We have avoided in recent years talking openly and honestly about race out of fear that it will alienate and polarize. In my own view, it’s our refusal to deal openly and honestly with race that leads us to keep repeating these cycles of exclusion and division, and rebirthing a caste-like system that we claim we’ve left behind— Michelle Alexander
The most profound Michelle Alexander quotes to discover and learn by heart
No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid
The nature of the criminal justice system has changed.
It is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.
Like Jim Crow (and slavery), mass incarceration operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race.
If we want to do more than just end mass incarceration—if we want to put an end to the history of racial caste in America—we must lay down our racial bribes, join hands with people of all colors who are not content to wait for change to trickle down, and say to those who would stand in our way: Accept all of us or none.
The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.
Many offenders are tracked for prison at early ages, labeled as criminals in their teen years, and then shuttled from their decrepit, underfunded inner city schools to brand-new, high-tech prisons.
There are more African Americans under correctional control, in prison or jail, on probation or parole, than were enslaved in 1850 a decade before the civil war began.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
We must build a movement for education, not incarceration.
A movement for jobs, not jails. A movement that will end all forms of discrimination against people released from prison - discrimination that denies them basic human rights to work, shelter and food.
Nothing has contributed more to the systematic mass incarceration of people of color in the United States than the War on Drugs
The War on Drugs, cloaked in race-neutral language, offered whites opposed to racial reform a unique opportunity to express their hostility toward blacks and black progress, without being exposed to the charge of racism.
The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. In Washington, D.C., our nation’s capitol, it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison.
If you ask for good schools, you aren't likely to get them.
If you ask for jobs or economic investment, you won't get that either. But what we have learned, is that the one thing that poor folks of color can ask for and get are Police & Prisons.
Since the nation's founding, African Americans repeatedly have been controlled through institutions such as slavery and Jim Crow, which appear to die, but then are reborn in new form, tailored to the needs and constraints of the time.
Sociologists have frequently observed that governments use punishment primarily as a tool of social control, and thus the extent or severity of punishment is often unrelated to actual crime patterns.
The fact that more than half of the young black men in any large American city are currently under the control of the criminal justice system (or saddled with criminal records) is not - as many argue - just a symptom of poverty or poor choices, but rather evidence of a new racial caste system at work.
One in three young African American men is currently under the control of the criminal justice system in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole - yet mass incarceration tends to be categorized as a criminal justice issue as opposed to a racial justice or civil rights issue (or crisis).
Middle-class white children, children of privilege, are afforded the opportunity to make a lot of mistakes and still go on to college, still dream big dreams. But for kids who are born in the ghetto in the era of mass incarceration, the system is designed in such a way that it traps them, often for life.
Mass incarceration is the most pressing racial justice issue of our time.
The mass incarceration of poor people of color, particularly black men, has emerged as a new caste system, one specifically designed to address the social, economic, and political challenges of our time.
My great crime wasn't refusing to represent an innocent man;
my great crime was imagining that there was some path to racial justice that did not include those we view as 'guilty'.
Once you have been branded a criminal or felon, you are typically trapped for life.
I think it's critically important that the people who have been most harmed by mass incarceration, by mass deportation, by neoliberalism, by all of it, not only have a voice in crafting these platforms but emerge and are supported as real leaders in these movements.
People on probation and parole are typically denied the right to vote, and in eleven states people are denied the right to vote even after completion of their sentences.
Mass incarceration has become normalized in the United States.
Poor folks of color are shuttled from decrepit, underfunded schools to brand new, high tech prisons and then relegated to a permanent undercaste - stigmatized as undeserving of any moral care or concern.
For those interested in learning more about corporations and private individuals profiting from the caging of human beings, I highly recommend the book "Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money From Mass Incarceration."
As a criminal you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.
Voting rights expert and legal scholar Pam Karlan reports that as of 2004, there were more black men disenfranchised than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that deny the right to vote on the basis of race.
Many people don't realize that financial incentives have been built into the drug war that guarantee that law enforcement will continue to arrest extraordinary numbers of people, particularly in poor communities of color, for minor drug offenses that get ignored on the other side of town.
