The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander is known as one of the most important books of our time. This is a book that makes the reader appreciate the magnitude of the crisis faced by communities of color as a result of mass incarceration. As noted, this book is not for everyone. It’s for people who are interested in seeing the injustice that many people of color have to face in the United States. In this book, we will see many similarities about our criminal justice system and something that looks and feels like the era of Jim Crow, an era we supposedly left behind. The New Jim Crow is an account of a caste-like system, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement. This book does a great job at exposing certain problems wee see as normal today, as we are blinded by the way this racial caste is structured in the United States.
The introduction of the book starts by giving us an example of how discrimination is still prevalent in the United States by giving us an example of an African American named Jarvious Cotton (Alexander 1). Jarvious Cotton cannot vote, just like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great grandfather. His family tree tells the story of discrimination of various generations. 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 the intimidation of the Klan. His father was blocked from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests. Now, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the U.S. , has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole. This gives us a very deep understanding of some of the issues that many African Americans have endured since their first ancestors. As a criminal justice major, I get to see the facts about the incarceration rates here in the United states unlike many who rely heavily in the media. We see that minorities, especially African-Americans and Latinos, are incarcerated at higher levels than caucasians even though studies show that minorities commit less crimes than caucasians( citation) . The introduction is familiar to the topics we study in criminal justice.
Secondly, The New Jim Crow informs the reader about “the history of radicalized social control in the United States.” Few find it surprising that Jim Crow came after the eradication of slavery because it was predictable. Given the fact that racism was very much prevalent in the south and the political dynamics of the time. It’s unbelievable that hardly anyone seems to imagine that similar political dynamics may have produced a new caste system in the years following the downfall of Jim Crow, a new caste that exists today. Many people would disagree that such caste exists since there have been many successful African-Americans such as Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, but just because a few African-Americans made it to the top it doesn’t stop the fact that the majority of African-Americans in this country are being affected negatively by our criminal justice system. American history has proven throughout history that its racism is “adaptable” and can create or become different forms of racism depending on the political or social environment of a given era.
African Americans have been placed under systems of control ever since they were brought to the United States, but throughout time, these systems have been changing. Some people might argue that every racial caste has been diminished, become less divisive, and less prevalent than the ones that we’ve had before, but we could clearly see that this isn’t the case. Rather, the book tells us that “as the systems of control have developed, they have become perfected,” expanding more and more difficult to detect in society. The book also argues that the importance of race has not been around longer than a few centuries, and that in the United States, race was primarily used to remember the fact that European settlers founded the country on the idea of freedom while committing atrocious acts such as murdering and enslaving African Americans and Natives. African Americans were seen as property, often used as a source of cheap labor, and were placed at the bottom of American society and the caste system. Plantation owners started to demand the transportation of large numbers of people directly from Africa , since many revolts started to take place as blacks and poor whites began to become tired of their situation. This act made the plantation believe that they would be less lenient to revolt.
Moreover they started to implement somewhat of a racial bribe, giving benefits to poor whites in order to discourage them from forming alliances with African-American slaves. Thanks to pressure made by Southern states to sustain slavery, the U.S Constitution was designed to guarantee a fairly weak federal government that would secure the power of the state and property rights. Surprisingly, The electoral college was also created and influenced by the very own slave-owners.” This statement was interesting since our class recently talked about the pros and cons of the electoral college. Furthermore, the constitution of the United States declared at the time that an enslaved individual was considered to be only 3/5 of a person. By the time of the historic Emancipation Proclamation, the racial caste system created by slavery, was an important part of the American society of the time. It made it impossible to eradicate since it was very well ingrained within the American society. White supremacy, which was very prevalent at the time, was known as “a kind of religion” because of the prevalence of the time. White supremacy also allowed whites to claim that all citizens in America were equal even though they continuously supported racial inequality and violence. The end of the Civil War and slavery created a crisis for southerner slaveholders since the most important part of their wealth came from the things that were being abolished.
Also, the book describes the criminal justice system in steps starting from a given individual who gets arrested, charged and incarcerated for simple drug offenses. To be precise, Alexander states that a major problem created by the War on Drugs is the little to no moderation of police. The War on Drugs has militarized and protected the police in many ways. Major court cases have immunized the police in ways in which you can’t really legally challenge practices such as stop and frisk and the police’s right to stop anyone they want to. Meanwhile, the federal government have militarized police departments by assisting them with full military gear for drug units, use SWAT teams for drug busts, and by allowing police to profit off the people who are just suspects of drug crimes. This last policy has served as a reason for police to be more aggressive on drug crimes since many police departments across the country are mainly funded off seized assets during drug investigations. As expected, many police departments across the nation have become dependent on drug profits, in which there have been known cases where the police ignore the legal requirement of having search warrants and participate in aggressive illegal “shakedowns”. There have been many attempts to prevent these illegal actions through legal reforms, although all of them have been unsuccessful.
The main reason being that there are countless legal ways in which police can seize property off of innocent people, also because the profit incentive remains until this day. President Obama’s election resulted in the hope of many legal scholars, mainly because there was hope that he would bring an end to the war on drugs since it was known that he knew of the harsh penalties of minor drug violations. Eventually the dream came to an end. President Obama continued to fund anti-drug efforts, therefore restating the The United States position on the War on Drugs. Before our government implemented the mandatory minimum sentencing laws, cases of addiction, abuse and poverty often resulted in comprehensive measures. Unfortunatelly, by having minimum sentences, judges rarely get involved in these types of sentences since now they cannot opt for the most comprehensive sentence even if they really wanted to. Contrast to other countries similar to the United States , selling drugs tends to get offenders months in prison, in the United States it is fairly common for these sentences to be range from decades to life in prison. Even first-time offenders are often sentenced life in prison.
The book provides excellent examples of people’s lives being affected and destroyed by our harsh penalties for minor crimes (which some of the sentenced had almost no knowledge of knowing). The book informs us that even Reagan’s appointee, conservative Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy, has even called our outdated minimum sentences “unjust” and unnecessary. These problems caused by our harsh sentences and mass incarceration will not be solved that easily, even if we simply decide to discontinue these types of sentences. The problem that carries more weight is known as the “prison label,” which turns ex felons into type of second class citizen. After being released from prison, ex cons are not allowed to receive the same benefits as regular citizens such as welfare, public housing access, and a broad variety of jobs. The book documented that 68% of people released from prison will come back in less than three years, eventually for violation of parole and probation. Unless we get support for ex cons, convict less people, and eliminate mandatory sentences, mass incarceration will still prevail.