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The New Jim Crow
April 15, 2012 5:49 AM   Subscribe

"You, too, can get to the promised land. [...] Perhaps greater lies have been told in the past century, but they can be counted on one hand. Racial caste is alive and well in America." The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
posted by the young rope-rider (90 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
People get offended when I say this, but this is why I often call it the War on Blacks.

Our inner cities look like war zones because they are war zones.

Enough, already. If we fully legalized all drugs, the consequences couldn't possibly be worse than what's going on already.
posted by Malor at 5:58 AM on April 15, 2012 [26 favorites]


Good article. Others have been making these same points here and there, but the more the better. This message needs to stay out there.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:05 AM on April 15, 2012


I realise I'm not the right audience really, as what she's saying is hardly news (though I don't think anyone who reads Mother Jones is the right audience either--it's not compelling enough for people who aren't going to argue the point). However, this bit irked me:
*There are more African Americans under correctional control today—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.
Surely it's the precentage that matters? My knowledge of American history is pretty weak (we're talking AP US history ten years ago), but my general response to that fact would be 'Well, duh.' I know the rate of incarceration for African-American men in particular is obscenely high and presumably the African-American population now is much bigger than it was in 1850, enslaved or not. In that last sentence, I've made all manner of possibly faulty assumptions, but that only serves to emphasise that you need to quote the percentage. (And if I were trying to attack the article, I'd ask why 1850 and not 1860? To layman me, 1860 seems like the 'natural' point of comparison. Either we're gaming the stats a little and 1850 was the height of slavery (see lousy knowledge of American history) or there's some reason why the census data from 1860 should be considered faulty.*)

*I just checked Wikipedia. It seems that due to the Civil War, the 1860 census data wasn't analysed as thoroughly as usual, but they did get far enough that we could count the enslaved population and the African-Americna population as a whole.
posted by hoyland at 6:20 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's not just the New Jim Crow that should worry people. There are cases coming up before the Supreme Court either this year or next that ask for invalidation of most or all of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (brought up by AGs from former Confederate states, natch) and affirmative action. FWIW, I think that this will be why this election matters more than any in my lifetime up to now.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:22 AM on April 15, 2012 [16 favorites]


Current drug laws are horrible. They are hurting all of us. They enrich criminals and do far more harm than good. That is all true. It is beyond terrible when you can spend longer times in prison for being in possession of a bit of drugs (even if you didn't know they were there) than you can for very violent crimes. It is even worse that there are some who are still serving sentences for decades for breaking older laws where possession of a few seeds could land you in prison.

federal drug forfeiture laws are easily one of the worst set of laws this country has ever passed. How the hell it can be constitutional to take a persons property without recompense until they can prove that the money/property was not obtained from drug money is beyond me. It is clearly against the constitution. The easy of abuse of the law is evident.

The fact that cops take the easy route of harassing the people on the bottom scale is terrible and an insult to all of us. It only serves to fill the prisons to over-saturation, costs us millions of dollars, ruin families of all colors, and does nothing to lower the use of drugs. Going after the kingpins would of course require much more effort and an ability to refuse bribes.


However I don't understand the connection between the number (as a percentage) of african-american males in prison and any sort of racism. One might as well as say that there are more than 50% of males in the prison population which is proof that there is a prejudice against males. What about the percentage of left-handed Lithuanian lesbians in prison? What about any other arbitrary group?

No the war on drugs is hardly a war on Blacks. Perhaps a war on the poor, the more desperate, but not a war on blacks and not a war based on racism.
posted by 2manyusernames at 6:22 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, and after I ranted for a whole paragraph, I'll note that I thought about buying her book a while back. I didn't because I ultimately postponed book-buying. If that was an excerpt, it's off the 'maybe buy sometime' list . But I'll go put it on hold at the library now, as I'd totally forgotten about it.
posted by hoyland at 6:22 AM on April 15, 2012


I hate the laws that take away so many rights of a felon even long after they paid their debt to society. At the very least there is no reason that a felon shouldn't have all hisrights to vote being automatically reinstated after release from prison.

How is is even constitutional to do otherwise?

This is especially true when you can be labeled a felon for some pretty minor crimes. Here in Florida where the laws are particularly harsh against ex-felons it is a felony to trespass on a construction site. Take a nap in a construction site because you are homeless and cold and all off a sudden your basic rights as an American are removed? wtf!?
posted by 2manyusernames at 6:27 AM on April 15, 2012 [13 favorites]


Surely it's the precentage that matters?

I disagree, it is a sheer volume of suffering which cries out for justice.
posted by biffa at 6:29 AM on April 15, 2012 [17 favorites]


Good article. I don't like "studies show" though, without a link to a reference. The reasoning is there though.

However I don't understand the connection between the number...and any sort of racism.

From the article: "In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon's White House Chief of Staff: "[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to."

There are lots of materials you can find that talk about the disparity and explain what you might already be aware of but not connecting. It's just another facet of how race works in American society.

How is is even constitutional to do otherwise?

I am glad that you are outraged at these laws. I wrote something up on this about a decade ago. It is related to race. Let me look through my email and see if I can dig it up. Basically a lot of these policies started as a way to keep nonwhites from voting.
posted by cashman at 6:32 AM on April 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


The issue with prisoner population is the ratio in prison compared to the entire population. From the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice [pdf]:
There is irrefutable evidence that blacks comprise a disproportionate share of the U.S. prison population. At the end of 2005, there were 1,525,924 persons incarcerated in state and federal prisons; 40 percent of these inmates were black, 35 percent were white, and 20 percent were Hispanic (Harrison & Beck 2006). Blacks, in other words, comprise about 12 percent of the U.S. population but two-fifths of the prison population.
This is racism at work, because black Americans, who are less than 1/5 the population, do not commit 2/5's of the crime in the US. They are disproportionately arrested and prosecuted.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:36 AM on April 15, 2012 [26 favorites]


I'm, intellectually-speaking, neutral on this issue--I don't incline one way or the other. But it's a little hard for me to take the strident tone of articles like this when what I need here is facts and dispassionate analysis. The author's response to the violent crime objection is invalid. It doesn't matter what Reagan's motives were, what matters is whether or not violent crime can account for the relevant effect. The point against Clinton is laughably invalid, a raging ad hominem.

Note also the common and invalid claim that low violent crime rates + high imprisonment rates is some kind of paradox. There's nothing even slightly odd about it. High imprisonment rates might very well explain a low crime rate. That might not be the right explanation--but if these are the only facts on the table, there's no problem. You don't get to turn an argument for high imprisonment rates into an argument for lower imprisonment rates with this kind of slight-of-mouth.

Here's what we really need: a clear comparison of some given, carefully- specified type of drug offense, where we control for, e.g., type of drug, amount of drug, and other relevant circumstances (e.g. whether a weapon was present, whether the accused had a record). We then need to ask whether whites and non-whites tend to get different sentences.

We do already have evidence from psychology that people tend to perceive non-whites as more criminal (though I'm not sure e.g. the famous who's-holding-the-knife? study has ever been confirmed.) So that gives us prima facie reason to be worried about differential incarceration rates--as if we didn't already have such reason.

