Home / Culture and Society / What to a Felon is the Fourth of July?

What to a Felon is the Fourth of July?

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

One hundred and fifty nine years ago, Frederick Douglass was invited to give a speech to commemorate the birth of what was then a very young nation. He challenged his listeners to consider the obvious hypocrisy of a nation founded on liberty, but built on the stolen labor of enslaved Africans with the question, “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?” Early in the speech he makes the point that this holiday does not embrace the lived experience of people like himself:

I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. 

Reading the new book by scholar and prophet Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness got me wondering what Douglass would say today about the Fourth of July. In the book, Alexander advances a compelling thesis that the mass incarceration of the black, the brown, and the red in America constitutes the latest version of an ever-mutating system of racialized social control, perpetuating a racial caste system; the new Jim Crow.

I suspect that Douglass would say what he said over a century and a half ago, “Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them.”

I think he would challenge us to ponder the paradox of a nation founded on liberty, but which condemns men and women to civic death and internal exile on a daily basis once they are labeled felons. I think he would ask us to consider the question, “What to a felon is the Fourth of July?” What does this holiday mean for those who cannot vote, cannot work, cannot find a place to live, cannot access public assistance? What does this holiday mean for the families whose loved ones cycle in and out prison year after year and who face eviction if they offer their husband, brother, uncle a place to sleep? What does it mean for communities devastated by a misguided and cynical drug war with a near insatiable appetite for the black, the brown and the red? A war that is more about preserving the power of politicians than public safety.

I also think that as he did in his day, he would call out faith communities on their complicity in this injustice. Today he would demand to know where the mosques, temples, Baha’i Centers, and churches are in addressing what is among the most urgent civil rights issues of the early 21st century. Baha’u’llah, Founder of the Baha’i Faith and a contemporary of Frederick Douglass put it this way, “If ye stay not the hand of the oppressor, if ye fail to safeguard the rights of the downtrodden, what right have ye then to vaunt yourselves among men? What is it of which ye can rightly boast?”

Michelle Alexander argues that nothing short of a massive social movement can dismantle the new Jim Crow. Just as they did during efforts to defeat earlier versions of racial caste in America, faith communities must contribute prophetic vision, prophetic voices, and what Ghandi referred to as “soul force” to this new struggle. I’ll close with the words of Frederick Douglass, still poignant after all these years,

“THAT HOUR WILL, COME, to each, to all,
And from his prison-house, the thrall
Go forth.

Until that year, day, hour, arrive,
With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive,
To break the rod, and rend the gyve,
The spoiler of his prey deprive-
So witness Heaven!
And never from my chosen post,
Whate’er the peril or the cost,
Be driven.”

Powered by

About Phillipe Copeland

  • zingzing

    “societally dysfunctioning liberal jurisdictions”

    ahh. cities. where people live.

  • Dan

    “which is probably why the total number of death row convictions is in single digits”

    oops, I meant percentage of murder convictions that receive the death penalty.

  • Dan

    I just noticed that someone else has taken notice of the NY Times op-ed by David R Dow that Phillip linked to in comment #35. It’s journalist, columnist, and notorious race realist Steve Sailer.

    He’s zeroed in on Dows statement that: “Nationwide, blacks and whites are victims of homicide in roughly equal numbers, yet 80 percent of those executed had murdered white people.”

    Besides noting a few of the statistical disparities civil rights people conspicuously ignore, Sailer adds another compounding factor to the reasoning I outlined in comment #37:

    “The simplified model of how it really works is that white-dominated jurisdictions tend to be more conservative and more pro-death penalty, while black-dominated jurisdictions tend to be more liberal and less pro-death penalty. So, people who commit murders in white-dominated jurisdictions (a mix of white and black perps with mostly white victims) are more likely to get the death penalty than people who commit murders in black-dominated jurisdictions (overwhelmingly black perps with mostly black victims).”

    I hadn’t thought of that, but reflecting on it now, I would think that a significant majority of overall murders are committed in societally dysfunctioning liberal jurisdictions, which is probably why the total number of death row convictions is in single digits.

  • zingzing

    an army of heroin and opium addicts! they’re sluggish, and if they’re a bit green, they might throw up, but damn if they can’t find a way to get what they want in the end. if a trail of bodies stretches before you, don’t worry, they’re only sleeping, and watch out for the needles.

  • Clavos

    Well, somebody’s got to support the Taliban. The G-D Americans keep attacking them and harassing them; they need somebody on their side.

  • zingzing

    when you buy opium, baronius, you are supporting the taliban. remember that.

