A couple months ago I posted some initial thoughts about Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. I’ve been meaning to post more of a review that looked in some detail about her arguments. Of course, now I can’t find my notes.
Listen, the statistics she quotes are out there. Mass incarceration is a huge problem in this country. More black men are in prison today than were in slavery in 1850. Women of color are being incarcerated at rapidly expanding rates. Read the book. It will tell you more facts than you’ll ever want to know.
Let me say, again, I agree in large part with Alexander. Still, there was that lingering thought in the back of my mind – Well, the system might be unfair, and cops certainly aren’t always honest, but at the end of the day most people convicted of a crime chose to smoke weed/crack/hold something they shouldn’t have/etc.
But what really spoke to me was how she points out that yes, Mr. X may have chosen to smoke weed. But he did not choose to become a criminal. The institutional criminal justice system chose to make him a criminal. The system chose who to paint as a drug user, who to convince the public to be afraid of, who to have the police monitor as closely as they do, who to ultimately condemn, label, and ostracize.
I’d wager to say that everyone reading this has committed a criminal act. But you don’t become a criminal until our system says you are. And that’s what we need to remember.