“All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is drive 10 miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. ”—The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
“The "whites only" signs may be gone, but new signs have gone up - notices placed in job applications, rental agreements, loan applications, forms for welfare benefits, school applications, and petitions for licenses, informing the general public that "felons" are not wanted here. A criminal record today authorizes precisely the forms of discrimination we supposedly left behind - discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service. Those labeled criminals can even be denied the right to vote.”—Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
“[A] person convicted of a crime today might lose his right to vote as well as the right to serve on a jury. He might become ineligible for health and welfare benefits, food stamps, public housing, student loans, and certain types of employment. These restrictions exact a terrible toll. Given that most offenders already come from backgrounds of tremendous disadvantage, we heap additional disabilities upon existing disadvantage. By barring the felon from public housing, we make it more likely that he will become homeless and lose custody of his children. Once he is homeless, he is less likely to find a job. Without a job he is, in turn, less likely to find housing on the private market--his only remaining option. Without student loans, he cannot go back to school to try to create a better life for himself and his family. Like a black person living under the Old Jim Crow, a convicted criminal today becomes a member of a stigmatized caste, condemned to a lifetime of second-class citizenship.”—James Forman, Jr., Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow, 87 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 21, 28–31 (2012).
“The United States is the imprisonment capital of the world. Just one state, Louisiana, has an incarceration rate 5 times higher than Iran and 13 times higher than China, nations which Americans are supposed to feel superior to. More than 2 million Americans are behind bars in jails and prisons, which is the highest on earth in total number and by percentage of population.”—
Margaret Kimberley, Freedom Rider: How Mass Incarceration Affects Everything Else via Black Agenda Report
Every negative statistic that bedevils the black community is tied to the awful effects of imprisonment. It is not mysterious that a group with large numbers of its members locked away would have higher rates of HIV or lower rates of marriage or a median net worth of only $4,955.As Invisible Men so clearly points out, the large numbers of black men who are behind bars and who therefore disappear from productive life means that these dismal statistics would be even worse if the incarcerated were not also disappeared from the numbers.
Invisible Men is just the latest in a series of books such as The New Jim Crow and A Plague of Prisons which reveal the terrible toll that incarceration is taking on the black community. These works are seriously needed, documenting with hard data the depth of the attack on black people. Unfortunately, this plethora of books doesn’t seem to be lowering rates of incarceration. The great recession and its resultant budget constraints around the country have been the only thing forcing some states and municipalities to open up some of the prison doors.
It all may have started slowly, but the code words and race baiting were evident from the beginning. Terms like “law and order,” “war on drugs,” “dead beat dads” all meant that more and more black people would end up behind bars for infractions big and small. Yet it must be pointed out that code words exist for a reason. They speak with a nudge and a wink to the intended audience in a language that others may not understand.
There is a nagging question about these statistics, an elephant in the room as it were. America could not have become the world’s prison capital if a majority of the population didn‘t want it to happen. A recent poll regarding New Yorkers’ attitudes toward the NYPD stop and frisk policies shows a clear racial divide. Most whites polled, 55%, think that stop and frisk is acceptable while only 35% of blacks are supportive.
“The racial dimension of mass incarceration is its most striking feature. No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa at the height of apartheid.”—
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness -Michelle Alexander
“The unfortunate reality we must face is that racism manifests itself not only in individual attitudes and stereotypes, but also in the basic structure of society…If one thinks about racism by examining only one wire of the cage, or one form of disadvantage, it is difficult to understand how and why the bird is trapped. Only a large number of wires arranged in a specific way, and connected to one another, serve to enclose the bird and to ensure that it cannot escape. What is particularly important to keep in mind is that any given wire of the cage may or may not be specifically developed for the purpose of trapping the bird, yet it still operates (together with the other wires) to restrict its freedom. By the same token, not every aspect of a racial caste system needs to be developed for the specific purpose of controlling black people in order for it to operate (together with other laws, institutions, and practices) to trap them at the bottom of a racial hierarchy.”—
From Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
No matter how many times I read this quote, I get goosebumps!
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness