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  • Chloe Mastour

Opinion: An Honest Review of The New Jim Crow: Because It’s Always Somebody Else’s Fault

As part of an effort to broaden my perspective, I was recently assigned to read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. While I wanted to give this book a fair shot, it’s essentially 365 pages of Michelle Alexander’s (“Alexander”) unsubstantiated ramblings. Rarely have I felt so exhausted when reading a book that repeats the same tired points, especially when the claims made in this book could have easily been addressed in less than half the pages.

Before you mistake my judgment as nothing short of a myopic symptom of bullheaded politics, know that I was very eager to read this book until I read the preface. It is true, if you have taken the red pill, you have no time for this nonsense; however, as if almost immediately, the author’s unbalanced political bias came spewing forth. The first four pages alone are schmeared with misrepresentation of evidence, with no attempt to conceal the author’s partisanship. On page two, Alexander details her night at a party celebrating the election of President Obama, when she saw a black man handcuffed by the police, an event which signifies the harsh realities of the new Jim Crow in America. Alexander does not mention who is in cuffs and why. Was he in cuffs for being black, or because he had committed a crime, or had an outstanding warrant? Is this really evidence that we are living in an age of the new Jim Crow? Are the cops not supposed to respond to a call for service? The author writes, “Quite belatedly, I came to see that mass incarceration in the United States had, in fact, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow.”

On page five, the author states that 75% of black males can expect to spend time in prison. Is this an indication of racism, especially in a city like DC that has a black mayor, a police department that is 59% black, a city council of 13 democrats, of which seven are black? Are the police really driving around and randomly arresting young black men for loitering, or is the Metropolitan Police in DC responding to serious crimes and calls for service? Alexander has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that she cannot be an objective reporter of data.

To cut to the chase, Alexander’s thesis is simply untrue. Toying with ideas that should not be taken lightly, Alexander nonetheless substantiates her claims with evidence that can be appropriately labeled “fake news.” In fact, Alexander’s evidence of racism is so inconclusive that she must resort to a thesis that instead attests to an extraordinary “subconscious” racism that lingers in the shadows of our institutions. In shedding light upon such an ominous force, Alexander chooses to undermine certain facts and figures for the sake of her argument rather than acknowledge reality. The bulk of this book is unfair, unconfirmed, and simply more of the same in today's discourse which often lacks rational thought. If you want to read about how armed robbers and murders are "legally discriminated" against because of their race, this is the book for you. If you think that armed robbers and murders should be labeled "convicted felons," this book will only make you angry. As for me, I will continue onwards with my search for an ACLU lawyer who writes with just a little more intellectual honesty.

Alexander touches on a number of important themes throughout the book: the 1980s’ "War on Drugs" and how this policy allowed the government to be "colorblind" while disproportionately targeting blacks; "consent" searches; and the resulting mass incarceration and subsequent felony disenfranchisement. In discussing these themes, Alexander cites a number of stories, cases, and anecdotal evidence to buttress these themes. More often than not, her evidence comes up short. In fact, the disappointment starts on page one:

"Jarvious Cotton cannot vote. Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy. Cotton's family tree tells the story of several generations of black men who were born in the United States but who were denied the most basic freedom that democracy promises--the freedom to vote for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one's life. Cotton's great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation. His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole."

Why does the author write like we are living in the 60s? Alexander casually links Cotton to his ancestors who were disenfranchised as a result of their race, and paints him as a victim as well, disenfranchised as a result of being "labeled a felon.” Why did she choose to begin with Cotton and why was his mysterious backstory conveniently ignored? Cotton was not an innocent man, nor was he caught up in the drug war or targeted for his race; Cotton was in prison for murder and armed robbery. He was indeed convicted of drug possession in New York but Alexander omitted the fact that Cotton was also extradited to Mississippi for the murder of a 17 year old. It sure is disappointing that the author either forgot to do her due diligence or intentionally left out important details. Of all the many, many examples of racism in our justice system that the author could have cited, a child murderer sure is a poor choice.

