By: Ruth Green
From “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander: “More African Americans are under the control of the criminal justice system – in prison, or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850.”
In 2010, Alexander wrote the aforementioned book. She discusses at great length how the old Jim Crow Laws are currently being applied to American society under the guise of the “War on Drugs” movement.
It began in America in 1982 and became the law of the land by then President Ronald Reagan and vehemently enforced by President Bill Clinton.
Historically, Jim Crow refers to the institutional system of the separation of blacks and whites in America. It was not only a system of separation, but a system of oppression denying people of color the right to vote, and the freedom to live and work where they pleased.
People of color had to use sub-standard public facilities for just about everything. Even in death, cemeteries were also segregated!
There was no phase of public life not affected by Jim Crow Laws – especially in the South.
Jim Crow is viewed by many to be the American system of “Apartheid.” It was designed and enforced by the U.S. Supreme Court, to keep “the Negro” in his place socially, politically and economically.
In her book, Alexander writes in detail how becoming a felon relegates a person, particularly those of color to a status of servitude similar to slavery in the history of America.
During slavery, Africans who were forced into slavery were denied all human rights. As a slave, a person was not able to make any self determining decisions, was sold, punished and killed at will.
One of the first things to be denied a convicted felon is the right to vote. Once branded a felon, it is very difficult to live a life with dignity. A person is denied access to social services, adequate housing, gainful employment becomes much harder than it is for the non-convicted because few are willing to hire felons.
Once the “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” box on a job application is checked “yes,” the chances of being hired are significantly diminished.
A summary posted on the web- site of the Center for Law and Justice states, “The impact of the drug war has been astounding. In less than 30 years the U.S. penal population exploded from around
300,000 to more than 2 million, with drug convictions accounting for the majority of the increase.”
Alexander states in her book that this phenomenon occurred “… when violent crime was down.”
How then have so many African-Americans ended up behind bars? According to NationMaster.com, the U.S. has more people incarcerated than any other country in the world.
“The New Jim Crow” is a fascinating study of the current system in place and the active incarceration of poor people, particularly poor people of color.
Alexander argues very convincingly that Jim Crow still exists and is in ways just as insidious as it was many years ago.