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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindnessby Michelle Alexander
Synopses & Reviews
Forty years in, the War on Drugs has done almost nothing to prevent drugs from being sold or used, but it has nonetheless created a little-known surveillance state in Americas most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Arrest quotas and high-tech surveillance techniques criminalize entire blocks, and transform the very associations that should stabilize young lives—family, relationships, jobs—into liabilities, as the police use such relationships to track down suspects, demand information, and threaten consequences.
Alice Goffman spent six years living in one such neighborhood in Philadelphia, and her close observations and often harrowing stories reveal the pernicious effects of this pervasive policing. Goffman introduces us to an unforgettable cast of young African American men who are caught up in this web of warrants and surveillance—some of them small-time drug dealers, others just ordinary guys dealing with limited choices. All find the web of presumed criminality, built as it is on the very associations and friendships that make up a life, nearly impossible to escape. We watch as the pleasures of summer-evening stoop-sitting are shattered by the arrival of a carful of cops looking to serve a warrant; we watch—and cant help but be shocked—as teenagers teach their younger siblings and cousins how to run from the police (and, crucially, to keep away from friends and family so they can stay hidden); and we see, over and over, the relentless toll that the presumption of criminality takes on families—and futures.
While not denying the problems of the drug trade, and the violence that often accompanies it, through her gripping accounts of daily life in the forgotten neighborhoods of America's cities, Goffman makes it impossible for us to ignore the very real human costs of our failed response—the blighting of entire neighborhoods, and the needless sacrifice of whole generations.
"Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that '[w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.' Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as 'a system of social control' ('More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850'). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the 'war on drugs.' She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates 'who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.' Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: 'most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration' — but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
"We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it," declares Alexander (of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law, both at Ohio State U.) as she sets forth the case that the old functions of Jim Crow--the legal exclusion of African Americans from civil rights to voting, housing, equal employment opportunities, etc.--are now accomplished through the mass incarceration and subsequent stripping of legal rights of black and brown people at rates that are far disproportionate to their participation in criminal activity. Mass incarceration, in its essence, creates and maintains racial hierarchy much as earlier systems of social control through "a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race." She describes how the so-called "War on Drugs" operates to strip people of rights, shows how racial disparities in criminal justice outcomes are not explainable in terms of crime rates, demonstrates the systems of discrimination that face those released from prison, examines parallels between this system and the old Jim Crow system of legal discrimination, and challenges those who care about civil rights to come to grips with the implications of this new caste system. Annotation ©2010 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as "brave and bold," this book directly challenges the notion that the presidency of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent secondclass status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a "call to action."
Called "stunning" by Pulitzer Prizewinning historian David Levering Lewis, "invaluable" by the Daily Kos, "explosive" by Kirkus, and "profoundly necessary" by the Miami Herald, The New Jim Crow is a mustread for all people of conscience.
Alice Goffman brings us right into the streets of Philadelphia and into the homes of the small-time hustlers, their girlfriends, and families. She shows us, at the same time, the long and destructive reach of the criminal justice system into the urban worlds of the black neighborhood she immersed herself in for nearly a decade. We meet a handful of vivid characters, undergo with them their scrapes on the street and their encounters with violence there, and come to feel in our bones, as these ghetto residents do, what the constant threat of arrest and incarceration feels like at the gut level. Goffman takes us also to jails, hospitals, and courts, and shows us how to identify undercover cops (by haircuts, car models, language), and how to run and hide when theyre coming. The context is the 40-year federal War on Drugs and War on Crime, with their stronger sentencing guidelines and the ramping up of the number of police on the streets and number of arrests they make. The regime of policing involves high-tech surveillance, also the quotas the cops have to fulfill in making a given number of arrests, and what happens to you, the fugitive, when a warrant is issued (with addresses of all your associates, their homes subject to raids, making even hospitals and schools unsafe for people being tracked).
About the Author
Michelle Alexander is an associate professor of law at Ohio State University and holds a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Formerly the director of the ACLUs Racial Justice Project in Northern California, Alexander served as a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun. Cornel West is the Class of 1943 University Professor, emeritus, at Princeton University and is currently Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary.
Table of Contents
1 The 6th Street Boys and Their Legal Entanglements
2 Techniques for Evading the Authorities
3 When the Police Knock Your Door In
4 Turning Legal Troubles into Personal Resources
5 The Social Life of Criminalized Young People
6 The Market in Protections and Privileges
7 Clean People
Conclusion: A Fugitive Community
Epilogue: Leaving 6th Street
Appendix: A Methodological Note
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