Saturday, May 21, 2011

Q&A: Michelle Alexander on “The New Jim Crow”

Excerpts from this article

It became very clear to me, abundantly clear, that our criminal justice system, though it appears on the surface to be color blind, is actually working to effectively recreate a caste-like system in America. Young folks of color are shuttled from decrepit, underfunded schools, to brand new high-tech prisons. And once they’re released from prison, having been branded a criminal or felon, they’re ushered into a parallel social universe in which they’re stripped of the very rights supposedly won in the civil rights movement.


Numerous historians and political scientists have now documented that the war on drugs was part of a grand strategy, known as the “Southern strategy” of using racially coded, racially charged get-tough appeals on issues of crime and welfare to appeal to poor and working class whites, particularly in the South, who were anxious about, resentful of many of the gains made by African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement.


Jim Crow was so deeply rooted in the economic political and social structure there that many people thought it wouldn’t fade away and many people were determined to ensure that it would never fade away. But it was possible to bring Jim Crow to its knees as the result of a major social movement. And I believe we can end mass incarceration as well. And yes, it will mean ending the drug war entirely. It’s time for us to rethink drug prohibition, especially for marijuana. The harms associated with spending time in prison and the criminal record that will follow you for the rest of your life are so much greater than any harm a marijuana cigarette could cause anyone.


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