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See Attachment 

This Reading Response should consist of a 700 word paper :

A 400 word summary of the major points of Chapter 3 in The new Jim Crow. The summary should include data about race and class and should explain the connection between race and class in the CJ system. 

And 300 words below of a Personal academic response

An academic response is not how you feel about it but what you may critically and professionally state about it. For example, you might consider how you think race and class in the CJ system could impact social work practice or research.

3
T he C olor of Ju s t ic e

Imagine you are Erma Faye Stewart, a thirty-year-old, single Afri-can American mother of two who was arrested as part of a drug
sweep in Hearne, Texas.1 All but one of the people arrested were Afri-

can American. You are innocent. After a week in jail, you have no one

to care for your two small children and are eager to get home. Your

court-appointed attorney urges you to plead guilty to a drug distribu-

tion charge, saying the prosecutor has offered probation. You refuse,

steadfastly proclaiming your innocence. Finally, after almost a month

in jail, you decide to plead guilty so you can return home to your chil-

dren. Unwilling to risk a trial and years of imprisonment, you are sen-

tenced to ten years’ probation and ordered to pay $1,000 in fines, as

well as court and probation costs. You are also now branded a drug

felon. You are no longer eligible for food stamps; you may be discrimi-

nated against in employment; you cannot vote for at least twelve years;

and you are about to be evicted from public housing. Once homeless,

your children will be taken from you and put in foster care.

A judge eventually dismisses all cases against the defendants who

did not plead guilty. At trial, the judge finds that the entire sweep was

based on the testimony of a single informant who lied to the pros-

ecution. You, however, are still branded a drug felon, homeless, and

desperate to regain custody of your children. Now place yourself in

the shoes of Clifford Runoalds, another African American victim of

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
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1 2 2 T H E N E W J I M   C R O W

the Hearne drug bust.2 You returned home to Bryan, Texas, to attend

the funeral of your eighteen-month-old daughter. Before the funeral

services begin, the police show up and handcuff you. You beg the offi-

cers to let you take one last look at your daughter before she is buried.

The police refuse. You are told by prosecutors that you are needed to

testify against one of the defendants in a recent drug bust. You deny

witnessing any drug transaction; you don’t know what they are talk-

ing about. Because of your refusal to cooperate, you are indicted on

felony charges. After a month of being held in jail, the charges against

you are dropped. You are technically free, but as a result of your arrest

and period of incarceration, you lose your job, your apartment, your

furniture, and your car. Not to mention the chance to say good-bye to

your baby girl.

This is the War on Drugs. The brutal stories described above are

not isolated incidents, nor are the racial identities of Erma Faye

Stewart and Clifford Runoalds random or accidental. In every state

across our nation, African Americans—particularly in the poorest

neighborhoods—are subjected to tactics and practices that would

result in public outrage and scandal if committed in middle-class

white neighborhoods. In the drug war, the enemy is racially defined.

The law enforcement methods described in chapter 2 have been

employed almost exclusively in poor communities of color, resulting

in jaw-dropping numbers of African Americans and Latinos filling our

nation’s prisons and jails every year. We are told by drug warriors that

the enemy in this war is a thing—drugs—not a group of people, but

the facts prove otherwise.

Human Rights Watch reported in 2000 that, in seven states, African

Americans constitute 80 to 90 percent of all those sent to prison on

drug charges.3 In at least fifteen states, blacks are admitted to pris-

on on drug charges at a rate from twenty to fifty-seven times greater

than that of white men.4 In fact, nationwide, the rate of incarceration

for African Americans convicted of drug offenses dwarfs the rate of

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/utarl/detail.action?docID=5651869.
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T H E C O L O R O F J U S T I C E 1 2 3