The criminalization of males is well detailed from 1970, when there were 300,000 men in prisons, to 2010 when over 2 million were incarcerated, a majority of them being black. The author identifies the War on Drugs as racist because the automatic mandatory sentencing required was overwhelmingly used against blacks. Blacks especially, she offers, are identified as suffering from this “rebirth of caste,” because being released from prison is meaningless if one remains criminalized and demonized forever. There is a stigma of the prison label, she claims, which deprives of basic civil rights and equality. The author paints drug crimes as no big deal, though Alexander must not understand that drug use and crime go hand in hand. The biggest reason people of any color commit robbery is to support their partying/drug abusing lifestyle. Any criminology textbook can tell you that much.

Are police shootings of back American men on the rise? No, they are not. In fact, they are on the decline. According to the Juvenile and Criminal Justice Report, the rate of police killings of blacks has fallen by 70% over the last 40-50 years. Are white racist police the biggest murderers of blacks? No. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, 2,925 black Americans were murdered in 2018. 89% of them (2,600) were murdered by other black Americans. That same year 209 black Americans (7%) were killed by the police. So let’s do the math here: 2,600 blacks were killed by other blacks and 209 were killed by the police. Blacks are mostly responsible for killing other blacks… Although the Ku Klux Klan has been the historical enemy of black Americans, a Tuskegee Institute study shows that 3,446 black Americans were lynched during an 86 year span by the KKK. Black Americans have actually murdered the same number of black Americans roughly every six months.

According to Alexander’s book, the War of Drugs was specifically designed to target blacks to implement social control over their communities and brand “convicted felons” into second class citizens. With the advent of Great Society programs, we were supposed to lift the poor out of poverty. But all we have done is make poor people desperately dependent on the government. The problem can't be government! It cannot be welfare payments undermining the will to work and cutting off the need for fathers in the home. It can't be affirmative action policies that tip the scales toward the most likely to succeed. It can't be minimum wage laws that lock out low-skilled workers. It can't be immigration policies that import millions of people from the third world who will work for nothing and live off government transfer payments. It only requires the human sacrifice of 9,000 black lives a year at the hands of other blacks, and the imprisonment of tens of thousands of black men. Blacks America has been bought.

One of the few social experiments in the United States that has worked has been the increase in the prison population. It has reduced the crime rate. During the 1960s, civil rights legislation was passed into law, the War on Poverty made welfare benefits easier to qualify for, and prisons were reformed in ways that made incarceration less likely and less harsh; in short, we did what Alexander advocates in her book. The results were disappointing. According to FBI Uniform Crime Reports, from 1960 to 1970, the crime rate per 100,000 inhabitants in the United States rose from 1,887.2 to 3,984.5. Since the election of President Reagan, the United States has tried a different approach. Anti-poverty programs have been scaled back. From 1980 to 2000 the prison population grew from 315,974 to 1,428,187. During this time the crime rate per 100,000 inhabitants has declined from 5,950.0 to 4,124.8.

All I got out of this book is that poor black guys are in prison because of the evil white rich man. Not because they raped, robbed, murdered, or dealt drugs. I am supposed to believe they are the victims, ignoring any notion of personal accountability? Instead of the author griping about how unfair life is for black people, how about she teaches them how to play the game of life by the rules? The rules are simple, there are three: finish school, get a job, and do not have children before marriage. It sure is sad that this book fails to address the real issues affecting black America and why black communities are failing, such as the rise of fatherless homes. With a father in the household, kids won’t look to the street for guidance.

Though it is interesting to hypothesize that black men are victims of the American justice system’s oppression, the modern "slave system,” Alexander’s argument is written with so much malice it is impossible to perceive her work as anything more than the propagandic writings of a self-perpetuating delusion. The self-realizing aspect of these repetitious arguments were trying, to the point that I did not enjoy this book (I did roll my eyes a bit). While Alexander’s point of view has gained popularity, it isn't the reality. If you want to confirm your biases, sure, give Alexander’s book a read; however, make sure to double-check the footnotes and do your own independent research. The claims the author makes in this book are not supported by the truth. No wonder it achieved high acclaim!

When it comes to The New Jim Crow, It is like I always say: if it’s endorsed by Bill Gates, you know it’s propaganda.

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