Nationwide about 1 in 7 black men are temporarily or permanently disenfranchised due to felon disenfranchisement laws.
For children, the era of mass incarceration has meant a tremendous amount of family separation, broken homes, poverty, and a far, far greater level of hopelessness as they see so many of their loved ones cycling in and out of prison. Children who have incarcerated parents are far more likely themselves to be incarcerated.
In the war on drugs, state and state law enforcement agencies have been rewarded in cash by the federal government - through programs like the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant program - for the sheer numbers of people arrested for drug offenses.
For reasons that have stunningly little to do with crime or crime rates, we, as a nation, have chosen to lock up more than two million people behind bars. Millions more are on probation or parole, or branded felons for life and thus locked into a permanent second-class status.
The United States does have the highest rate of incarceration in the world dwarfing the rates of even highly repressive regimes like Russia, China or Iran. This reflects a radical shift in criminal justice policy, a stunning development that virtually no one - not even the best criminologists - predicted forty years ago.
Prison guard unions have become the powerful political forces in some states, particularly California.
People charged with drug offenses, though, are typically poor people of color.
They are routinely charged with felonies and sent to prison.
Defenders of the system will counter by saying this drug war has been aimed at violent crime. But that is not the case. The overwhelming majority of people arrested in the drug war have been arrested for relatively minor, non-violent drug offenses.
I think it's important to encourage young people to tell their own stories and to speak openly about their own experiences with the criminal justice system and the experiences of their family. We need to ensure that the classroom environment is a supportive one so that the shame and stigma can be dispelled.
Drunk driving contains a far greater risk of violent death than the use or sale of illegal drugs, the societal response to drunk drivers has generally emphasized keeping the person functional and in society, while attempting to respond to the dangerous behavior through treatment and counseling.
The war on drugs has been the engine of mass incarceration.
Drug convictions alone constituted about two-thirds of the increase in the federal prison population and more than half of the increase in the state prison population between 1985 and 2000, the period of our prison system's most dramatic expansion.
Millions of people are unable to vote due to felony convictions with the highest rates among black men. People in prison are denied the right to vote in 48 states, and while we accept that as normal in the United States, in other western democracies people in prison do have the right to vote.
Most Americans violate drug laws in their lifetime, but the enemy in this war has been racially defined. Not by accident, the drug war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies have consistently shown - for decades - the people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites.
Of course, no one should be trapped in bad schools or bad neighborhoods.
No one. But I think we need to be asking a larger question: How do we change the norm, the larger context that people seem to accept as a given? Are we so thoroughly resigned to what "is" that we cannot even begin a serious conversation about how to create what ought to be?
If we continue to tell ourselves the popular myths about racial progress or, worse yet, if we say to ourselves that the problem of mass incarceration is just too big, too daunting for us to do anything about and that we should instead direct our energies to battles that might be more easily won, history will judge us harshly. A human rights nightmare is occurring on our watch.
I was inspired by what students have done in some schools organizing walkouts protesting the lack of funding and that sort of thing. There are opportunities for students to engage in those types of protests - taking to the streets - but there is also writing poetry, writing music, beginning to express themselves, holding forums, educating each other, the whole range.
Of course in this age of colorblindness, a time when we have supposedly moved "beyond race," we as a nation would feel very uncomfortable if only black people were sent to jail for drug offenses. We seem comfortable with 90 percent of the people arrested and convicted of drug offenses in some states being African American, but if the figure was 100 percent, the veil of colorblindness would be lost.
For the rest of your life you must check the box on employment applications asking the dreaded question: "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" And once you check that box, the odds are sky high that your application is going straight to the trash. Hundreds of professional licenses are off-limits to people convicted of felonies.
I think that we need to begin talking about what does it mean to create these safe spaces in our communities, to begin welcoming one another into our homes and into our communities when they're returning home from prison, people who are on the streets. We need to begin doing the work in our own communities of creating the kind of democracy that we would like to see on a larger scale.
The mass criminalization of white men would disturb us to the core.