whites. When the War on Drugs gained full steam in the mid- 1980s,

prison admissions for African Americans skyrocketed, nearly quadru-

pling in three years, and then increasing steadily until it reached in

2000 a level more than twenty-six times the level in 1983.5 The number

of 2000 drug admissions for Latinos was twenty-two times the number

of 1983 admissions.6 Whites have been admitted to prison for drug

offenses at increased rates as well—the number of whites admitted for

drug offenses in 2000 was eight times the number admitted in 1983—

but their relative numbers are small compared to blacks’ and Latinos’.7

Although the majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are

white, three-fourths of all people imprisoned for drug offenses have

been black or Latino.8 In recent years, rates of black imprisonment

for drug offenses have dipped somewhat—declining approximately

25 percent from their zenith in the mid-1990s—but it remains the case

that African Americans are incarcerated at grossly disproportionate

rates throughout the United States.9

There is, of course, an official explanation for all of this: crime

rates. This explanation has tremendous appeal—before you know the

facts—for it is consistent with, and reinforces, dominant racial nar-

ratives about crime and criminality dating back to slavery. The truth,

however, is that rates and patterns of drug crime do not explain the

glaring racial disparities in our criminal justice system. People of all

races use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates.10 If there

are significant differences in the surveys to be found, they frequently

suggest that whites, particularly white youth, are more likely to engage

in illegal drug dealing than people of color.11 One study, for example,

published in 2000 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse report-

ed that white students use cocaine at seven times the rate of black

students, use crack cocaine at eight times the rate of black students,

and use heroin at seven times the rate of black students.12 That same

survey revealed that nearly identical percentages of white and black

high school seniors use marijuana. The National Household Survey

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/utarl/detail.action?docID=5651869.
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1 2 4 T H E N E W J I M   C R O W

on Drug Abuse reported in 2000 that white youth aged 12–17 are

more than a third more likely to have sold illegal drugs than African

American youth.13 Thus the very same year Human Rights Watch was

reporting that African Americans were being arrested and imprisoned

at unprecedented rates, government data revealed that blacks were no

more likely to be guilty of drug crimes than whites and that white

youth were actually the most likely of any racial or ethnic group to be

guilty of illegal drug possession and sales. Any notion that drug use

among blacks is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data; white

youth have about three times the number of drug-related emergency

room visits as their African American counterparts.14

The notion that whites comprise the vast majority of drug users

and dealers—and may well be more likely than other racial groups to

commit drug crimes—may seem implausible to some, given the media

imagery we are fed on a daily basis and the racial composition of our

prisons and jails. Upon reflection, however, the prevalence of white

drug crime—including drug dealing—should not be surprising. After

all, where do whites get their illegal drugs? Do they all drive to the

ghetto to purchase them from somebody standing on a street corner?

No. Studies consistently indicate that drug markets, like American

society generally, reflect our nation’s racial and socioeconomic bound-

aries. Whites tend to sell to whites; blacks to blacks.15 University stu-

dents tend to sell to each other.16 Rural whites, for their part, don’t

make a special trip to the ’hood to purchase marijuana. They buy it

from somebody down the road.17 White high school students typically

buy drugs from white classmates, friends, or older relatives. Even Bar-

ry McCaffrey, former director of the White House Office of National

Drug Control Policy, once remarked, if your child bought drugs, “it

was from a student of their own race generally.”18 The notion that most

illegal drug use and sales happens in the ghetto is pure fiction. Drug

trafficking occurs there, but it occurs everywhere else in America as

well. Nevertheless, black men have been admitted to state prison on

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/utarl/detail.action?docID=5651869.
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T H E C O L O R O F J U S T I C E 1 2 5

drug charges at a rate that is more than thirteen times higher than that

of white men.19 The racial bias inherent in the drug war is a major rea-

son that 1 in every 14 black men was behind bars in 2006, compared

with 1 in 106 white men.20 For young black men, the statistics are even

worse. One in 9 black men between the ages of twenty and thirty-five

was behind bars in 2006, and far more were under some form of penal

control—such as probation or parole.21 These gross racial disparities

simply cannot be explained by rates of illegal drug activity among

African Americans.

What, then, does explain the extraordinary racial disparities in our

criminal justice system? Old-fashioned racism seems out of the ques-

tion. Politicians and law enforcement officials today rarely endorse

racially biased practices, and most of them fiercely condemn racial

discrimination of any kind. When accused of racial bias, police and

prosecutors—like most Americans—express horror and outrage.

