A February 10th article in the Huffington Post quotes Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, stating that there are more African Americans under correctional control today – in prison or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. This sudden and dramatic mass incarceration of Blacks in the past 30 years is a racial nightmare that cannot be explained away by crime rates. Crime rates fluctuate but are now at a historical low. However, imprisonment rates have soared – quintupled. The majority of that increase is due to the ‘War on Drugs’ which is waged in poor, black communities. Ms. Alexander explains that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at similar rates and some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth. Yet our nation’s prisons and jails are overflowing with black drug offenders. As of 2004, more African American have lost their civil rights than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.
A large majority of African American men have been labeled felons for life. This means they have been denied the right to vote. automatically excluded from juries and legally discrininated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits, analagous to life on the plantation.
Ms. Alexander poses the question, “What if President Obama, who has admitted to violating our nation’s drug laws, had been convicted and treated like a common criminal? Where would he be now?” Possibly in and out of prison, wearing the label of felon, denied the right to vote, stigmatized, excluded from juries and the object of discriminations. Makes you wonder how many black men trapped in our institutional microcosms might have become President of these United States?
Reference: ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness’
Author: Michelle Alexander, Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Professor
FYI: As of June 2009 – 100,894 inmates in the state of Florida
54% of the inmate population is African Americans while only 14% of Florida’s population is African American
19% of crimes committed by African Americans are drug crimes (using or selling)
70% of correctional officers in the state of Florida are White, 24.2% are Black
Fact: The only place African Americans are in the majority in the state of Florida is in it’s prison system.