Oct 10, 2019 in Literature

The New Jim Crow Book Analysis

Nowadays, many scholars call for reconsideration of the U. S. system of justice due to the overwhelming racial biases it contains. The mentioned issue raises the interest of scholar community in further research on the subject. Therefore, the paper aims at presenting the detailed analysis of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. The analysis allows to determine the main Alexander’s  claim, that is to represent the discriminatory tendencies in the U. S. criminal system. The paper also examines to what extent Alexander succeeded in presenting the credible argument in terms of background, practice, and results of racial inequality.

Introduction

In the midst of debates over the present state of the U.S. system of criminal justice, one may come to believe that American justice is highly discriminatory. In her first book The New Jim Crow, a well-known civil rights advocate and a writer, Michelle Alexander, apparently agrees with the thought and outlines the discriminatory nature of the U.S. law enforcement, referring to the current policy of mass incarceration as the main tool of racial control. Being an associate professor of law at Ohio State University, Alexader efficiently draws her conclusions from a variety of primary sources, mainly the government documents, and the secondary sources, particularly the works of renowned scholars, newspapers, journals and statistical data. Michelle Alexander successfully proves her main argument by providing the thorough analysis of the historical background, the methods, and consequences of racial discrimination.

Summary

The author of the book aims at outlining the main stages in the history of racial collisions. According to the author, the origins of the present-day racial stereotypes may be traced back to the birth of U.S. state. In the eighteenth century, the increased demand in labor for agricultural industry caused the systematic enslavement of Black population and encouraged the uninterrupted supply of new slaves from Africa. To secure the economic superiority and private property rights on slaves, the white elite tended to placate low-income classes of whites with the promises of material gains in exchange for their support of slavery. The long-term existence of slavery has eventually produced the first well-known stereotype about the blacks’ inferior status in the white-dominated society. The mentioned historical facts illustrate the invention of the first forms of racial control and justification of abusive racial discrimination. Later on, the state officials devised the similar mechanisms of racial division and propaganda during the backlash at the gains of Civil War in the 1860s. The Southern states actively revived the old conviction about the white supremacy in order to provoke the hostile attitude of low and middle class whites. Moreover, the violent activity of terrorist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, and the harsh working conditions, clearly demonstrated the existence of social injustice until the middle of the twentieth century. The slightly altered forms of intimidation and racial discrimination suggest the transformation of slavery institution into social inequality, persistently upheld by the economic and political elite of the United States. The next transformation occurred in the 1960s, as a furious opposition to the accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement. The politicians fueled the racial tensions by appealing to the forced reconciliation of the white population with the necessity to compete for the jobs and social and economic well-being with the blacks on equal grounds. This time, the conservatives have successfully planted the idea of the violent black demonstrations and the social disobedience in the minds of low and middle-class whites. The emergence and widespread dissemination of the image of black criminals lays at the core of the War on Drugs, declared by the president Reagan. The declaration marked the beginning of the new stage in the discriminatory policy development of the state and birth of a new tendency of mass incarceration of colored population. Michelle Alexander represents the historical process, as the endless cycle in which the methods of racial oppression slightly differ, while the intentions of the state officials remain the same. The writer effectively operates with the historical facts and offers credible assessment of historical accounts in order to push the readers to the obvious conclusion.

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Rhetorical Analysis

The author supports her main claim with the detailed analysis of manipulations with the public opinion and the U.S. criminal legislation. According to Alexander, the carefully planned media campaign preceded the War on Drugs, announced by the Reagan administration in October, 1982. Just as the problem of crack cocaine in the poor black inner-city communities has reached the level of the state issue, Reagan started exploiting the image of the black drug dealers for raising the support for the launched War on Drugs. In 1990 and 1991, the sociological studies clearly indicated that the government’s efforts were extremely successful in shaping the image of the real target of the War, namely the non-white drug criminals. The racially biased news reports and television only deepened the effects of discriminatory media campaign and led to the unconscious association of drug crimes with the Afro-Americans. The author explains the nationwide support of the massive incarceration of the colored minorities and reason for the radical tightening of the state laws for drug offenses that followed.