Forms of race discrimination that were open and notorious for cen-

turies were transformed in the 1960s and 1970s into something

un-American—an affront to our newly conceived ethic of color-

blindness. By the early 1980s, survey data indicated that 90 percent

of whites thought black and white children should attend the same

schools, 71 percent disagreed with the idea that whites have a right

to keep blacks out of their neighborhoods, 80 percent indicated they

would support a black candidate for president, and 66 percent opposed

laws prohibiting intermarriage.22 Although far fewer supported spe-

cific policies designed to achieve racial equality or integration (such

as busing), the mere fact that large majorities of whites were, by the

early 1980s, supporting the antidiscrimination principle reflected a

profound shift in racial attitudes. The margin of support for colorblind

norms has only increased since then.

This dramatically changed racial climate has led defenders of mass

incarceration to insist that our criminal justice system, whatever its

past sins, is now largely fair and nondiscriminatory. They point to

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/utarl/detail.action?docID=5651869.
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1 2 6 T H E N E W J I M   C R O W

violent crime rates in the African American community as a justifi-

cation for the staggering number of black men who find themselves

behind bars. Black men, they say, have much higher rates of violent

crime; that’s why so many of them are locked up.

Typically, this is where the discussion ends.

The problem with this abbreviated analysis is that violent crime is

not responsible for mass incarceration. As numerous researchers have

shown, violent crime rates have fluctuated over the years and bear lit-

tle relationship to incarceration rates—which have soared during the

past three decades regardless of whether violent crime was going up

or down.23 Today violent crime rates are at historically low levels, yet

incarceration rates continue to climb.

Murder convictions tend to receive a tremendous amount of media

attention, which feeds the public’s sense that violent crime is rampant

and forever on the rise. But like violent crime in general, the mur-

der rate cannot explain the growth of the penal apparatus. Homicide

convictions account for a tiny fraction of the growth in the prison

population. In the federal system, for example, homicide convictions

account for 0.4 percent of the past decade’s growth in the federal pris-

on population, while drug convictions account for nearly 61 percent

of that expansion.24 In the state system, less than 3 percent of new

court commitments to state prison typically involve people convicted

of homicide.25

Roughly half of the people in state prisons are classified as violent

offenders, but that statistic can easily be misinterpreted. The term vio-

lent offender can apply to people who have been convicted of a wide

range of crimes—from fist fights to armed robbery to rape or murder.

The general public seems to imagine that our prisons are filled with

“rapists and murderers,” but they actually account for a small minority

of our nation’s prison population.

Equally important to understand is this: the fact that half of a state’s

prison population is comprised of people who are labeled violent

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/utarl/detail.action?docID=5651869.
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T H E C O L O R O F J U S T I C E 1 2 7

offenders does not mean that half of the people sentenced to prison

in that state have been convicted of violent crimes. This may seem

counterintuitive at first, but if you pause to consider how the system

actually operates this fact becomes obvious. People who are convicted

of violent crimes tend to get longer prison sentences than those who

commit nonviolent offenses. As a result, people who are classified as

violent offenders comprise a much larger share of the prison popula-

tion than they would if they had earlier release dates.

A hypothetical scenario may help here. Picture in your mind a prison

hallway lined with cells (ten on each side) that are occupied by people

for varying lengths of time. Imagine that each cell holds two people.

One side of the hallway is reserved for people who have been convicted

of drug or property crimes and who have relatively short sentences

of five years or fewer. The other side of the hallway is reserved for

people who have been convicted of violent crimes and sentenced to

ten years or more (or life imprisonment). During a single decade, more

than a hundred people could cycle in and out of the cages reserved for

people convicted of nonviolent crimes, while the same twenty people

who are locked up for violent crimes on the other side of the hallway

would remain in place. At any given moment, if you were to snap a

picture of that hallway, half the people living in cages would be clas-

sified as “violent offenders.” But this picture would wildly distort your

understanding of the population that had been sentenced to prison

during the past ten years. Although prison hallways are not segregated

in this fashion, some version of this dynamic occurs in prisons across

America, resulting in prisons that are half-filled with people convicted

of violent crimes, even though most people sentenced to prisons and

jails were convicted of lesser offenses.