Our prisons are a humanitarian disaster, and the drug war is a humanitarian disaster, and the way we've treated people with darker skin in this country is criminal... So we're all primed to accept conclusions like the one in the article. But if we really want to know whether the conclusion is true in this case, we'll need more than what we're given here. Personally, I'm not going to be the least bit surprised if something like the conclusion of this piece is true...but the arguments given don't come close to proving it.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:39 AM on April 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


My dad has had knee problems his whole life, but since he lives in Georgia, the only thing they will give him for pain is high powered opiates. Back when he could still smoke marijuana, he at least had an appetite and was coherent, but now he's hooked on Big Pharma's poison. I'm sure a doctor would rather put him on something less harmful to his system, but they don't have that choice, because our government is owned by lobbyists. He can't afford to get off MediCare, and the moment he switched from a medicine that costs taxpayers three hundred or four hundred a month to something he could grow in his backyard, they'd take away his health care and his freedom, ostensibly for his own good. He's also a convicted felon, but he's white, so he's lucky.

There is certainly a racial element to the drug war, but I think the "New Jim Crow" is morphing into hatred of poor people, regardless of their ethnicity. The GOP can give a wink and a nod to the southern states about "keeping drugs under control" and "keeping families safe" without having to dirty their hands selling racism straight out, and then the policy can also ensnare "tough" Democrats who will trade damn near anything for a vote.

Some people ride the money elevator out of persecution, but for the most part, the drug war is about continuing the course towards a two-tier society. Always in these conversations we forget about the plight of Native Americans, who were the first example of America does to a culture we want to destroy: segregate them physically, make their lifestyle illegal, and then start throwing them in prison. Opium wasn't illegal until we were afraid of Asian immigration. Marijuana wasn't illegal until fear of Mexican immigrants arose in the 1930s. Criminalize, imprison, impoverish, repeat.

Moving from a race-based caste system to socio-economic exclusion is not much of an improvement, but until there is an -ism that describes discrimination against the poor that carries as much meaning as racism, I don't expect much to change. There's no law preventing usurious pawnshops, pay day lenders, and over-priced check cashing services from infesting poor neighborhoods along with proliferate liquor stores, but there are laws preventing those same people from having privacy in their own home. The reason is obvious: high drug prices mean huge profits for pharmaceuticals, and lobbyists for them, along with lobbyists who are slowly privatizing prisons in order profit from another state-granted monopoly, are very invested in ruining our country.

To continue running these monopolies, victim blaming propaganda is essential, and it's easy to see the effects. Who imagined 40 years ago that politicians would win seats by boasting that they wanted to take away health care and government services from children and the needy? Who imagined they would be bragging about taking someone's right to vote away by introducing radical government bureaucracy?

The whole thing makes me sick, but until the working class is able to recognize that they are in the very same boat whether they're in government housing in the inner city or a distressed farm town, the power structure extending Jim Crow will remain in place.
posted by deanklear at 6:56 AM on April 15, 2012 [51 favorites]


Note also the common and invalid claim that low violent crime rates + high imprisonment rates is some kind of paradox. There's nothing even slightly odd about it. High imprisonment rates might very well explain a low crime rate. That might not be the right explanation--but if these are the only facts on the table, there's no problem. You don't get to turn an argument for high imprisonment rates into an argument for lower imprisonment rates with this kind of slight-of-mouth.

You're right on the logic (and it's a pity the linked article is so very, very strong on outrage and so weak on stats and analysis), but the fact is that violent crime rates have been dropping in all major US cities for a couple of decades now--and that the drop does not track with incarceration rates. That is, cities that did not see disproportionate incarceration rates of young black males saw the same, or higher, drops in violent crime rates as those that did. So it seems very unlikely that the steady decline in violent crime is a result of successfully locking up the people who would otherwise have perpetrated violent crime.

There's a very good piece by Adam Gopnik in a recent New Yorker that references some of the recent research on the US's mind boggling incarceration rates. It's well worth reading. Here's a link.

Oh, and while I'm griping about the tone of the linked article, let me just marvel a second at the sheer mendacity of its opening gambit:
Obama's mere presence in the Oval Office is offered as proof that "the land of the free" has finally made good on its promise of equality.
No, it's not. The only people who have ever made anything remotely like these claims are racists who are doing so as a "and now you have to shut up about race" move. No one has seriously argued that Obama's election proved that America had solved the problem of racism. At most it has been suggested that it's a very significant milestone--which hardly seems a controversial claim.
posted by yoink at 6:58 AM on April 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


See previously...
posted by chillmost at 7:01 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fists, i hear what you re saying, but there may not be such an objective comparison to be made in a racist society. Arrest records, for example, are going to vary widely because black men are profiled by a racist police system.

Anecdotally, recently two suburban teen marijuana dealers were being investigated in new orleans. Both were unarmed, good students. One was white, the other black. Guess which one was shot point blank and killed by NOPD?
posted by eustatic at 7:05 AM on April 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


There is certainly a racial element to the drug war, but I think the "New Jim Crow" is morphing into hatred of poor people, regardless of their ethnicity.

Both racism and classism (and sexism etc.) have inflicted terrible harms on people living in the U.S. I always despair a little in reading commentaries on these issues at the extent to which the "oppression Olympics" often disrupt solidarity among those facing injustice.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:10 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's what we really need: a clear comparison of some given, carefully- specified type of drug offense, where we control for, e.g., type of drug, amount of drug, and other relevant circumstances (e.g. whether a weapon was present, whether the accused had a record). We then need to ask whether whites and non-whites tend to get different sentences.
Uh, why? If black people are are more likely to be arrested for drug X, and white people are more likely to be arrested for drug Y, and X has a greater sentence then Y why wouldn't that be an example of racism? Are we supposed to believe that drug X is really however much "worse" then drug Y?

The Crack vs. Cocaine sentencing differential is a good example of that, it used to be that crack 'counted' 100x as much as cocaine for sentencing, despite their being the same actual drug, and not at all 100x as potent. But blacks were more likely to be caught with crack compared to whites.

One of the major reasons for that was inner city crime rates, but that was all due to the drug war in the first place.

The other problem is looking at arrests, rather then actual drug use. When you look at the number of people who self-report drug use, it's higher among whites. When you look at medical problems caused by drug use, it's higher among whites. So while white people might use more drugs then African Americans, white people are less likely to ever even be arrested for it.

----

As far as the correlation between mass incarceration vs. violent crime rates, all you have to do is break it down to the individual level: what % of violent crime is committed recidivists rather then first time offenders?

Or in a more general sense, people who would be in jail if incarceration rate were higher? So if you look at, for example, 1990 what % of violent crime had been committed by people who had already broken the law in a way that, had they done so today, would put them in jail?

Because if the people who are committing violent crime are not multiple-time offenders who would be more likely to be in jail given the higher incarceration rate, then the higher incarceration rate couldn't possibly be the reason for the drop, as that would mean having an effect before a cause.
posted by delmoi at 7:12 AM on April 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is the point at which I am typically interrupted and reminded that black men have higher rates of violent crime. That's why the drug war is waged in poor communities of color and not middle-class suburbs.


The subtle point made here resonated with me. I know many individuals who use cocaine, psilocybin, ecstasy, and other "hard" drugs on a regular basis. They're also upper middle class lawyers and accountants - and white. They would laugh if anyone insinuated they were at risk of arrest.
posted by pecanpies at 7:13 AM on April 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


From the article: "In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon's White House Chief of Staff: "[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to."

Actually, that's Haldeman quoting Nixon. More importantly, though, it's Haldeman quoting Nixon talking about Nixon's welfare plan. It's not talking about the "war on drugs" (which hadn't started at that point) or about incarceration or crime legislation at all.