  • Baronius

    Ah, opium. The sweet, constipating nectar of the gods. Similar to cocaine in that you don’t serve any time for not possessing it.

  • zingzing

    “What’s the jail time for not having cocaine in any form?”

    what do you have then? heroin? god, man, have some decency.

  • Baronius

    What’s the jail time for not having cocaine in any form? It seems to me that that’d be the way to go, no matter what race you are.

    What Douglass went through was involuntary. The pressures on a young person today can be intense, but nobody’s being held in a crack house in chains.

  • zingzing

    no, you haven’t dan. i’ll take it you can’t argue against the fact that possession can lead to significant jail time and that dealing with crack means dealing first with cocaine. it’s fine.

    and if you don’t want hostility, don’t hand it out first and then cry about it when it’s shot back at you. it’s too pathetic.

    later on, honey.

  • Dan

    sorry zingzing, I don’t see anything in your latest hostile rehash that merits response. I’ve already covered it.

  • Dan

    Phillipe, I’ll keep Michelle Alexanders book in mind the next time I clear my reading list, thanks.

    The US Drug Enforcement Administration says that: “There is a myth in this country that U.S. prisons are filled with drug users. This assertion is simply not true. Actually, only 5 percent of inmates in federal prison on drug charges are incarcerated for drug possession. In our state prisons, it’s somewhat higher?”about 27% of drug offenders.”

    While that is a significant portion of the overall prison population, it wouldn’t seem to account for as significant a proportion of the prison population that increased from “several hundred thousand in the 70’s to millions today”.

    It’s a little confusing to say that “if these author defined systematic racial and ethnic bias only in terms of conscious intent then they are unlikely to find it because people these days are smart enough to know to deny such things.”

    If people are “smart enough to know to deny” then it isn’t unconscious bias. Furthermore “unconscious bias” is only eliminated by introducing conscious bias. So for example, unconscious bias would be harsher sentencing for crack cocaine over powder cocaine because public perception is that crack cocaine users violently victimize people more than powder users. When it turns out that blacks are more likely to be arrested for crack cocaine, then it is conscious bias to equalize penalties.

    A good, maybe the best, argument could be made that conscious bias is worse than unconscious bias, and that unconscious bias isn’t bias at all, but simply letting the chips fall where they may and not favoring one group over the other.

    Thanks for the interesting link in #35. It is relevant and one of the few statistical citings made by civil rights activists. It is true that someone who kills a white is more likely to get the death penalty than someone who kills a black. (11.5 percent vs. 4.5 percent is an older statistic of the disparity) It’s often cited as proof that American society values white lives more than black lives. A closer examination reveals an alternate explanation.

    A reflexive response for most of us is that all life should be valued equally, but we really don’t. If a child is gratuitously murdered for example, that is most certain to get a death penalty conviction. Murder of women and strangers are more likely to draw death penalty convictions than men and aquaintances. The relative innocence of the victims matters to prosecutors and jurists. Black men are extremely violent toward each other when it comes to murder rates. It is the leading cause of death for a wide age range. Often the violence is provoked. Innocence isn’t as clear. These deaths make up a large proportion of murder cases and it turns up statistically as a disparity.

    On the flip side, the statistics that civil rights advocates do not dwell on, are that white murderers, no matter whom they kill, are more likely to get the death penalty than black murderers. This is because murder tends to be mostly intraracial. Furthermore, whites who kill whites are slightly more likely to be on death row than blacks who kill whites. This would seem to indicate that it is whites who are victims of disparate treatment. But there are no white racial advocates, so the dominant civil rights narrative goes unchallenged.

  • zingzing

    dan: “Your comment was “pretty stupid” because I cited simple possession.”

    even though nobody said anything about simple possession and no one who knows anything about the law would say anything of the sort. but i spoke about the way that simple possession CAN land you in jail. and yet you deem it irrelevant. fine. sorry you couldn’t follow. and yes, intent to distribute can land you some real jail time. you’re right in that first offenses very often only involve fines (depending upon the drug, heroin’s a ticket inside the first time around), but further offenses can easily get you anywhere from 2-10.

    “If I were to “insult my way out of things”, I would call you the “asshole”.”

    ah, so “stupid” doesn’t qualify? that’s stupid.

    “Well, they’re innocent of terrorizing their respective communities to the point where their communities petition their congress critters for harsher sentencing. got me?”

    drug violence over cocaine is just as bad or worse as that of crack, being that crack is just a form of cocaine. to separate the two is just ignorance. other than some hop-heads running around, the violence you see from crack can all be linked back to cocaine. coke is the real problem, but the law focuses on crack? good job, lawmakers. good job, people.

