1982 - President Reagan declared a War on Drugs and pledged that his administration would curtail the huge drug epidemic in the United States. To accomplish this, the federal government rapidly increased expenditures for narcotics control programs during the next seven years of his two-term presidency, reaching $4.3 billion annually in 1988.

1983 - The Los Angeles Police Department's Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) school lecture program, became a national phenomenon that, by 2003, cost $230 million and involved 50,000 police officers.

Just Say No1984 - Nancy Reagan appeared at an Oakland, Calif. where she was asked by 10-year-old Angel Wiltz what to do if someone offered her drugs. "Just say no," replied Reagan.

1985 - 5,000 "Just Say No" clubs had formed around the country.

1987 - Partnership for a Drug-Free America launched a campaign with a television ad featuring a hot skillet, a raw egg, and the phrase, "This is your brain on drugs.

1990s - between 1990 and 2002, marijuana accounted for 82% of the increase in the number of drug arrests . By 2004, approximately 12.7% of state prisoners and 12.4% of Federal prisoners were serving time for a marijuana-related offense.

2000s - The U.S. had developed what became known as the Prison Industrial Complex

Graph of Americans in prison"Three decades after the war on crime began, the United States has developed a prison-industrial complex - a set of bureaucratic, political, and economic interests that encourage increased spending on imprisonment, regardless of the actual need. The prison-industrial complex is not a conspiracy, guiding the nation's criminal-justice policy behind closed doors. It is a confluence of special interests that has given prison construction in the United States a seemingly unstoppable momentum. It is composed of politicians, both liberal and conservative, who have used the fear of crime to gain votes; impoverished rural areas where prisons have become a cornerstone of economic development; private companies that regard the roughly $35 billion spent each year on corrections not as a burden on American taxpayers but as a lucrative market; and government officials whose fiefdoms have expanded along with the inmate population. Since 1991 the rate of violent crime in the United States has fallen by about 20 percent, while the number of people in prison or jail has risen by 50 percent. The prison boom has its own inexorable logic. Steven R. Donziger, a young attorney who headed the National Criminal Justice Commission in 1996, explains the thinking: "If crime is going up, then we need to build more prisons; and if crime is going down, it's because we built more prisons - and building even more prisons will therefore drive crime down even lower.'" (from Eric Schlosser, The Atlantic.)

2012 - Trayvon Martin is killed by Neighborhood Watch volunteer George ZimmermanArt project of George Zimmerman made of Skittles