Here's a fuller excerpt from the Haldeman diaries:
Got into a deep discussion of welfare, trying to think out the Family Security decision, with E and me (welfare reform had been one of P's campaign issues). P emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to. Problem with overall welfare plan is that it forces poor whites into same position as blacks. Feels we have to get rid of the veil of hypocrisy and guilt and face reality.
Mind you, this is such a juicy quote that everyone misuses it in this way. But it's clear in context that the "system" Haldeman's talking about is welfare reform (the "Family Security" plan was a welfare-to-'workfare' proposal).
posted by yoink at 7:17 AM on April 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


With regard to felony disenfranchisement laws - "Even after controlling for a variety of alternative explanations, race remains the primary factor in determining the severity of a policy that is one of the last vestiges of the states’ freedom to restrict electoral participation."

Preuhs, Robert R. (2001) State Felon Disenfranchisement Policy. Social Science Quarterly, 82(4), p. 733-748.

I don't have a place to link the full text of that one, but here is one (from a number of references) that is freely available online:

Behrens, A., Uggen, C., & Manza, J. (2004). Ballot manipulation and the "menace of negro domination": racial threat and felon disenfranchisement in the United States, 1850-2002. The American Journal of Sociology, 109(3), 559 (548).
posted by cashman at 7:29 AM on April 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


That's why the drug war is waged in poor communities of color and not middle-class suburbs.

I wonder if that would change if the policing methods using in poor, urban communities were applied to less-poor suburbia?

That is, are the methods a response to the violence, or do the methods drive and normalize the violence?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:31 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder if that would change if the policing methods using in poor, urban communities were applied to less-poor suburbia?

*insert old saw about liberals being former conservatives who had a run-in with the cops*

To a certain extent that's true but it's also a matter of how the entire system treats you. I've had a few dealings with the judicial system (mostly as a juror but occasionally on the other end with traffic tickets and the like) and the deference I receive as a middle-class white woman who knows how to deal with the system--I used to work for a lawyer--is always a relief. I can't imagine I'd get the same deference if I were not white, or if I were poor and didn't know how to deal with the law. (not just things like meeting the judge's expectations in court proper, but always copying legal papers and sending paperwork to court return receipt, which has kept my ass out of jail.)

My dad has had knee problems his whole life, but since he lives in Georgia, the only thing they will give him for pain is high powered opiates.

I feel for your dad. I've been reading a spate of articles (most recently in the Austin paper) about how the feds are really cracking down on doctors who "over-prescribe" opiods to "drug-seekers" (people who are in severe pain). One of my nightmares is that I'll reach a point where I can't function without drugs and fall into the "drug-seeker" pool, because $DEITY knows it's more important that we keep people from getting high than that we keep people from suffering.
posted by immlass at 7:44 AM on April 15, 2012


I wonder if that would change if the policing methods using in poor, urban communities were applied to less-poor suburbia?

I doubt you'd see much change in the number of drug arrests if you flooded middle class suburbs with police in the way the inner cities are because policing in the inner cities is just so much easier since people spend so much more of their time outside. I used to live across the street (in the suburbs) from a guy who (at least allegedly) did some business selling pot, but he did it inside, in his home, where the police would need to do an investigation, get warrants, etc. to bust him. Now, I lived in an urban area where there's a lot of drug dealing. You know where it happens? In the alley behind my house. Those guys are pretty easy to catch.

This, at least, is class driven issue, with the homeless getting the worst of it, since they don't have any protected places to do their drugs. If you're addicted to crack and living on the street, you're going to get arrested a lot because every time you go to smoke you're in plain view of anyone who happens by.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:49 AM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Another complicating and perpetuating factor in the growth of incarceration is that it is turning into a private, for-profit industry. See the perverse incentives inherent in private prisons.

Feed the beast. There is money to be made on Wall St with these corporations. Note this excerpt in the New Yorker article that yoink posted (well worth reading, btw):

No more chilling document exists in recent American life than the 2005 annual report of the biggest of these firms, the Corrections Corporation of America. Here the company (which spends millions lobbying legislators) is obliged to caution its investors about the risk that somehow, somewhere, someone might turn off the spigot of convicted men:

Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. . . . The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.

posted by madamjujujive at 7:51 AM on April 15, 2012 [21 favorites]


It's not about drugs, and it's not about race, and it's not about money. It's not even about Republicans/Conservatives. It's not about religion. Those are all real issues, but they're not what pushes this forward. It's about a mindset; a way of thinking. It's about being afraid.

It's the way of thinking that comes from a poor world where there isn't enough for everyone. And so we must fight. Fight for food. Fight for territory. Fight for breeding partners. We must fight for all these things, so that for a brief time, we can have peace and raise some offspring, which we must.

We are at the apex of the global food chain because we fought, tooth and nail and axe and gun, to get there. And now that we're here, we don't know how to stop fighting, because it is in our nature.

Or is it? Now that we don't need to fight all the time, we are changing. Becoming wiser, smarter, more thoughtful, more considerate, more able to share. Those traits would not be useful in a species that is always at war with. But now that there has been peace, those traits are advantages, not disadvantages.

And so I think there's some changes at play in our species right now. The competitive ways are becoming less useful than cooperative ways. Children born today in a land of plenty will be far more able to work together intelligently to solve problems, rather than compete with each other, because they are more empathic.

But still, hanging overhead, all of those systems and institutions put in place when we were fighting all the time. Fear, othering, tribalism, competition, xenophobia, all of it, driving people to be selfish, to compete, to shun, to criminalise, to incarcerate, to collect resources well beyond what would ever be necessary for survival simply because there are no limits -- these should be on their way to becoming dysfunctional adaptations, but they are hanging on due to strong memetic pressures.

I'm just afraid that it is going to take too long for the old ways to die off. Because that's what it's going to take; generations must pass. Will we ever find enough time of comparative peace under our current systems for a more world-conscious social view to take hold? Or will we just blow ourselves up.

I still think the best thing that could happen to us would be definitive, undeniable and spectacular proof of intelligent life somewhere else in the universe. We don't even need a visit. Just a postcard. (A really big postcard.) Something to make us pull up our socks and start acting like adults rather than just kids squabbling over toys in a too-small sandbox.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:54 AM on April 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


I recently attended an event at which one of the speakers was a United States Attorney who prosecutes criminal cases in DC. He told the group, point blank, that the reason that more black than white drug users are arrested is because it's cheaper and easier for the police to catch them. Specifically, that in DC, the areas where black people live are served by open air drug markets where people buy cocaine and other drugs on the streets from strangers, while white areas of DC are typically supplied by dealers who sell to people they know behind closed doors. It's much easier for a cop to put on plain clothes, go to a poor area, buy from a stranger, and arrest the seller than it would be to create an undercover operation in which police officers infiltrated the dorms at Georgetown or the office buildings of the business district, got to know people, and made the connections necessary to pick up the people who buy and sell drugs there. So their calculus is about what's the easiest, cheapest way to make as many arrests as possible.

When he said this, he presented it as a positive thing. The police are being fiscally responsible by lowering the per arrest cost of rounding up people involved in the drug trade, and it would be wrong for them to waste taxpayers money by targeting wealthy, white people in more elaborate schemes, he said. He didn't seem to think it was a problem that cost per arrest was used as the relevant metric for evaluating police performance, nor did he think it was a problem that this scheme results in enormous under-enforcement of laws against the supposedly terribly dangerous crime of drug dealing in white communities.
posted by decathecting at 8:11 AM on April 15, 2012 [31 favorites]


However, this bit irked me:
*There are more African Americans under correctional control today—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.