  • Just read this in the New York Times. I thought it was relevant to the conversation.

  • Dan thanks for the references to Sampson and Blumstein, I look forward to reading what they have to say. I have to disagree that people are clinging to sheer assertion. Sounds like you’ve read work that supports your view of things but have not read work that contradicts it. By the way, with any research how things are defined is important. For example, if these author defined systematic racial and ethnic bias only in terms of conscious intent then they are unlikely to find it because people these days are smart enough to know to deny such things. That does not mean such bias does not exist as research in the area of implicit bias by social psychologists tells us. It is also true that policies and procedures that appear race-neutral on their face can and do perpetuate racial inequities. This is not just in the criminal justice system but in virtually every system in our society. It does not actually require “evil cops, racist white judges and assorted malevolent invisible forces” to achieve such outcomes. We are not talking about a comic book here but public policy. The dominate narrative in this case as with discourse about racial and ethnic inequities in other arenas is that these outcomes are largely due to individual behavior and the operation of race-neutral social systems. Even during slavery, it’s proponents located the problem in the slaves themselves and not in the institution. This is not a new narrative. However, then as now it is an incomplete one.

  • Dan, the so called drug war is the reason the prison population has increased from several hundred thousand in the 70’s to millions today and yes there is plenty of evidence to support that. Who do you think is filling these prisons? No urban myth there, certainly for the real people who are going to jail. I’ll say again to read Alexander’s book which is exhaustively researched and cannot be easily dismissed. Much of what average Americans believe about our criminal justice system is simply misinformed. But that’s the point, if more of us really knew what was being done in the name of “public safety” we might demand that something be done to change it.

  • Dan

    “ah, so cokeheads are innocent while crackheads are not. gotcha.”

    Well, they’re innocent of terrorizing their respective communities to the point where their communities petition their congress critters for harsher sentencing. got me?

    “dan, why be an asshole? you don’t have to insult your way out of things.”

    If I were to “insult my way out of things”, I would call you the “asshole”.

    Your comment was “pretty stupid” because I cited simple possession. You proceed to talk about intent to distribute as if it is relevant. It’s not. Even if you throw in “intent to distribute” unaccompanied by prior convictions or concurrent charges it still does not make but a very minor swipe at the prison population, if that.

    But it’s easier just to say your shifting the issue is “pretty stupid”.

  • zingzing

    the people who perpetrated that crime are a) stupid kids and b) racist pricks. those who would assign their values to the whole of a race are also racist pricks.

  • zingzing

    yeah, dan. i said black people beating up white people was cool by me. that’s what i said. bet you all the black people and liberals agree with me too. yep.

    you might think that’s representative of people like us, and you’d be right. we all want whitey to die. you’ve found out our little secret.

    we’re all horrible people. it’s infectious, like a zombie plague. i’m sure you’ll join us in the orgy of racial violence should you get bit with it. you got that spark in ya, i can tell.

  • Dan

    Hey zingzing, who says black felons don’t celebrate the fourth of July. here is how a mob of future black felons celebrated it just last week.

    Some highlights of the festivities:

    “Shaina Perry remembers the punch to her face, blood streaming from a cut over her eye, her backpack with her asthma inhaler, debit card and cellphone stolen, and then the laughter.

    “They just said ‘Oh, white girl bleeds a lot,’?””

    Sounds like red, white, and blue!!

    “Perry was among several who were injured by a mob they said beat and robbed them and threw full beer bottles while making racial taunts. The injured people were white; the attackers were African-American, witnesses said.”

    racial taunts… or social justice?

    “I heard laughing as they were beating everybody up. They were eating chips like it was a picnic,”

    A fourth of July picnic!!

    “About 20 of us stayed to give statements and make sure everyone was accounted for. The police wouldn’t listen to us, they wouldn’t take our names or statements. They told us to leave. It was completely infuriating,”

    Doesn’t fit the narrative.

  • zingzing

    “Nope, not at all. This was how politicians responded to the wishes of their constituents who were being violently attacked in their communities by crack heads wanting money. Victims of crackhead violence are people too.”

    ah, so cokeheads are innocent while crackheads are not. gotcha. nothing bothers you there? (by the way, at least in 2010, a law getting rid of this racist law was past by the house, including a mass vote by the republicans to pass it. i’m not sure where it went from there, although the article said obama was expected to sign it into law. so even the “politicians” responding “to the wishes of their constituents” have figured out it’s incredibly unfair.)

