Race & Caste in the U.S. + Incarceration Nation
A string of shootings of young African Americans has generated national and international attention. While these killings are nothing new, the proliferation of cell phones, cameras and social media has raised public awareness of police brutality. Systemic questions are being asked. What is the role of racism? The numbers are depressingly familiar. The United States has the largest prison population in the world. Blacks are more likely to go to jail than to college. The Sentencing Project reports, “Once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences.” Outside the prison walls is an economy that cannot generate jobs paying decent wages. Affordable housing? What’s that? Programs alleviating poverty are cut back and simultaneously the coercive functions of the state are beefed up. Local police are armed to the teeth with the latest weapons while underfunded schools are crumbling.
From the auction block to the cell block there is a trajectory from slavery to Jim Crow to the Drug War. The latter has resulted in mass jailings characterized by deep racial disparities. About one-third of young black men are likely to go to jail. The criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control. Millions of people, primarily poor people of color, have been swept into the nation’s prisons and then relegated to a permanent second-class status in which they are stripped of the basic civil and human rights supposedly won in the civil rights movement. The numbers are numbing. In all, 2.3 million are behind bars and another 4.8 million are on probation and parole. The more people locked up, the more profits for the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison owner and operator.
This event was presented by the Lannan Foundation.
Michelle Alexander is a professor of law at Ohio State University and holds a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Formerly the director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Project in Northern California, she served as a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun. She is the author of the bestseller The New Jim Crow.