Yep, that's where the eye rolling started. If you can't be bothered to cite the numbers, then you're just pushing buttons to make your point.

The overall point is valid, but the article starts pretty lazy and hysterical. I'm unaware of any serious people pulling the "America is color blind because it has a black president" card. That line of thought is especially odd in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting and the murder of three random black people in Oklahoma.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:11 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yoink, thanks for bringing the facts---I thought that quote sounded too cinematic to be true, even for Nixon.

Articles like this drive me up a wall. I mean, it's fundamental points are absolutely right---people of color are disproportionately targeted by police, there's too much incarceration, etc. But by being so sloppy with facts (not to mention such an atrocious writer---putting quote marks around "the land of the free" should get instantly cause Wordpress to refuse to submit your article), the writer makes the whole thing sound stupid, which is the opposite of what such a piece should do.

In and of itself, writing a bad article on a good point is relatively harmless; thousands of college kids do it every day. But part of what's maddening about our drug war stalemate is that it's the *perfect* issue for left-wing Democrats and libertarian Republicans to get together on and effect change. Which would be huge. But because these idiots can't talk about the problems we have today without imagining Ronald Reagan cackling over a pile of black corpses, those alliances don't get formed.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:23 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some statistics on ethnicity and drug use:


"Race/Ethnicity and Gender Differences in Drug Use and Abuse Among College Students", McCabe et al, 2007. From the abstract:
Hispanic and White students were more likely to report drug use and abuse than Asian and African American students prior to coming to college and during college.
additionally:
... students from HBCUs reported significantly lower rates of marijuana, cocaine, sedatives, hallucinogens, and other illicit drug use than students at non-HBCUs.
and:
Similar racial differences have been observed among secondary school students in the U.S.
For high school students, they're citing this study: Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975–2004. Volume I: Secondary School Students. (NIH Publication 05-5727), Johnston, O’Malley, Bachman & Schulenberg, 2005.


SAMHSA's 2006 National Survey on Drug Use & Health has a more detailed breakdown of rates of illegal drug abuse and dependence by ethnicity not to college and high school students. Rates are higher for white people in the 12 to 17 and 18 to 25 age ranges than for black people in the same age groups, but rates are somewhat higher black people over 25 (and lower for adults in general).

(You'll have to scroll down a bit to get the percentages by age and ethnicity.)


(A couple notes: The SAMHSA study was only counting "dependence or abuse". The first study also counted casual use. The college and secondary school studies' data could be effected by differences in incarceration rates, Kids who get arrested for drug possession are less likely to go to college and less likely to be in school.)
posted by nangar at 8:35 AM on April 15, 2012


Another complicating and perpetuating factor in the growth of incarceration is that it is turning into a private, for-profit industry.

this has been troubling me ever since I learned that the Arizona "papers, please" law was heavily influenced by people with ties to the private prison industry.

As much as conservatives love to argue that the private sector does things more efficiently than the government can, as a liberal I will posit that there are certain activities that ought to be exclusively done by the government, as introducing a profit motive distorts incentives and can lead to bad outcomes. Included in this would be prisons, the military, and the health care system.
posted by ambrosia at 8:42 AM on April 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


More SAMHSA data here.
posted by nangar at 8:49 AM on April 15, 2012


*insert old saw about liberals being former conservatives who had a run-in with the cops*
The problem, though is that it's not really a "liberal" vs. "conservative" thing. I mean, sure you're average median dem is more likely to support lenient sentences and lighter drug laws then your average conservative.

But, when you look at politicians on a larger scale dems love to be "tough on crime" Clinton made a big deal about "putting 100k cops on the streets" and democratic politicians prosecuted the drug war with as much zeal as the republicans.

George Bush is well known for having executed more prisoners then any other governor, but the governor of Texas before him was a Democrat, and she was the previous record holder.

One of the few politicians to ever give a crap about this stuff was Jim Webb, and he's not even going to bother running for office again.

Part of the issue, most likely, is that lots of poor people don't even bother to vote, and aren't well educated on the issues even if they did.
When he said this, he presented it as a positive thing. The police are being fiscally responsible by lowering the per arrest cost of rounding up people involved in the drug trade, and it would be wrong for them to waste taxpayers money by targeting wealthy, white people in more elaborate schemes, he said. He didn't seem to think it was a problem that cost per arrest was used as the relevant metric for evaluating police performance
Because, obviously, if you think about it they don't clearly don't think of drug dealing as a real crime with real victims.

I mean imagine if it was easy to get away with breaking into someone's house and raping them in a white suburban neighborhood and difficult to do so in the inner city. Imagine if people were breaking in and raping white women more often in suburban neighborhoods and getting away with it then compared t doing the same thing in poor inner cities. And imagine of these middle class women were actually more likely to victims overall.

That's exactly what's happening with the drug laws here, white people are more likely to be the "victims" but enforcement happens more in poor neighborhoods and the "victims" of the "crime" of drug dealing, i.e. the people buying drugs, are more likely to be black.

I can't imagine, if that were the case, that the cop would be bragging about how much cheaper it is to protect black women from having their homes broken into and raped then white women, and that doing so was a good use of taxpayer resources.

It's because they know drug dealing isn't really a crime that actually hurts people.

You could argue that it's really about setting a social norm. If people aren't arrested for drug use, then how can you say it's "bad"? But you don't want to arrest the "right kind of people" so you go after the poor and minorities instead of the wealthy. You use them as an example for the kids of rich people.

(Thinking about the costs a bit more, another big reason might be the ease of prosecuting poor people, who can't afford good lawyers. If a middle class person gets arrested, they'll hire a good lawyer, and thus far more prosecutorial resources are required to actually prosecute)
posted by delmoi at 8:51 AM on April 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


From the article:

A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.

I've read this more than once (mostly from right-wingers), but couldn't recall anyone actually backing it up with data. A quick search found this article. It has an interesting added tidbit:

What is actually more important in its findings is that, from 1880 to 1960, fewer than one in three black children nationwide didn’t grow up with two parents.

Or, more straightforwardly, during that period more than two of three black children grew up with two parents. What happened? Well, the New Republic implies it's because welfare made it "easy" to raise a family all by yourself because of all that delicious free money:

Plus, there is the sheer fact that, from the 1960s until 1996, expanded welfare policies made it possible to stay on welfare as a mother indefinitely without job training...

However, the New York Times points out that a change in long-standing welfare policy has reversed the trend:

Five years after Congress overhauled welfare laws, with the intention of creating more two-parent families, the proportion of poor American children living in households with two adults is on the rise, two studies say.

What was the change? The NYT is vague about this, but having been educated during the late '60s and early '70s to this subject, I remember that welfare policies universally required that recipients not live with able-bodied adults, e.g., a husband who couldn't find a job. More than one newspaper story detailed how the welfare authorities discovered some unemployed father who was living with his family receiving welfare and, tsk, tsk, what scammers these poor blacks were.

I believe it was this policy, not the power of welfare funds alone, that led to poor men having to leave their families to ensure their survival. A generation or two later, single-parent households headed by mothers was the norm in those inner-city neighborhoods and a woman having children and getting welfare was just a way of life. Of course, the moralists who insisted on the "no able-bodied adult" rule are loath to accept blame (and they were in both parties; this isn't a partisan issue). But unintended consequences of our tendency to blame victims and suspect fraud at every turn can even lead to tearing apart families and destroying cultural strengths.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:58 AM on April 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


Correction: A quick search found this article...
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:59 AM on April 15, 2012


Michelle Alexander writes about how "[r]acial caste is still alive and well" like it is a huge revelation.

