The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (The New Press, 2012)
I have been meaning to read this book for several years, and I’m glad I finally did. Michelle Alexander is an accomplished civil rights lawyer, and she makes a solid case for the idea that the mass incarceration of black men in the U.S. is the latest way for powerful forces in our country to keep many black men in a state of second class citizenship. It’s hard for me to believe that it could be deliberate, but according to her, the War on Drugs was always meant to target black men, and continues to do so. Instead of focusing on violent crimes, the criminal justice system is incentivized by federal funding to target minor drug violations, but only for people of color – the same minor drug violations by whites are ignored. Laws impose huge penalties for possession of small quantities of drugs, and police round-ups in poor neighborhoods often force innocent people to plead guilty to felony misdemeanors in order to avoid years in jail. Racial profiling similarly targets black men for minor traffic violations so that their cars can be searched for drugs. Even when these men serve their jail sentence and are released, their felony records make it very difficult for them to find jobs and housing, and they are not allowed to vote. All in all, it’s a very disturbing book. It would be interesting to know what Alexander makes of all the police killings of black men in the past couple of years.