LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - kaulsu - LibraryThing
It took me three years to finish this book--but that really doesn't say much in itself. In the beginning, I found it troublesome to read because of my ignorance. At the end, I found it repetitive ... Read full review
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In The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, author Michelle Alexander argues that the drug war is a colorblind way to redesign and enforce a new racial caste. She argues that this war disproportionately targets African Americans and the poor and results in mass incarceration. Alexander’s thesis is certainly plausible; she cites impressive statistics and a line of Supreme Court cases that have seemingly rolled back the gains of the 1960s. However, a critical examination of Alexander’s work, including relevant information that the author did not include, supports the conclusion that her thesis is not well-supported.
Alexander touches on a number of important themes that she weaves throughout the book: primarily, the ratcheting up of the “War on Drugs” during the 1980s and how this policy allowed the government to be “colorblind” while disproportionately targeting African Americans; “consent” searches; and the resulting mass incarceration and follow-on issues like felony disenfranchisement. Discussing these themes, Alexander cites a number of stories, cases and anecdotal evidence to support her claims and 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."
Alexander casually links Cotton to his (presumably innocent) ancestors who were disenfranchised as a result of their skin color, and paints him as victim because he is disenfranchised as a result of being “labeled a felon” (as if he did nothing to earn this label). Yet she chose to begin her book with Cotton, whose back story is conveniently ignored: he was not an innocent man, nor was he caught up in the drug war or targeted for his race; rather, Cotton was in prison for murder and armed robbery. This context is important it weakens Cotton’s story as important anecdotal evidence for Alexander’s thesis. Is there no better example to open the book?
Later, she cites the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a “mentally impaired black man,” but the lack of sufficient additional information leaves the reader wandering if Rector’s mental impairment had something to do with his crime. A reasonable reader might conclude: Did he not understand what he was doing? Perhaps he could not distinguish between right and wrong? Or that his actions would hurt or kill someone? Unfortunately, none of this is the case. Rector killed a man in a nightclub and then shot a police officer in the back of the head. His mental impairment resulted from a failed suicide attempt thereafter. If the death penalty for those with mental impairments are an issue (one that the Supreme Court ruled violate the 8th Amendment in 2002), then make that the issue. Ignoring the facts of Rector’s crimes and conveniently omitting the means to how he became impaired leads the reader down the wrong road.
On Fourth Amendment issues, Alexander continually belittles the concept of consent searches by placing quotes around the word “consent.” She writes that the Supreme Court’s decision in Ohio v. Robinette was “twisted logic” because the officer did not explicitly inform Robinette that he was free to go
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As a ex-felon I have had the unenviable life experience that is clearly explained in this book! For over 25 years now I have had to deal with the consequences of committing a criminal act well after my time was served and my debt to society had been paid!
Systematically written, historically accurate, and both politically correct and incorrect, Michelle Alexander's depiction of a criminal justice system that targets people of color
and sentences them to a life of mediocrity, separation, and legalized discrimination is a must read for all! Someone said the book was good but warned those who would read it to prepare themselves to be depressed. Well if the book has the ability to make you depressed, (and it does!), experiencing the oppression that the criminal justice system unleashes on an ex-offender, particularly on ex-felons is more than depressing, it has the ability to drive you completely out of your mind! She has hit her target which was exposing the system for what it is, now we must rally against this open and politically motivated form of discrimination armed with the knowledge found in this book!