The most important fact to keep in mind, however, is that debates

about prison statistics typically ignore a key fact: most people who are

under state supervision and control are not in prison. Of the nearly 7.3

million people currently under correctional control, only 2.3 million

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/utarl/detail.action?docID=5651869.
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1 2 8 T H E N E W J I M   C R O W

are in prison or jail.26 The rest are on probation or parole. More than 4

million people are on probation in the United States (roughly twice the

number in prison) and only 19 percent of them were convicted of a vio-

lent offense. Similarly, the overwhelming majority of people on parole

were convicted of nonviolent crimes.27 The most common offense for

which people are placed on probation or parole is a drug offense.28

Even if the analysis is limited to felonies—thus excluding extremely

minor crimes and misdemeanors—nonviolent offenses predominate.

Only about a quarter of felony defendants in large urban counties were

charged with a violent offense in 2006.29

Nevertheless, politicians, law enforcement officials, and journalists

routinely create the false impression that most people branded crimi-

nals have been convicted of violent crimes. They point to the current

composition of state prisons as “proof” of this imagined fact, ignoring

that sentencing practices distort our understanding of who is placed

under state control and why. The lie that “most people sent to prison

are violent offenders” is dangerous because it perpetuates the false

notion that our system of mass incarceration is primarily concerned

with violence and that it is well designed to keep people safe. In fact,

the system is primarily concerned with the perpetual control and mar-

ginalization of the dispossessed.

None of this is to suggest that we ought not be concerned about vio-

lent crime. Nor is it to say that we should not care about people serv-

ing time for violent offenses. We should care deeply about all people

impacted, including people who live in fear of violence, people who

are survivors, and those who commit violent crimes. Often these cat-

egories overlap, since nearly everyone who engages in violence first

survives it. If we truly want to end violence in our communities, we

must come to understand, as discussed in the final chapter, the ways

in which mass incarceration increases—not decreases—violence and

multiplies its harms. But at the same time, we ought not be misled by

those who insist that violent crime has driven the rise of this unprec-

edented system of racial and social control. The uncomfortable reality

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/utarl/detail.action?docID=5651869.
Created from utarl on 2021-11-01 18:35:40.

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T H E C O L O R O F J U S T I C E 1 2 9

is that a literal war has been waged on our most vulnerable commu-

nities, and convictions for relatively minor, nonviolent offenses have

propelled mass incarceration. In many states, including Colorado and

Maryland, people convicted of drug offenses now constitute the sin-

gle largest category of people admitted to prison.30 People of color are

convicted of drug offenses at rates out of all proportion to their drug

crimes, a fact that has greatly contributed to the emergence of a vast

new racial undercaste—a system of mass incarceration that governs

the lives of millions of people inside and outside of prison walls.

These facts may still leave some readers unsatisfied. The idea that

the criminal justice system discriminates in such a terrific fashion

when few people openly express or endorse racial discrimination may

seem far-fetched, if not absurd. How could the War on Drugs operate

in a discriminatory manner, on such a large scale, when hardly anyone

advocates or engages in explicit race discrimination? That question is

the subject of this chapter. As we shall see, despite the colorblind rhet-

oric and fanfare of recent years, the design of the drug war effectively

guarantees that those who are swept into the nation’s new undercaste

are largely black and brown.

This sort of claim invites skepticism. Nonracial explanations and

excuses for the systematic mass incarceration of people of color are

plentiful. It is the genius of the new system of control that it can always

be defended on nonracial grounds, given the rarity of a noose or a

racial slur in connection with any particular criminal case. Moreover,

because blacks and whites are almost never similarly situated (given

extreme racial segregation in housing and disparate life experiences),

trying to “control for race” in an effort to evaluate whether the mass

incarceration of people of color is really about race or something else—

anything else—is difficult. But it is not impossible.

A bit of common sense is overdue in public discussions about racial

bias in the criminal justice system. The great debate over whether

black men have been targeted by the criminal justice system or unfair-

ly treated in the War on Drugs often overlooks the obvious. What is

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/utarl/detail.action?docID=5651869.
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13 0 T H E N E W J I M   C R O W

painfully obvious when one steps back from individual cases and spe-

cific policies is that the system of mass incarceration operates with

stunning efficiency to sweep people of color off the streets, lock them

in cages, and then release them into an inferior second-class status.

Nowhere is this more true than in the War on Drugs.

The central question, then, is how exactly does a formally color-

blind criminal justice system achieve such racially discriminatory

results? Rather easily, it turns out. The process occurs in two stages.