    “The rest of your comment is pretty stupid. There aren’t any statistical studies that support the type of bias you claim.”

    dan, why be an asshole? you don’t have to insult your way out of things. i’m not describing bias, i’m describing the law. does the law not say what i say it says? will (would, maybe) five grams of crack get you a harsher sentence than 499 grams of coke? yes, it will. if you are caught with five separate bags of marijuana, will you get charged with intent to distribute? yes, you will.

    these laws cost taxpayers billions of dollars per year and only perpetuate the problems the laws themselves produced and continuously fail to solve. why would you be for something like that?

    like it or not, the EFFECT of the law is that it will come down on minorities with far more frequency.

  • Dan

    “at least until recently, 5 grams of crack was a felony, while it took 500 grams of coke to get a felony level. weird, eh?”—zingzing

    Nope, not at all. This was how politicians responded to the wishes of their constituents who were being violently attacked in their communities by crack heads wanting money. Victims of crackhead violence are people too.

    The rest of your comment is pretty stupid. There aren’t any statistical studies that support the type of bias you claim. That’s why it is “sheer assertion”. Although I know you are never bothered by such distinctions.

  • zingzing

    “There has been exhaustive research done to flesh out systemic racial and ethnic bias in the criminal justice system. Virtually none of it supports your thesis.”

    a quick look suggests there are studies which would seek to prove you are wrong, dan. but, “by sheer assertion,” you’ll ignore those. there is most certainly a racial bias within the system. at least until recently, 5 grams of crack was a felony, while it took 500 grams of coke to get a felony level. weird, eh? it’s not just cops and judges, it’s the whole system. you may not find it in individual cops or judges (and you will find it in other cops and judges), but you will find it in the laws and in sentencing.

    “The notion that simple drug possession is a major factor in the swelling of prison populations is more urban myth than reality as well.”

    and that’s why we have the phrase “with intent to distribute.” one guy gets his half ounce of bud off a dealer, he’s guilty of possession, but another guy gets three or four dime bags off his dealer and he’s got that little phrase tacked onto his charges. it’s about the same amount of pot, but one dealer was selling dimes (they do make you more money that way), and the other dealer was selling by weight (with bulk discount). chances are the second guy was just stocking up, but too bad, they’re in separate baggies, you’re going to jail. it’s arbitrary on a very real level. try to find a dealer in an affluent area who will even bother selling you a dime. then go street level and see if you can find much else. even if it’s not a system designed to catch minorities, more often than not, that’s what it does.

  • Dan

    Phillipe, although I appreciate your civility and respect your opinion, There has been exhaustive research done to flesh out systemic racial and ethnic bias in the criminal justice system. Virtually none of it supports your thesis.

    Even in the area of white collar crime, blacks are convicted at 3 to 5 times the rate as whites for crimes like fraud, racketeering, bribary and embezzlement.

    Two of the top criminologists in the world, Robert J Sampson and Alfred Blumstein have published many critical studies concluding basically no systemic bias. Many, many liberal criminologists, pundits, civil rights activists, and politicians have poured over their work, and the work of others, expecting to find a system rife with discrimination, but they are disappointed. Nevertheless the research is completely ignored and the cherished myth of evil cops, racist white judges and assorted malevolent invisible forces is desperately clung to by sheer assertion.

    The notion that simple drug possession is a major factor in the swelling of prison populations is more urban myth than reality as well.

  • zingzing

    i believe so. i think it’s an unintentional effect of the law, but it’s there anyway. the police and courts may have prejudice against black people, but that prejudice is more based on the effects of these laws than it is on pure racism these days. they see the same type of perp perpetrating the same type of crime over and over again and it gets into them, same as the laws create the environment and reality that drives so many into becoming criminals. the biggest hate crime against minorities in america is a set of american laws.

  • Zingzing, sounds like we agree more than we disagree on this one.

  • zingzing

    “is the issue that blacks are committing a greater proportion of crimes relative to their population or that they are disproportionately targeted for arrest, more likely to be convicted and receive harsher penalties for the same crimes committed by whites?”

    with all do respect, phillipe, i think it’s a little of column a, a little of column b. because of the “war on drugs,” the inner city drug trade creates a lot of criminals and a lot of arrests. and they’re easy arrests that are easily prosecuted. if a cop wants an arrest to bolster his quota, he goes downtown. if a district attorney wants a win in court, he takes that case. when a man gets put in jail for that kind of thing, it’s hard to find another kind of work once he’s out, and he’s right back at it, then right back in jail. (and once there, is he counted twice by the statisticians?) it’s a vicious cycle, and these laws do nothing but produce violence and criminality due to lack of other opportunity. if those laws were changed, i think you’d see a dramatic drop in blacks being arrested, because a lot fewer people (black or white), would be on the wrong side of the law. violent crime would also drop, as illicitness makes things worth money and therefore worth committing violence over.

    as for the white collar thing, all i can say is this.