She writes about how ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation's "triumph over race." As though all the unenlightened "ordinary people" in America watched Obama be sworn into office and thought that the problem of racism was completely and forever finished.

And when she swoops down like an angel to inform these poor ignorant souls that the problem of racism still exists in our country? "Most people don't like it when I say this. It makes them angry."

She is writing in a (poorly-masked) prematurely defensive and condescending manner, like this article is directed at someone she had an argument with about the progress of race relations in America, instead of writing for the general public to better inform them of an important issue. And this issue in particular — most of the general public is aware that racism still exists to some extent, but aren't aware just how prevalent it is and haven't heard the data to back it up.

This is frustrating to me. Michelle Alexander is writing about a genuine societal problem that very badly needs addressing, but she is writing about it in an inflammatory manner that isn't helpful to the end goal. She's not going to convince anybody who doesn't already agree with her.

It's unfortunate.
posted by hypotheticole at 9:01 AM on April 15, 2012


And when she swoops down like an angel to inform these poor ignorant souls that the problem of racism still exists in our country? "Most people don't like it when I say this. It makes them angry." ... she is writing about it in an inflammatory manner
It's kind of ironic that you're upset about her claiming that people get upset when you point out racism.
posted by delmoi at 9:12 AM on April 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


As soon as she compared 1850 slave populations, not ratios, to today's blacks, I stopped reading. I'm sure there are valid points, but would rather read the comments here than continue with the article.
posted by whatgorilla at 9:20 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


yoink: Thanks for the info and the link.

eustatic: good point, but couldn't these things be controlled for too? Re: the anecdote: ugh.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 9:48 AM on April 15, 2012


Enough, already. If we fully legalized all drugs, the consequences couldn't possibly be worse than what's going on already.

I don't think this is about whether or not we should legalize drugs. It's about the War on Drugs, why it originated, and its consequences. We can keep drugs illegal and arrest people we catch using drugs without proactively (and often brutally) looking for drug users. It's been documented that the War on Drugs is highly ineffective in doing what it claims to do, however it seems highly effective in causing racial tension and punishing those who fall on the wrong side of the racial line.
posted by thetoken at 10:08 AM on April 15, 2012


I'm unaware of any serious people pulling the "America is color blind because it has a black president" card. That line of thought is especially odd in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting and the murder of three random black people in Oklahoma.

I started rolling my eyes at the black president bit in the first paragraph, but then I noticed the date on the article was from early 2010. If it's an excerpt from her book (that's not clear), it was presumably written even earlier, when we were hearing a lot of crap about Obama's election being evidence America doesn't have a racism problem. I honestly don't remember what was being said in March of 2010, but it's plausible to me that it worked as a reference to the current rhetoric, when the 'current rhetoric' was two years ago.
posted by hoyland at 10:34 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


arrest people we catch using drugs

why?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:35 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's kind of ironic that you're upset about her claiming that people get upset when you point out racism.

This doesn't even make sense if we ignore the deliberate bad-faith misreading of hypotheticole's argument. There's no irony in being upset at someone "claiming that people get upset when you point out racism." Being upset at a rhetorically overblown claim has nothing whatsoever in common with being upset at someone raising the mere possibility that racism exists in America. The only way to make this statement ironic would be to phrase it like this: "It upsets me that the author claims that anything she writes ever upsets anyone."
posted by yoink at 10:42 AM on April 15, 2012


Read her book for a social economy class last fall and it broke my heart. The seminar we had about it turned into this awful, circular thing where all our time was spent trying to explain to a white dude who allegedly read the same book that, yes, white privilege exists.

Wound up drinking rather a lot that night.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:48 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


On Point interview of Michelle Alexander about her book. I listened to it a while ago and from what I remember it was interesting and, as is standard for On Point, callers from around the country are welcomed to question the guest directly, so some of your questions may have received some form of response.
posted by mapinduzi at 10:50 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


As though all the unenlightened "ordinary people" in America watched Obama be sworn into office and thought that the problem of racism was completely and forever finished.

Not to nitpick but yes, ever since Obama's election I have heard this very sentiment expressed openly by grown adults in central Washington - usually as a preamble for a lament about all the "reverse racism" that white people now suffered.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:51 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


"the new jim crow" is a misnomer: the old jim crow is still in effect. social scientists are just now beginning to catch on to the fact that collective trauma like enslavement have permanent, or near-permanent demographic, political, and psychological effects on their victims. this country never did a damn thing to repair the damage that had been done to a large percentage of its population, and only with the greatest reluctance and resentment has it agreed to stop some of the classes of activity which *actively* harm black people. in a nutshell black people in this country, as a group, have not recovered from slavery and jim crow even to a point from which they could seek genuine integration and equality. this talk of race-blindness and post-racism is nothing but a sick joke. the rehabilitation and (re)integration of an entire people into the larger body of its oppressor class has never been pulled off, in any time period or in any country that i'm aware of. it the united states truly wanted it to happen, it would need to institute policies of an unprecedented force, duration, and magnitude. however, it doesn't.
posted by facetious at 10:55 AM on April 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


The seminar we had about it turned into this awful, circular thing where all our time was spent trying to explain to a white dude who allegedly read the same book that, yes, white privilege exists

Sounds like every single MeFi feminism thread.
posted by Summer at 11:24 AM on April 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


Surely it's the precentage that matters?

and

As soon as she compared 1850 slave populations, not ratios, to today's blacks, I stopped reading.

What kind of information could we possibly gain by expressing 1850 slave populations as ratios? It is utterly meaningless with regard to the subject of slavery what percentage of the whole population the slaves represent. If 100 free men settle near a plantation 100% of the slaves are still slaves, even if the ratio has fallen. This doesn't make slavery any better or worse than it already is.

So if you object then please object to the comparison as a whole.

(As stated somewhere earlier in the thread the comparison serves well to illustrate the barbaric scale of today's suffering.)
posted by patrick54 at 11:30 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


The only people who have ever made anything remotely like these claims are racists who are doing so as a "and now you have to shut up about race" move. No one has seriously argued that Obama's election proved that America had solved the problem of racism.

Of course no one has made this claim if you exclude the people who have made this claim.

The End Of Racism?

Obama And The End Of Racism

(Not to mention the slew of post-election commentaries defending the notion that racism was still a problem in the US.)

Also, I don't agree that the dialogue on race has changed much since this appears to have been written.

Here is Bill Kristol, appearing to equate the "counterration" against Trayvon Martin with the "demagoguery" from the left:

“It is just demagoguery,” Kristol said. “I think, mostly on the side of those who want to indict the whole society for this death, maybe very unjustified shooting of this young man. And then some counterreaction by some on the right who feel this is unjust and now weren’t going to attack Trayvon Martin, which is really ridiculous as well.”
posted by teekat at 11:39 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


The evident fact that black politicians aren't by and large critics of drug laws leads me to think that the issue is a lot more nuanced than "new Jim Crow" advocates would have you believe. Spending some time in a big-city criminal court and watch 60- and 70-something African American jurors -- who remember the old Jim Crow -- voting day-in and day-out to convict their neighbors' kids and grandkids of drug offenses knowing they'll be sent away and suffer the various disabilities imposed upon felons -- is a further cause for skepticism.

