Just about the time that POTUS Obama was snarling traffic getting to his starzilla party in Studio City, civil rights attorney and best selling author Michelle Alexander was rockin’ the house across town in Compton, where she gave a 90-minute speech in front of a large and wildly enthusiastic crowd at a the New Philadelphia AME Church, talking about how Jim Crow is alive and well in this country’s criminal justice system.
Alexander is a legal scholar and a racial equality advocacy lawyer with an impressive resume that includes a Supreme Court clerkship and lots more after that.
But what has really put her on the map is her 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, in which, with mounds of research, Alexander lays out her thesis that the mass incarceration the U.S. has embraced since the mid-1980′s as its primary method of social control is, for black communities, simply devastating. The result is a second class caste system in which, in some major American cities, more than one half of all working age black men, and a growing number of black women, and other minorities, are relegated to a permanently disenfranchised status—much like in the days of Jim Crow, but in far greater numbers. Right now if you are a black man anywhere in America, there is a 32 percent chance that you’ll go to jail or prison at some point in your life.
The New Jim Crow has been the book that criminal justice activists and experts have been urgently recommending above all others these past two years—to the point that when it came out in paperback in January, it became a surprise NY Times best seller.
I first became aware of Alexander’s work when I watched an April 2010 episode of Bill Moyer’s Journal that featured her together with superstar civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, and the combination of what they had to say grabbed my attention, as it encapsulated and quantified what I’d seen anecdotally in my reporting for years.
The usual wiggly iPhone videos below will give you a glimpse of what she has to say as they are from the very beginning of Alexander’s 90-minute talk Thursday night.
You might also enjoy the clip of Alexander with Stephen Colbert on the Cobert Report.
Better yet, just get the book.
However you do it, find a way to check out what Michelle Alexander has to say. Hers is a deeply important American voice that is very much worth your time and attention.
PS: THIS WILL BE A SHORT POSTING because everyone at WitnessLA is working on stories. So stay tuned. There’s a lot coming up soon.
IN THE MEANTIME, TAKE A LOOK AT THIS STORY ON THE CRIME REPORT: CRACKING THE BLUE WALL OF SILENCE, in which former and serving NYPD cops talk about racial profiling and arrest quotas.
ALSO CHECK OUT THE 30-YEAR SENTENCE FOR A FIRST TIME OFFENSE BY THE TEXAS GRANDMOTHER who may or may not have known she was smuggling a ton of drugs in the tour buses that she co-owned, but who got the book thrown at her because she wouldn’t take a deal and had nobody else to give up, so had nothing of value to trade to prosecutors. The Houston Chron has the story.
PS: I’M DELIBERATELY IGNORING THIS STORY, but it’s not that I didn’t see it.