Book Review: The New Jim Crow



The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness by Michelle Alexander was one of the best critical race theory non fiction novels I have read in a long time. This book talked about the racial inequities that are prevalent in our communities everyday. Michelle talks about the historical review of American race in social, economic and political aspects. (Page 60) She states throughout the 1970s, conservatives usually gave lip service to the goal of racial equity but actively resisted desegregation, busing, and civil rights enforcement. The generation of political actors followed a movement on the war on drugs that followed the 1970s and beyond to the Ronald Regan administration. Social welfare programs were amid to help blue collar White Americans and poor Black Americans yet the persistent war on drugs hurt many low income families.


Florida v. Bostick was a prime example of the US Supreme Court's decision not to interfere with the war on drugs according to the fourth amendment. Terrance Bostick a twenty eight year old African American male was sleeping on the back of a Gray Hound bus from Miami to Atlanta when two police officers asked to search his possessions. When Bostick complied with the two officers they found a pound of cocaine, they arrested Bostick, charged him and was convicted of trafficking cocaine. The war on drugs movement was a slow and steady movement against the public usage of all illegal substances. Many people believe that the war on drugs was at the cost of poor people and racially inequitable opportunties for others in society.


Michelle talks about the social knowledge of the legal system from shows like Law and Order. She says that most people believe that if a individual needs legal services they just say " I need a lawyer/" and they appear. Yet, in many cases there are long waiting periods of individuals to have legal representations by a public defender or hired attorney before they go to trial. Unfortunately, the author draws the similarities for trial with juvenile proceedings where in the case of Ohio 90 percent of children routinely "waive" their right to counsel in a juvenile proceeding.


The author describes the pressure to plea-bargain a "convict yourself" status in exchange for leniency by the mandatory sentencing regime. She notes that the U.S. Sentencing Commission states "the value of a mandatory minimum sentence lies not in its imposition, but in its value as a bargaining chip to be given away in return for the resource-saving plea from the defendant to a more leniently sanctioned charge." According to the author, there are reliable estimates between 2 to 5 people who are innocently behind bars due to mandatory sentencing plea-bargains, lying informants and paid witnesses.


Michelle makes the scenario of a woman struggling with drug addiction who is unable to obtain treatment and desperate for money to feed her habit. Her and her boyfriend burglarizes two homes and steals televisions that they hope to sell for their drug habit. They get arrested, she takes a plea deal and spends several years in prison, released with two strikes on her record which is one for each burglary. Two decades later she gets arrested for selling crack after being clean for 15 years to support her relapse. That's it for her. She can be locked up for the rest of her life. The story Michelle is trying to create is a typical story that pushed mass incarceration from the 1970s. These instances happened and sometimes continue to happen when people have a strong addition that they can not afford to seek treatment and pay their monthly bills.


Again, Michelle talks about the reality shows that depict African Americans on television like VH1's Flavor of Love which talks about gangsta culture on television. The show is about a gangsta getting wives on television as they compete for his love which is a racial stereotype for a worldwide audience. MTV has expanded their network to reach a African American audience with these reality shows for a new demographic. Racial stigmas are created by these people on television and can give way to racial oppression and racialized systems of control. These rappers even have a critique on American politics and culture yet have a romanticized version of their life experiences.


According to a study during a twelve year period, the number of people returning from prison back home to "core countries" - that contained a inner city of a metropolitan area- tripled. One hundred resident of two Tallahassee, Florida, communities, researchers found that nearly every one of them had experienced or expected to experience the return of a family member from prison. The stigmas for arrests and releases from prison don't just stop in the capital city of Florida. The author also talks about the historical representation of arrest for social protest starting with the Montgomery Alabama sit in by Rosa Parks. She says that Rosa Parks was the face of the resistance for the bus boycott but a few months before two African American women named Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith were arrested for refusing to give their seat to White people. The advocates of the bus boycott were worried about the image of Black representation for their movement so they did not use the two women who were arrested before Rosa Parks. One of the women's father was known in the community to be an alcoholic and the advocates did not want their movement associated with a family that could discredit them. Rosa Parks was a medium-sized, cultured mulatto woman, civic and religious worker, quiet, unassuming and pleasant in manner and appearance therefore she was chosen to display the racial injustice that White people in power were subjecting Black people through the bus system.


Overall, this book was very informative and exciting to read. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the civil rights movements of the past and present. I even used some sections to think about my own personal academic research for mass incarceration with a detailed view on sentencing laws and recidivism rates. The accountability of African Americans and Caucasian Americans shows that many socioeconomic divides exist in our communities. There abilities of law enforcement to stop and search individuals for weapons and other illegal substances has motivated a new cultural stigma in many metropolitan areas. Looking into the future of Mass incarceration and the cultural attributes the legal system projects on community members, we can expect new mechanisms to survey the public's experiences and mitigate social problems. Researchers must work continuously to determine new statistical evidence for the common axioms and stigmas of our communities.

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