OAKLAND PARK – An Ohio State University professor’s book detailing the harsh impact of the “war on drugs” on African Americans has sparked a three-month discussion at an area church on the use of the criminal justice system as a means of social control of blacks.
Some 20 people from diverse environments, mostly strangers initially, met Jan. 6 for the first of several sessions spread over three months focusing on Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
The meetings are taking place at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Oakland Park, whose minister is the Rev. Gail Tapscott.
Alexander, in her book, denounces the use of the criminal justice system to control African Americans in the post-segregation era.
She challenges Americans to put mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.
“This book struck a chord,” said Bob Bender, organizer of the sessions that call on attendees to read the book, discuss and act on it.
“Many of us have seen the pieces that Michelle Alexander puts together so persuasively – the outcasting of felons who face incredible obstacles to getting into the mainstream and whose status as outcasts is formalized; the huge rate of incarceration for non-violent offenses, the reconfiguring and contorting of the criminal justice system to focus on communities of color for the War on Crime when drug usage rates for whites and people of color are comparable, when overall usage rates have declined and when the bases of this war are fundamentally challenged,” Bender said.
The objective of the discussions by the 20 people from different walks of life is to ultimately take “collective action,” he said.
“We invite others who share our concerns to join us,” Bender said.
The next session slated for Sunday will be followed by others later this month and in March and April.
Alexander’s work will be examined chapter by chapter, with participants focusing on the topics she raises. Bender said the issues will include a history of “racialized” social control in the U.S. which has been achieved largely by appealing to the racism and economic vulnerability of lower-class whites and the structure of mass incarceration with a focus on the “war on drugs” in which “enormous financial incentives have been granted to law enforcement to engage in mass drug arrests through military-style tactics.”
The meetings will also focus on subjects such as how a supposedly formerly race-neutral criminal justice system can manage to round up, arrest and imprison an extraordinary number of black and brown men when people of color are actually no more likely to be guilty of drug crimes and many other offenses than whites.
Also, the participants will examine why release from prison does not necessarily represent the beginning of freedom but, instead, a new phase of stigmatization and control using laws, rules and regulations to discriminate against ex-offenders and effectively prevent their meaningful re-integration into the mainstream economy and society.