As I sat and read “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander for the first time, a plethora of thoughts ran through my mind at a million miles per hour. All I could think about were the two recent criminal cases: Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Both cases involved a police officer killing an African American male, and neither of the police officers were indicted of homicide (proven guilty). The details behind the killing of these black males is controversial and, depending on who you are talking to, can be skewed in different directions. Were these men targeted because they were black males? Would a white male be choked to death because they could have stolen cigarettes? Are is the fact that they were criminals, the reason why they were killed? The fact of the matter is that I have never questioned our legal system, regarding race, until after reading “The New Jim Crow.”
First, Alexander’s article states, “we use our criminal justice system to label people of color ‘criminals’ and then engage in all in all the practices we supposedly left behind.”(8) This statement goes along to support Alexander’s claim that certain people are limited to make choices regarding their lives because of the status quo in our country. In today’s world, people that are labeled “felons”, usually African Americans, are discriminated against from the time they commit a crime until the day they die, and this follows the old forms of discrimination against African Americans. The individuals labeled “felons” are discriminated within housing, the right to vote, employment, and even the exclusion from jury service- which is legal for a “felon”. I do not agree with the fact that individuals who may have committed a small crime can still be discriminated against ten years later. I mean after all, we are all human and have probably all committed some sort of a crime in our lives. But, I do not think that criminals should be gratified in any way for breaking the law. It is necessary for some major criminals to be discriminated against where they live and even where they work just for the safety of others. But criminals are ordinary people just like you that may have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it is not right for respect to be loss towards them- although anyone you ask probably has less respect for a criminal than they do for an average human being. What about you? This new form of racism is what Alexander calls the “redesigning of racial caste”, and it allows racism to still be enforced legally.
Still referring to the discrimination of felons, Alexander also talks a lot about how the incarceration rate in the United States is now the highest in the world, and the majority of the increase in imprisonment has been poor people of color. The highest rates of incarceration are found among black men, and the common answer to what accounts for this is crime rates. But, the interesting fact is that crime rates have been decreasing while the rates of incarceration are increasing. Here are a couple of facts:
- African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population
- African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
So, do these facts point towards racism? When I come to think about it in my experiences and what I have seen, most of the individuals I see on television shows being arrested are black males. Most of the people that I see on the streets that are watched closely by the police are black males. When someone hears of a murder or a kidnapping, the first person that most people think of is, “I bet it was a black male”. Does our world contain hidden racism regarding crimes and the criminal justice system? I think that everyone may have a different answer. People say that the incarceration rates are due to the War on Drugs, but black drug dealers and users were the ones that we regularly saw in the newspapers and on TV. Drugs are everywhere, and they are used by every race. As a criminal justice major, I have always been taught that the laws and justice system treat all people the same. A felon is a felon, without regard to their race. If you commit a crime, you do the time. But felons are definitely discriminated against, and if most of the individuals that are felons-whether they stole a pack of gum or committed a murder- are African Americans, does this count as racism? Now that I think about it, the justice system does treat everyone the same when they are taken into custody, but what about how they get there?
This brings me back to the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases in which I started with. Were these two men targeted to be “dangerous” because they were both black males? Would they have been looked at twice if they were white? These questions are now always running through my head as I sit in my Administrative Justice class as we talk about the common laws and uniform of policing, and to tell you the truth- I am not certain of the answer. I do not think that anyone is and will ever be certain of the answer. But we do know one thing for sure, and that is that the label of a “felon” is discriminated as much as being an African American was before the civil rights movement. Also, the incarceration rates- especially among black males- are climbing more and more each year. Is this a coincidence or is our justice system part of racial caste? That is for you to decide.
Michelle Alexander- “The New Jim Crow”
U.S. Incarceration Rate- http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2012/us-incarceration.aspx