The New Jim Crow
In Michelle Alexander’s book “ The New Jim Crow”, she shows how America’s “ War on Drugs “ has become a tool of racial segregation and how the discretionary enforcement of drug laws has resulted in an overwhelmingly negative affect on its black population. In the early days of colonial America, slavery was not as common as we would think. The primary method of securing the cheap labor needed to work the land was through the indentured servitude of both blacks and whites.
As plantations grew bigger and needed larger amounts of labor, slavery became the preferred means of obtaining cost-efficient labor and also helped drive a wedge between poor whites and their black counterparts. After the Civil War and the outlawing of slavery, Jim Crow laws were established to maintain the system of racial hierarchy. These laws helped to perpetuate the disenfranchisement of blacks in the South and was regarded by many as a fair and equitable settlement to the question of racial integration in America.
African-Americans were not satisfied with this overtly hostile system that infringed on their civil rights and worked hard to abolish this system of racial control. After the success of the Civil Rights Movement, American conservatives had to come up with a new system of racial control that would have to achieve its goals covertly and thus, the “ War on Drugs “ was born. Using crack-cocaine as the poster-child for his new war, Ronald Reagan appealed to the American public for increased funding, increased federal involvement, and harsh new sentencing laws for drug abuse.
After getting the public support for his campaign, America saw an unprecedented rise in its incarceration rate, particularly among African Americans. The “ War on Drugs ” has had a disparate impact on the black community even though blacks and whites use drugs at approximately the same levels. This is achieved through a myriad of formal and informal practices. African-Americans are targeted and prosecuted at a much higher rate even though they are not statistically any likelier to abuse or sell drugs than the white population.
The police have had a major role in how the effects of the drug war have been mostly concentrated in the black community. A major reason for this is because of the very nature of drug law enforcement. Normal crime involves an injured party or witness that reports it and asks for police action. In drug crime, both the buyer and seller have no interest in reporting the criminal activity and it is the responsibility of the police to actively search for violators.
This allows police the discretionary power to decide in which communities they will search for drug activity and who they will apprehend. Even though the rates of drug abuse are similar in both the black and white communities, police have targeted black communities almost exclusively in their drug control efforts. The federal government has incentivized the drug related activities of local law enforcement through the disbursement of federal grants. The author states that at the beginning of the drug war, law enforcement did not see drugs as the major issue and were hesitant to execute it.
Through the use of federal grants, local law enforcement began competing for funds, equipment, and training to wage the drug war as we now know it. In 2011, the Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates that 23. 44 billion dollars will be spent on drug law enforcement. Once a suspect is apprehended, the prosecutor decides whether the state will pursue charges and what the nature of those charges will be. The approval of harsh mandatory sentencing laws allows prosecutors to force plea bargains from many defendants through intimidation.
By using these tactics, very few defendants go to trial because of their reasonable fear of receiving exorbitantly long sentences for minor crimes. Another factor that contributes to the mass incarceration of blacks is the denial of comprehensive legal representation. The public defenders office is woefully underfunded and many of the people apprehended are routinely denied even this meager resource. The prosecution clearly has the upper hand in these scenarios and uses it to dictate the outcome of the legal process.
After an individual has been convicted of a drug crime, their lives are forever changed for the worse. They lose many basic freedoms such as the right to vote or serve on a jury. This is where the real purpose of the “ War on Drugs “ lies. During the Jim Crow era, blacks were denied full citizenship through a formalized social structure which allowed and condoned their disparate treatment. After the success of the Civil Rights Movement, it became taboo and unacceptable to be openly racist or discriminatory.
Through selective law enforcement, judicial apathy, and prosecutorial aggressiveness, America has found a way to continue the disparate treatment of colored people without any of the guilt. This openly harsh and discriminatory treatment helps to further achieve the desired outcome of disenfranchisement and hopelessness found in the black and Latino communities. . The worst effects of the mass incarceration may be the ones suffered after release from prison. After release, many convicts have incredible difficulty reconnecting with their family, finding housing and employment, and are generally marginalized.
In our society, overt racism is frowned upon and America has found a way to circumvent this societal expectation. Through the specific targeting of blacks in the drug war and than imposing the brand of criminality, we can now justify our discrimination against them without the accompanying feelings of guilt and shame. A thorough examination of this country’s drug control policies and enforcement is needed to address this issue. Too many black and brown people are suffering and we must find a new way to approach this problem.