If African American politicians, and the established community members which supply jurors, were unanimous and resolved on this issue, they could enact "lowest law enforcement priority" policies in most of the big cities of the country. (Black politicians are the majority in a number of those cities, and in many where they're not, the balance of power in the hand of white liberals loathe to appear out of step with black leadership on civil rights issues.) Black statehouse and Congressional delegations making drug legalization a legislative priority would bring de jure legalization far closer and sooner, simply because drug prohibition is an unimportant issue for those who support it. In the long run, for most political issues, it's the intensity and not numerosity of support which carries the day.
posted by MattD at 11:46 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


What kind of information could we possibly gain by expressing 1850 slave populations as ratios?

I'd also like to hear what precisely the objection is. "Think of all the black people we're not subjecting to horrifying and dehumanizing prison conditions for no good reason"? The point of the comparison is to give you a sense of the shocking scale of the prison-industrial complex in the black population in the contemporary U.S., and it performs that task quite admirably.

I suspect people are wanting to think about "ratios" because it smuggles in some sense of "desert" -- i.e., slavery is bad because it's inflicted near-universally on those who did nothing to "deserve" their enslavement, while the prison-industrial complex is less bad because it only happens to people who made "choices" to wind up where they are. I think when you look at the totality of the situation -- the historical factors that drive inner-city poverty, the deliberate decision on the part of policymakers to use the war on drugs as a cudgel against specific populations, the racial and class privileges that from the outside make is seem easy to get out of the ghetto -- this sort of moralism is quickly revealed as the special pleading it is. I actually don't think the comparison to slavery is off-base at all.
posted by gerryblog at 12:00 PM on April 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


The evident fact that black politicians aren't by and large critics of drug laws

Assumes facts not in evidence.
posted by gerryblog at 12:02 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Black politicians and jurors (and white politicians and jurors) make the mistake of thinking you can stamp out the violence prohibition generates with strong enforcement. They are wrong, but it isn't at all shocking folks living in neighborhoods in which this violence happens want to convict the individuals directly responsible.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:03 PM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I remember this one time some (American) someone in an AskMe thread asked if they did the right think by calling the police on their unruly neighbours. I suggested that that probably depended on the race of the people involved (specifically, that one should be more reluctant to call the cops on a black person than on a white person) and promptly got called a racist.
posted by 256 at 12:16 PM on April 15, 2012


Spending some time in a big-city criminal court and watch 60- and 70-something African American jurors -- who remember the old Jim Crow -- voting day-in and day-out to convict their neighbors' kids and grandkids of drug offenses knowing they'll be sent away and suffer the various disabilities imposed upon felons -- is a further cause for skepticism.

These jurors vote on individuals as they are supposed to. They have no say in selective enforcement. They can not just decide to not follow laws. It would take acts of civil disobedience by them to start addressing the underlying injustice. It is really disingenuous to use their best effort in doing their duty in an unjust system as an argument why the system isn't unjust. Particularily so by invoking their Jim Crow experiences as additional argument.
posted by patrick54 at 12:28 PM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


They can not just decide to not follow laws

I guess that depends: Jury Nullification
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:33 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Spending some time in a big-city criminal court and watch 60- and 70-something African American jurors -- who remember the old Jim Crow -- voting day-in and day-out to convict their neighbors' kids and grandkids of drug offenses
It's not that hard to get a conviction out of someone even if they think in general the law is a bad idea. However, when it comes to black Politicians I'm not sure if that's really true anymore. The NAACP, for example, supported prop 19 in CA, which would have legalized marijuana (not just for medical reasons)
posted by delmoi at 12:42 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


There isn't any doubt that racism played an enormous role in outlawing drugs like marijuana :

“Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.” (1927)

“When some beet field peon takes a few traces of this stuff… he thinks he has just been elected president of Mexico” (1934)

There is an obvious racist subtext in every "get touch on crime" measure you see touted still even today.

Racism cannot however be blamed for our leader's unwillingness to change obviously stupid drug laws. Obama has laughed off multiple petitions to legalize marijuana.

No, our current prison industrial complex thrives almost entirely through corruption, i.e. lobbying by police unions, lawyers, prison guards unions, and especially prison service companies.

It's the pigs chowing down on that $50k per inmate per year that maintain the problem.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:52 PM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Spending some time in a big-city criminal court and watch 60- and 70-something African American jurors -- who remember the old Jim Crow -- voting day-in and day-out to convict their neighbors' kids and grandkids of drug offenses knowing they'll be sent away and suffer the various disabilities imposed upon felons -- is a further cause for skepticism.

I am white, but if I was in the jury pool for a drug trial, I would say during the initial questioning that I believe all drug laws are immoral and useless. At which point the prosecution would excuse me and they would find someone who felt differently. So, unless they lie during the selection process, the people who end up on the jury are going to be the ones that feel at least OK abut drug laws.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:00 PM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


ps The New York Times ran an article a few days ago about Obama going to the summit with the Latin American leaders who are considering legalization, and telling them it's a bad idea. Of course, what could we expect? Even a legitimately liberal president who is up for re-election would be scared to say anything else, let alone one as conservative as Obama.

It's just weird to hear a grown-up open his mouth and say something that is so obviously, 100% incorrect to anyone who has ever given it one honest thought.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:04 PM on April 15, 2012


I am white, but if I was in the jury pool for a drug trial, I would say during the initial questioning that I believe all drug laws are immoral and useless. At which point the prosecution would excuse me and they would find someone who felt differently. So, unless they lie during the selection process, the people who end up on the jury are going to be the ones that feel at least OK abut drug laws.

I have done exactly this – I didn't want to be on the jury that day – as did about one-third of the jury pool I was with, to the apparent surprise of the prosecutor, since this was Texas. But yeah, this is what happens.
posted by furiousthought at 2:43 PM on April 15, 2012


Its a problem, anyone who's seen the data knows its a problem, and a good part of the people who insist otherwise have a conflict of interest regarding any solution to the problem.

So how the hell, ignoring the people who root for institutionalized racism at the governmental level, do we fix it? Tell the police and investigators that if they have a (high, statistically significant, and) disproportionate number of minority to white arrests they get leave without pay for a month? A year? Disbarment? I've been thinking about the issue for a while, and given that coming out against the drug war itself is political suicide, cracking down on the police units who pick on minorities seems like the only way to go.

God help the guy who tries to start though.
posted by Slackermagee at 2:50 PM on April 15, 2012


slacker, presumably if we were to change laws, enforcement of those laws would necessarily change. michelle alexander gets into that in book regarding stuff like racial profiling and vaguely worded laws that end up being enforced disproportionately against minorities.
posted by beefetish at 4:23 PM on April 15, 2012


It's kind of ironic that you're upset about her claiming that people get upset when you point out racism.

I feel that this is as bad-faith reading and that you're missing the whole point of my comment: racism is a huge problem in our country and this article isn't going to convince anybody who doesn't already agree with all of Alexander's points. The article is divisive, even belligerent. It begins with the premise that the entire general public thinks Obama's presidency means that racism has completely disappeared in America, and it is my personal opinion that starting from said premise won't actually help to combat the problem.

I think that it won't help to combat the problem because there are different levels of racism, and the article addresses only the most obvious ones: "53% of the country voted for Obama, therefore our country could not possibly have any racism problems." It's a point of view that sounds pretty ridiculous, incredibly ignorant, and it's something that you would expect a complete racist might say to defend himself in conversation. Meanwhile, a lot of other racism that is absolutely not okay gets swept under the rug simply because it's not quite as blatant and ridiculous at first glance. The article focuses on the former at the expense of the latter.

