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November 28th, 2012

‘The New Jim Crow’ exposes prejudice

Lillie Howard

From time to time I will be sharing different books that I feel you should read because of their significance and important content. First on my list is "The New Jim Crow", written by Michelle Alexander.

Ronald E. Hampton, Executive Director of the National Black Police Association, calls this book "a powerful analysis of why and how mass incarceration is happening in America. The New Jim Crow should be required reading for anyone working for real change in the criminal justice system."

The critique written on the cover of the book reads: "As the United States celebrates the nation’s ‘triumph over race’ with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young Black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or labeled felons for life. Jim Crow laws were wiped off the books decades ago, but today an astounding percentage of the African American community is warehoused in prisons or trapped in a permanent, second-class status - much like their grandparents before them, who lived under an explicit system of control."

In this stunning and incisive critique, civil rights lawyer-turned-legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that we have not ended racial caste in America, we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, 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. In the current era, it is no longer permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. Yet it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. The old forms of discrimination - discrimination in employment, housing, education, and public benefits; denial of the right to vote; exclusion from jury service - are suddenly legal once you’re labeled a felon. Alexander challenges the civil rights community - and all of us - to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.

In the preface of this book, Michelle Alexander states: "This book is not for everyone. I have a specific audience in mind - people who care deeply about racial justice but who, for any number of reasons, do not yet appreciate the magnitude of the crisis faced by communities of color as a result of mass incarceration. In other words, I am writing this book for people like me - the person I was ten years ago. I am also writing it for another audience - those who have been struggling to persuade their friends, neighbors, relatives, teachers, co-workers, or political representatives that something is eerily familiar about the way our criminal justice system operates, something that looks and feels a lot like an era we supposedly left behind, but have lacked the facts and data to back up their claims. It is my hope and prayer that this book empowers you and allows you to speak your truth with greater conviction, credibility, and courage. Last, but definitely not least, I am writing this book for all those trapped within America’s latest caste system. You may be locked up or locked out of mainstream society, but you are not forgotten."

Considering the large amount of our youth that are and have been caught up in the criminal justice system, I, Lillie Howard, recommend that you read this book to better understand what’s really behind the mass incarceration of our youth. You also will discover the various factors that have been put in place to assure that this madness continues on. It can be picked up at our local library, but you’ll have to wait until I bring my copy back! This is Lillie’s Point of View!

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