In an interview on the NPR program Fresh Air on Monday, Professor Alexander once again reminded us of the conditions in which our people are forced to live, echoing what she said in a Feb. 8, 2010 Huffington Post commentary.
Two points jump out at you.
First, she reports that there are more African Americans in prison and jail, on parole or on probation than were enslaved in 1850, which was 10 years before the start of the Civil War.
Second, more African-American males lost the right to vote, due to felony conviction, in 2004 than in 1870, the year when the Fifteenth Amendment barring race-based disenfranchisement was ratified.
Professor Alexander elaborates on that theme in her 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which she discussed on the NPR program, to make the point that this wholesale criminalization of our people can be traced back to one factor: the so-called “war on drugs” first enunciated by President Richard Nixon and then executed by President Ronald Reagan as part of the Republican Party’s “Southern Strategy” to defeat the Democrats.
The book, which was just reissued in paperback, is still timely and will remain so for some time to come. It is no less than a call to action that challenges the inherent racism in the conduct of this supposed war to rid America of illegal narcotics. Professor Alexander proposes a mass movement to achieve that goal, while appreciating the reality, as she herself acknowledges, that a multibillion-dollar prison industry has grown up around this “war on drugs,” providing millions of jobs and badly needed revenue for many small and not so small communities with mostly white populations.
NOT NEARLY ENOUGH
The NAACP has called for an end to this “war” and, according to Professor Alexander, the United Methodist Church is taking up the challenge. But obviously that is not nearly enough. All groups and organizations, the entire faith community and all politicians of good conscience must rise up and demand that this frontal assault on black people be brought to a conclusion.
Being incarcerated and being labeled a felon for life, and thus losing one’s rights as a full citizen, is the most significant factor in the destruction of African-American families and African-American communities.
“Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color ‘criminals’ and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind,” the professor writes.
BRANDED A FELON
Perhaps one in two of our people do not have the right to vote. At the best of times, the jobless rate for us is at least twice that of whites – and four times for some young black males. Being branded a felon all but eliminates the chance of landing a good job. That, in turn, makes it almost impossible to raise and support a family.
How does a person survive and make a living in such circumstances? How does a community survive? How do a people survive?
It is not, as some racists are even now saying, a question of poverty as a preferred way of life. It is, rather, as Professor Alexander argues with justified passion, a question of official governmental policy that deliberately targets black men in a militarized operation disguised as an effort to combat illegal drugs.
The supposed warriors in this one-sided war, who, as Professor Alexander notes, wear armor and carry heavy weapons, do not crash through the doors of 70-year-old white men while ostensibly searching for drugs. They do not lay seige to white neighborhoods. They do not shoot young white suspects on sight. They do not shadow white school children as potential drug-dealers. Governmental policy has virtually imprisoned black people within their neighborhoods, consigning them to preying on one another when they are not in the official prisons as convicted felons.
Whether it is President Barack Obama belatedly taking the lead or some other person, the time is long past to address this horrific, systematic destruction of our people. It is time for the “war on drugs” to be made to end now through an appropriate, single-minded campaign.
The imperative is not economic or something else. It is, simply put, freedom for African Americans from timeless racial subjugation now disguised as a social necessity.