Writing the article from the position of "the public is completely unaware that racism still exists and this will blow their mind" is much less helpful to dealing with the issue than "while having a black president is a milestone for this country, we still have a very long way to go before we reach the equality we need, so let me provide some evidence to that effect."
posted by hypotheticole at 5:52 PM on April 15, 2012


Hispanic and White students were more likely to report drug use and abuse than Asian and African American students prior to coming to college and during college.

Big selection effect there, no?
posted by downing street memo at 7:28 PM on April 15, 2012


MattD is absolutely right---this is a big problem with dealing with the War on Drugs, particularly in big cities where its effects are hit the hardest. A lot of the African-American urban political machine is powered by churchgoing older people, especially women. And they very much want drug dealers and users aggressively hunted down and prosecuted; there's almost no support for legalization, decriminalization, or even for lowering the priority of drug arrests. These communities are rightly upset by the police abuses that accompany it, and also want those curtailed. But at present, the African-American urban political base is *not* on board with ending the War on Drugs, which makes these "new Jim Crow" articles seem especially obtuse about the political reality of how the War on Drugs keeps getting prosecuted.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:00 PM on April 15, 2012


I'd also like to hear what precisely the objection is. "Think of all the black people we're not subjecting to horrifying and dehumanizing prison conditions for no good reason"? The point of the comparison is to give you a sense of the shocking scale of the prison-industrial complex in the black population in the contemporary U.S., and it performs that task quite admirably.

So I was the person who mentioned the percentage thing first. (Like I said in my original comment, I'm fundamentally inclined to agree with Alexander, to the point I skimmed the last third because it wasn't telling me anything new.)

The basic point is that I have no idea how many slaves there were in 1850. So telling me there are more African Americans in prison now than were enslaved in 1850 is a meaningless fact to me. I have no idea (prior to today anyway) what the US population was in 1850. For all I know, there could be more people in prison now than there were in the country in 1850. (There aren't. It's about a quarter of the 1850 population, IIRC.) On the other hand, I can be appalled that (as noted in the article) nearly 80% of black men in Chicago are felons without mentioning the year 1850 at all.

It's a weak point rhetorically because it's all but begging the question of what percentage of the African-American population in 1850 were slaves (just shy of 90%). That'd be a handy fact for, say, comparing to the percentage of African American men in Chicago who have been convicted of a crime at some point, but at numbers are so absurd that you don't need a point of comparison.
posted by hoyland at 8:03 PM on April 15, 2012


The basic point is that I have no idea how many slaves there were in 1850.

Maybe you could look it up?
posted by delmoi at 10:32 PM on April 15, 2012


Maybe you could look it up?

Er... I did? (Did you really think I really happened to know offhand what percentage of the African-American population was enslaved in 1850? And that I didn't get that information from the very article you linked to?)

I don't know how to say this without sounding defensive, but, to be honest, I'm really baffled as to why people think I'm weird for thinking it's a bad idea to cite a statistic without numbers when the reader can't supply ballpark figures offhand. It screams 'fudging the numbers' to the skeptical reader. Or, you know, to me, who thinks 'Hmm... that's interesting, but how many slaves were there anyway? Is this fact obvious?' (I have the information to work out a rough idea of the current African-American population in my head.)

(My original comment noted that using 1850 rather than 1860 without explanation seemed a bit funky. Since I did spend some time yesterday evening reading statistics regarding slavery, it doesn't look like it's a way of gaming the numbers. I'm pretty sure it's simply the date you'd pick to avoid 'noise' from the run-up to the Civil War, whatever that would mean.)
posted by hoyland at 1:20 AM on April 16, 2012


Or, you know, to me, who thinks 'Hmm... that's interesting, but how many slaves were there anyway? Is this fact obvious?' (I have the information to work out a rough idea of the current African-American population in my head.)

It's 3.30am, and I think that bit comes off sounding not the way I wanted it to (that is how I talk, though). Anyway, my immediate response was to wonder what the numbers are. Because it could be self-evident that the number of African-Americans under 'correctional control' would eclipse the number of slaves in 1850, if, say, there just weren't that many people (slaves or not) in the US in 1850, which isn't information I carried around in my head before yesterday.

So then I look up the number of slaves in 1850 and the current population under correctional control and divide. I get .44. This actually probably is a little low--African-Americans make up 46% of the prison population.* Or... Alexander could have said "Hey, African-Americans are only 12.6% of the population, but 46% of the prison population." and saved us an argument.

Basically, I'm not going to quote this slaves in 1850 fact the next time I have an argument with someone about this sort of thing. I'm going to pull out the 12.6% and the 46% and not have to trek off the Wikipedia and do some division to demonstrate that I'm not making a vacuous point.

*I know this does not coincide with 'under correctional control', but it's the number I could find.
posted by hoyland at 2:13 AM on April 16, 2012


I'm happy if comparisons to slavery lead to jury nullification in drug cases. There is enough racism in any "get tough on crime" law that such comparisons are definitely not off base broadly speaking.

I'd agree that citing 12.6% vs. 46% makes a statistically compelling point about disenfranchising people today, certainly that should always be your opening line. I'm fine with her attaching metaphorical significance to the non-adjusted numbers though.

In fact, non-adjusted units work fine if you're motivated by the utilitarian principle of minimizing suffering, well that's precisely gerryblog's statement that ratios "smuggle in some sense of 'desert'".

There are arguments that don't depend upon the reader understanding either metaphor or utilitarianism however, which presumably sound stronger.

In fact, I'd argue the current mass disenfranchisement is simply the industrialization of the "Old" Jim Crow. You could surely write a book comparing openly racist quotes from when drugs were outlawed with racist subtext from anti-drug rhetoric today.


I'm similarly happy if publishing specific accounts of police unions and prison companies lobbying for tougher laws leads to decreased public support for the police and prisons. If our economy doesn't improve, then states might start looking towards decriminalization, budget cuts for police and prisons, and even pardons and probation, especially if we've demonized their lobbying efforts.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:21 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


These are tremendously serious problems that aren't receiving enough attention, especially coupled with the privatization of corrections and the conditions in our overcrowded state systems. But it seems to me a label of "'New' Jim Crow" isn't really apt, nor am I sure that its useful in the way its intended to be. It invites being sidetracked or played down by historical comparisons, when all that's needed to show the situation is completely intolerable is the situation itself, as we confront it today.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:59 AM on April 16, 2012


Spending some time in a big-city criminal court and watch 60- and 70-something African American jurors -- who remember the old Jim Crow -- voting day-in and day-out to convict their neighbors' kids and grandkids of drug offenses knowing they'll be sent away and suffer the various disabilities imposed upon felons -- is a further cause for skepticism.

This reminded me that David Simon had written somewhere about the low conviction rates in Baltimore City compared to surrounding, suburban counties. I think it was in the intro to Homicide or the Corner, but here's something he wrote on the topic for the Guardian.
posted by Mavri at 12:47 PM on April 16, 2012


No the war on drugs is hardly a war on Blacks. Perhaps a war on the poor, the more desperate, but not a war on blacks and not a war based on racism.

Care to explain why marijuana is illegal, and why it's even called marijuana instead of cannabis?

"Cannabis became illegal largely because of racism, primarily towards Hispanics."

Yes, it is a "war" totally founded on racism.

"The first American anti-drug law was an 1875 San Francisco ordinance which outlawed the smoking of opium in opium dens. It was passed because of the fears that Chinese men were luring white women to their 'ruin' in opium dens."

This is racism at work, because black Americans, who are less than 1/5 the population, do not commit 2/5's of the crime in the US. They are disproportionately arrested and prosecuted.