The first step is to grant law enforcement officials extraordinary dis-

cretion regarding whom to stop, search, arrest, and charge for drug

offenses, thus ensuring that conscious and unconscious racial beliefs

and stereotypes will be given free rein. Unbridled discretion inevita-

bly creates huge racial disparities. Then, the damning step: close the

courthouse doors to all claims by defendants and private litigants that

the criminal justice system operates in racially discriminatory fashion.

Demand that anyone who wants to challenge racial bias in the system

offer, in advance, clear proof that the racial disparities are the prod-

uct of intentional racial discrimination—i.e., the work of a bigot. This

evidence will almost never be available in the era of colorblindness,

because everyone knows—but does not say—that the enemy in the

War on Drugs can be identified by race. This simple design has helped

to produce one of the most extraordinary systems of racialized social

control the world has ever seen.

Picking and Choosing—The Role of Discretion

Chapter 2 described the first step in some detail, including the legal

rules that grant police the discretion and authority to stop, interro-

gate, and search anyone, anywhere, provided they get “consent” from

the targeted individual. It also examined the legal framework that

affords prosecutors extraordinary discretion to charge or not charge,

plea bargain or not, and load up defendants with charges carrying the

threat of harsh mandatory sentences in order to force guilty pleas, even

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/utarl/detail.action?docID=5651869.
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T H E C O L O R O F J U S T I C E 13 1

in cases in which the defendants may well be innocent. These rules

have made it possible for law enforcement agencies to boost dramati-

cally their rates of drug arrests and convictions, even in communities

where drug crime is stable or declining.31 But that is not all. These

rules have also guaranteed racially discriminatory results.

The reason is this: drug-law enforcement is unlike most other types

of law enforcement. When a violent crime or a robbery occurs, the

criminal activity usually causes harm or violates someone’s rights.

But with drug crime, neither the purchaser of the drugs nor the seller

has any incentive to contact law enforcement. It is consensual activity.

Equally important, it is popular. The clear majority of Americans of all

races have violated drug laws in their lifetime. In fact, in any given year,

more than one in ten Americans violate drug laws. But due to resource

constraints (and the politics of the drug war), only a small fraction are

arrested, convicted, and incarcerated. In 2002, for example, there were

19.5 million illicit drug users, compared to 1.5 million drug arrests

and 175,000 people admitted to prison for a drug offense.32

The ubiquity of illegal drug activity, combined with its consensual

nature, requires a far more proactive approach by law enforcement

than what is required to address ordinary street crime. It is impos-

sible for law enforcement to identify and arrest everyone who commits

a drug crime. Strategic choices must be made about whom to target

and what tactics to employ. Police and prosecutors did not declare the

War on Drugs—and some initially opposed it—but once the finan-

cial incentives for waging the war became too attractive to ignore, law

enforcement agencies had to ask themselves, if we’re going to wage

this war, where should it be fought and who should be taken prisoner?

That question was not difficult to answer, given the political and

social context. As discussed in chapter 1, the Reagan administra-

tion launched a media campaign a few years after the drug war was

announced in an effort to publicize horror stories involving black

crack users and crack dealers in ghetto communities. Although crack

cocaine had not yet hit the streets when the War on Drugs was declared

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2020.
ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/utarl/detail.action?docID=5651869.
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13 2 T H E N E W J I M   C R O W

in 1982, its appearance a few years later created the perfect opportuni-

ty for the Reagan administration to build support for its new war. Drug

use, once considered a private, public-health matter, was reframed

through political rhetoric and media imagery as a grave threat to the

national order.

Jimmie Reeves and Richard Campbell show in their research how

the media imagery surrounding cocaine changed as the practice of

smoking cocaine came to be associated with poor blacks.33 Early in

the 1980s, the typical cocaine-related story focused on white recre-

ational users who snorted the drug in its powder form. These stories

generally relied on news sources associated with the drug treatment

industry, such as rehabilitation clinics, and emphasized the possibility

of recovery. By 1985, however, as the War on Drugs moved into high

gear, this frame was supplanted by a new “siege paradigm,” in which

transgressors were poor, nonwhite users and dealers of crack cocaine.

Law enforcement officials assumed the role of drug “experts,” empha-

sizing the need for law and order responses—a crackdown on those

associated with the drug. These findings are …