  • Baronius, I see the point you are making but think that one, things are not a “murky” as they may appear based on what information you have seen and second, I don’t think you can really separate the issue of incarceration rates and the loss of civil rights because they are part of a system of related policies and procedures that according to Alexander are the latest iteration of an old strategy that is highly racialized. If you get a chance to read the book you will see what I mean.

    Zingzing, I’m not sure if I’m with you on the proportionality thing, I think it is a matter of what your statistics are based on. For example, is the issue that blacks are committing a greater proportion of crimes relative to their population or that they are disproportionately targeted for arrest, more likely to be convicted and receive harsher penalties for the same crimes committed by whites? There is ample evidence that this is the case and is no great secret.

    Irene, thanks for chiming in. I am completely with you on the issue of so-called white collar crimes vs. other crimes. Our criminal justice system seems to find it easy to lock up the poor (largely of color) but suddenly things get difficult when people commit crimes that impact thousands more than drugs do and not only don’t see a single day in jail but even get rewarded with bonuses, lobbyist jobs, elected office and appointed to Cabinet posts! This in itself exposes our “tough on crime” rhetoric as hollow. As the saying goes, the rich get richer and the poor get prison.

  • I clicked “enter” mid-sentence, sorry. I hope this thread doesn’t degenerate into ad hominem attacks (or the restating comments of others and twisting the intent in so doing.)

    Philippe, this may be one of the fairest articles on race I’ve seen on BC, and hopefully it will lead to a productive conversation, which hopefully, I can follow without becoming further actively involved.

  • …disparities in proportions of “criminality” with respect to race is likely to lessen or even disappear.

  • Yes it is complicated. Release, and stop incarcerating people of all races for victimless crimes such as the possession of marijuana. Next, (dream on) throw into the slammer every crook on Wall Street and corrupt politician or CEO who gave himself a 150% raise (the tax-payers “stimulus package” at work) the same year he lays off thousands of employees. Do this, too, without any consideration of race.

    I’m not denying the troubling rash of black-on-white crime witnessed recently in the Memorial Day “polar bear hunting” incident.” That’s a cause for concern.

    My take: Blacks AND Whites are becoming less and less likely to treat one another with kindness and respect. The cessation of arrests for non-violent victimless acts, and initiation of incarceration for non-violent crimes that nonetheless result in widespread victimization, misrepresentation

  • Jordan Richardson

    Dan sniffed out another topic and created a “race” issue? Shocking!

  • zingzing

    well, baronius, i’ve never been put in jail, but i’d bet that “have you ever been convicted of a felony” line on most job applications can affect your job prospects. lots of other things you take for granted, like housing and the ability to get a loan, could be greatly restricted as well. get fucked over for one childish indiscretion for the rest of your life is probably a bummer.

  • zingzing

    well, what dan really states is that he believes there to be no injustice in the justice system, which is just foolish. and there is ample proof that it is weighted against minorities in certain areas.

    phillipe states it is not the case “that blacks commit more crimes than whites and so are being incarcerated more.” by raw numbers, he may have a point. but by proportional numbers, i don’t think that’s the case. the “war on drugs” makes sure of that, just as another stupid set of laws created more violence than it saved (prohibition) made sure that italians and other immigrants were committing proportionally more crimes.

    there’s inequalities in the system, that’s for sure.

    but i really don’t get this 13% thing you wrote about up there and i’m not even sure where it’s coming from…

  • Baronius

    Actually, the heart of #12 is still valid. I think we need to distinguish between the possible injustice of incarceration rates and the possible injustice of the consequences of having been incarcerated. As I understand it, evidence of the former is murky, and it’s probably been debated better elsewhere. I’l love to hear more about the latter, it being something I don’t know anything about.

  • Baronius

    Oh, this is where things get confusing. I posted #12 before reading #11. Lemme read #11 and get back.