Exactly. It is racist by definition. I don't know how you can say the drug war isn't racist without coming up with an entirely new definition of racism.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:02 PM on April 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


Regarding the notion of this being a War on Blacks. Yes it is, at least if we follow the Anatole France principle, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." In other words, the law is neutral on its face but inflicts a disparate impact on a powerless segment of society. If 30% of white males faced incarceration over their lives, society would collapse from the sheer expense of the criminal justice system, not even mentioning the overall human impact. However, well before that happened, laws would be changed, sentences would be commuted, underlying moral codes would be transformed and brought in line with mainstream reality. But because mainstream American society doesn't face the full impact of draconian drug laws, to nearly the extent that they affect blacks, they are allowed to persist, even as they wreak havoc on disadvantaged neighborhoods. (Even as the impact of these laws brings entire foreign nations to civil war and the brink of barbarism.) This is the type of thing that happens with the black community all the time. If a problem disproportionately affects white Americans, it's seen as a natural, perhaps inevitable human failing, not a moral weakness unique to white people. Solving it becomes a matter of national importance, and resources are devoted to it until a resolution is reached. If a problem disproportionately affects black Americans, it's seen as more evidence of dysfunction in black culture, more evidence of the validity of negative black stereotypes, and we're subjected to endless streams of preachy advice as to how to bring our level of civilization to societal norms.

I'm really baffled as to why people think I'm weird for thinking it's a bad idea to cite a statistic without numbers when the reader can't supply ballpark figures offhand. It screams 'fudging the numbers' to the skeptical reader.

It's not a weird idea, overall. But it's important to understand that written material is pitched for different audiences, and this two page article is meant as a brief emotional appeal, not a lengthy mathematical one. Not everything needs to come with statistical evidence, and if that is a showstopper for you, so be it, but you may be mssing out on some important or interesting stuff. Which is okay, I suppose. After all, time is limited. For what it's worth, in her actual book (which the article is basically a teaser for), on page 288 of the paperback edition, in the notes to pages 179-189, note #7 says, "One in eleven black adults was under correctional supervision at year end 2007, or approximately 2.4 million people...[a]ccording to the 1850 census, approximately 1.7 million adults (ages 15 and older) were slaves." Unsurprisingly, the long form contains a bit more info than the bite sized summary. (BTW, I obtained that information by going to amazon.com, plugging in the name of her book, then doing a "search inside" for the string "1850". ) Cheers.
posted by xigxag at 2:45 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Astonishingly, the library had the book available electronically without putting it on hold (there's a decent wait for an actual copy). So I checked it out yesterday when I said I was going off to put it on hold. So once I finish reading the crappy thriller that's due back soon, I'm actually intending to read this book.

I mean, I may just respond badly to purely emotional appeals. (I'm pretty sure I do. Unless they involve inanimate objects or animals. I all but cried during Castaway when he loses Wilson.)

In fact, non-adjusted units work fine if you're motivated by the utilitarian principle of minimizing suffering, well that's precisely gerryblog's statement that ratios "smuggle in some sense of 'desert'".

I don't really understand this comment. Isn't not using units the opposite of what gerryblog said? I totally missed the bit about utilitarianism, as well, I'm afraid. Doesn't utilitarianism want to minimise total suffering, anyway? So it'd justify, say, slavery if it were 'useful' enough to the other (in 1850) three quarters of the population.
posted by hoyland at 5:52 PM on April 16, 2012


In other words, the law is neutral on its face but inflicts a disparate impact on a powerless segment of society. If 30% of white males faced incarceration over their lives, society would collapse from the sheer expense of the criminal justice system
Maybe, but perhaps you're being insufficiently pessimistic here.
posted by delmoi at 6:01 PM on April 16, 2012


When you think about it, the drug laws were mostly conceived to stop dark-skinned men from giving drugs to and having sex with white women. Enforcing and enshrining the dominant cultural paradigms are a bonus.

I mean, really: Does anyone honestly believe that marijuana/cannabis does not have medical use? The U.S. government supplies it to patients who use successfully it for medical reasons. How can they claim it isn't medicine?

When people object to marijuana legalization, they are not doing so because of health or social concerns. They are doing so because they don't want people getting stoned.

What drug-war advocates object to is the individual freedom to alter consciousness. Under any logical civilization, that right would be enshrined along with the right to free speech and thought.

The prohibitionists are very similar to those who would deny health-care coverage for birth control. They have an idea of what is an acceptable lifestyle, and those who do not conform must pay or be chastised.

Since they have no convincing arguments to stop people from altering consciousness, their only option is to make it illegal by fiat. Que lastima.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:46 AM on April 17, 2012


*disclaimer: I'm not implying that altered consciousness and sexual predation is not a serious problem, but laws should address the latter (a problem) not the former (not a problem).
posted by mrgrimm at 9:47 AM on April 17, 2012


What drug-war advocates object to is the individual freedom to alter consciousness.

Except if you do it their way...cheers!
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:56 AM on April 17, 2012


Except if you do it their way...cheers!

I dunno. I see a perhaps not surprising trend among pro drug war types that "prohibition wasn't so bad."
posted by mrgrimm at 10:25 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Michelle Alexander will be on Colbert tonight.
posted by cashman at 2:59 PM on May 8, 2012


Thanks, cashman. I'll have to wait for it to get to the website.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:25 PM on May 8, 2012




mrgrimm: "This is racism at work, because black Americans, who are less than 1/5 the population, do not commit 2/5's of the crime in the US. They are disproportionately arrested and prosecuted.

Exactly. It is racist by definition. I don't know how you can say the drug war isn't racist without coming up with an entirely new definition of racism.
"


You may have a point if you could prove they were arrested in greater ratios because they were black and not any of a billion other variables.

In 2009, 6.8% of all federal/state prisoners were women. Do you think that women are only committing 6.8% of crime in America? Perhaps they are but I rather doubt it.

Social status, type of crime, and more are factors that are separate from race. You may be able to argue that racism plays a part in causing African-Americans to be more likely to be placed into a situation that results in them turning to crime but that is different than saying drug laws are a war on any particular race. It is more a war on social status than race.
posted by 2manyusernames at 9:50 AM on May 9, 2012


Social status, type of crime, and more are factors that are separate from race.

No. No, they are not. You need to read and understand the history of race in this country.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:27 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is more a war on social status than race.

Oh yeah? Then why aren't there more poor white people in prison for drug offenses? There's a hella lotta lower class whites breaking drug laws. The proportional numbers of incarcerated don't bear out your statement.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:33 AM on May 10, 2012


I dunno. I see a perhaps not surprising trend among pro drug war types that "prohibition wasn't so bad."

Yep. There's a lot of revisionist history going on around this topic, along with some pretty lame economic analyses as well. It's not because they would like to outlaw alcohol again, but the anti-drug coalition is quite powerful and entrenched and will not go down without a fight.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:03 PM on May 10, 2012


I dunno. I see a perhaps not surprising trend among pro drug war types that "prohibition wasn't so bad."

One of the weirder conversations I've ever had was with my father-in-law (a teetotaler) about the differences between marijuana and alcohol. After a few minutes of agreeing that, there's not really any difference big enough to justify one being legal and one being illegal, we realized that we were arguing precisely opposite positions.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:43 AM on May 11, 2012


...we realized that we were arguing precisely opposite positions.

But at least you're now arguing about your true differences rather than the false premises that have clouded the argument for over six decades.
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:56 AM on May 11, 2012


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