The writer focuses on the legal aspects of mass incarceration of Afro-Americans. The immediate result of the War on Drugs was the explosion of budget funding for the anti-drug measures and formation of the drug task forces and the adoption of the extremely punitive laws. Between 1980 and 1991, FBI, DEA and the Department of Defense, received billions of dollars for fighting drug crimes. The increased funding led to the formation of thousands of new SWAT deployments that brutally harassed the population during the raids. The state has also encouraged the police cooperation by providing legal reasons for the retainment of 80% of the confiscated property’s value. The mentioned evidence demonstrates determination of the government to prepare and encourage the law enforcement, to expand their rights in order to achieve the necessary results.

Moreover, the book contains the thorough analysis of the arrest and court procedures that expose the abusive nature of the U.S. system of justice. For instance, numerous Supreme Court rulings granted the police the unprecedented freedom  to stop and interrogate and search any individuals on the basis of suspicious behaviors. Although the Supreme Court’s decision in Florida v. Bostvick legalized only consensual searches, it is a rare case when the person refuses to cooperate because the refusal may be viewed as an attempt to hide the commited crime. Moreover, an accusation in the minor crime may serve as an excuse for the drug sweep. The Supreme Court has promptly provided police officers with the constitutional right to stop drivers for a traffic violation and search for drugs without any signs of illegal activity. The situation  in the courtroom  is equally aggravating. After the arrest, the fate of defendants lies in the hands of the prosecutor, virtually the most powerful figure in the courtroom. The adoption of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986 has legalized the mandatory minimal sentences as severe punishment for the distribution of crack, a crime widely associated with blacks. The law has provided prosecutors the opportunity to impose the plea-bargain pressure on defendants, as a resource-saving measure and the only way to escape the harsh mandatory sentences. Furthermore, the increasing number of convicted offenders is the direct result of poor legal representation due to the lack of money to pay the lawyer, the lack of time, resources or even the intention of the state-appointed  lawyer to provide the decent legal support. The provided arguments vividly illustrate that the average U.S. citizen has little chance to avoid getting a criminal record due to the highly complicated and disproportionately punitive criminal law.

In the persistent attempt to persuade the reader, Michelle Alexander outlines the adverse consequences of the current state policy of racial discrimination. The author argues that the current policy of mass incarceration strongly resembles the tendencies of the previously mentioned backlash against the gains of the Civil War. The similarities include the appeal to the economic vulnerabilities of the low and middle-class citizens, the legalized discrimination of the former offenders, the complete exclusion from political participation, the high improbability of any claims of racial biases at any stage of the prosecution and the racial segregation. The last point is especially relevant, since the former drug offenders endure the exclusion from the mainstream society due to the denial of state housing, voting rights, highly-qualified jobs and the forced indication of the previous conviction, while applying for a new job position. To prove the existing disparities in the U. S. system of criminal law, the author provided the staggering statistics. Between 1982 to 2000, the number of prisoners grew from 300,000 to more that 2 million people. The 2001 report of Human Rights Watch indicates that the number of convicted Afro-Americans constitutes from 80 to 90% of the incarcerated drug offenders in seven states. The provided arguments leave no doubt that the existing discrimination against the black population has largely contributed to the creation of the group of social outlaws, defined by race and excluded from the social benefits, according to the laws and customs.

Michelle Alexander aims at increasing the awareness of the necessity to reconsider the system of punishments and raise a call for the eradication of prisons. The writer strongly argues that the present-day system of racial control and division resembles the previously devised method of racial harassment, control and creating the subgroup of outcasts. By providing the credible arguments and data, the author persuasively proves that the War on Drugs and the subsequent mass incarceration target the non-white population, the Afro-Americans, in particular. 

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