  • Baronius

    Well, Zing, a word like “that” could mean any number of things, especially if I’m not paying attention to what I’m typing. But here’s my guess: Dan states that blacks are being incarcerated at an equal proportion to the number of crimes they’re committing; Phillipe says that he’s not sure the “right people” are being incarcerated; he then states that people lose rights after incarceration; then he states that he doesn’t see the current system as just. If he were referring to the loss of civil rights as creating injustice, then my word “that” really doesn’t have any meaning. If he were referring to the incarceration of blacks as creating injustice, then my word “that” was referring to the implied justice system which would incarcerate people based on skin color rather than on criminal activity.

  • Baronius, you are assuming as many people do that blacks commit more crimes than whites and so are being incarcerated more. The problem is that is not the case. The inequities in incarceration rates cannot be explained simply by crime rates. Even if the incarceration rates were completely race neutral, which they are not, even some “tough on crime” types are beginning to concede that our rates of incarceration are unsustainable and need to be reformed. This is not about past injustices, but present injustices. Second you are avoiding the issue of whether or not people should lose basic civil rights for the rest of their lives for “crimes” such as drug possession. The issue is much more complex than what you are implying and I believe is not just. Even who gets arrested is not race neutral when you take into account racial profiling and police strategies that consciously target communities of color even though blacks, latinos and Native Americans are not more likely than Whites to use illegal drugs and so on. This is a systemic issue with systemic outcomes and so we can’t just look at individual cases because doing so obscures the larger pattern of decisions that are being made and the consequences of those decisions which do not impact all people or even all those committing crimes equally. I wish things were so simple but they aren’t.

  • zingzing

    what is the “that” you refer to baronius? something phillipe said, i guess, but having trouble tracking that “that” down.

  • Baronius

    Phillipe, how would that work? Should we prosecute only the worst 13% of black criminals? Or incarcerate 7.2x the number of white people whether or not they’ve committed crimes? Would that be justice?

    Justice can’t be meted out statistically. It’s got to be applied to the individual cases. If blacks are committing more crimes, it doesn’t matter what their ancestors went through – they should be incarcerated more.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Looks like Dan’s up to his old “racism-only-exists-in-the-minds-of-liberals” tricks again.

    I do wish I could take him Down South and introduce him to real racism…although I strongly suspect it won’t be much different from what he hears among his own friends every day.

  • Dan thanks for your comment. Alexander does acknowledge a drop in crime rates but there is more to the story. If you have not read her book I encourage you to do so. Whether or not the “right people” are being locked up is debatable, as is whether or not “locking people” up is actually the answer to, in the case of the so called drug war which is a public health issue as much as a public safety issue. And my point is not just about the locking up of people but what happens to them once they are released, losing fundamental civil rights for life in many cases. The question is, is that just, particularly when it perpetuates racial inequities whether intentionally or not? I believe that it is not and needs to be challenged.

  • Dan

    The notion that racial differences in incarceration rates reflect police and justice system bias is not supported by any objective measure of statistical record.

    Both the National Crime Victimization Survey and the National Incident-Based Reporting System are two huge data sets where victims describe the crimes and indicate the race of the perpetrators.

    Based on victim surveys as well as police reports of arrested suspects, the Justice Department figures show that blacks commit crimes and are incarcerated at roughly 7.2 times the white rate, and Hispanics at 2.9 times the white rate. The incarceration rates generally match the rates provided by victims who report crimes, except that blacks are actually arrested slightly less frequently than would be expected.

    Although Alexander notes in her book that incarceration rates per capita have greatly expanded in the last 30 years, she probably does not mention the significant corresponding drop in crime rates. This would seem to indicate that many of the right people are locked up.

  • John, I see what you mean. While it is true that all felons are impacted by similar restrictions on their rights, there is a clear and well documented inequity in who gets incarcerated in the first place which breaks down along racial lines. I wish that were not the case, but unfortunately it is. So it was not a “slip” but a conscious choice based upon the thesis of Alexander’s book and the work of others in this area. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  • John Lake

    In some remote way you link blacks more than others to those who suffer incarceration. That slip might have been avoided.

  • Baronius and John Lake thank you for your comments. Baronius, it may be that what you say is true, though I expect Douglass would have more to say than that.
    John, I’m not sure if I am understanding the point you are making. Could you clarify it a bit?

  • John Lake

    You make a an error sir when you segue from the black slaves of the early days of America to the currently or recently incarcerated. The psychological link is inescapable.
    Time seems to cure ills, as it did with the slaves, and as it will with those from distant societies.

  • Baronius

    Frederick Douglass was part of the temperance movement, so I can guess what he’d say about the drug war. He’d tell people to stop taking drugs.