Monday, September 26, 2011

The New Jim Crow

“Jarvious Cotton cannot vote. Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy. Cotton’s family tree tells the story of several generations of black men who were born in the United States but who were denied the most basic freedom that democracy promises - the freedom to vote for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one’s life.

“Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation. His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole.”

Those are the opening paragraphs of Michelle Alexander’s new book, “The New Jim Crow.” In the days of the Civil Rights Movement, it was the church that stood up and fought for our people. But today, many of our churches have retreated to the safety of their sanctuaries. As a result, we are losing more and more of our young people to drugs, prison, or an early grave.

Many of our ancestors lost their lives, fighting for the right to vote. But today, more than one million African Americans cannot vote because they are in prison and another three million have lost their right to vote because they have felony records. African Americans are 12% of this nation’s population, but we are more than 50% of the prison population. In St. Louis, Missouri, almost 97% of the population in the Youth Detention Center is African American children.

Is Michelle Alexander right? Is the criminal justice system, The New Jim Crow?

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