For my entire adult life, I’ve strived to be antiracist. In the United States that isn’t easy. It is always a work in progress because those who benefit from racism find new racist policies and racist ideas to support them.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Michelle Alexander for writing her outstanding book, “The New Jim Crow.” I had occasion this year to address the Nacogdoches City Council. An alarming police attack on young women of color over the summer mobilized the Nacogdoches Accountability Coalition seeking to establish citizen oversight of the Nacogdoches Police Force.
To support this coalition, I arrived with five copies of Alexander’s book, one each for the four City Councilors and the Mayor. I read them this statement:
Explaining the New Jim Crow in a nutshell, Michelle Alexander writes, “The War on Drugs is the vehicle . . . The entrapment occurs in three distinct phases . . . The first stage is the roundup. Vast numbers of people are swept into the criminal justice system by the police, who conduct drug operations primarily in poor communities of color. They are rewarded in cash – through drug forfeiture laws and federal grant programs – for rounding up as many people as possible, and they operate unconstrained by constitutional rules of procedure that once were considered inviolate. Police can stop, interrogate, and search anyone they choose for drug investigations, provided they get “consent.” Because there is no meaningful check on the exercise of police discretion, racial biases are given free rein. In fact, police are allowed to rely on race as a factor in selecting whom to stop and search (even though people of color are no more likely to be guilty of drug crimes than whites) – effectively guaranteeing that those who are swept into the system are primarily black and brown.
“The conviction marks the beginning of the second phase: the period of formal control. Once arrested, defendants are generally denied meaningful legal representation and pressured to plead guilty whether they are or not. Prosecutors are free to “load-up” defendants with extra charges, and their decisions cannot be challenged for racial bias. Once convicted, due to the drug war’s harsh sentencing laws, drug offenders in the United States spend more time under the criminal justice system’s formal control – in jail or prison, on probation or parole – than drug offenders anywhere else in the world. While under formal control virtually every aspect of one’s life is regulated and monitored by the system, and any form of resistance or disobedience is subject to swift sanction. This period of control may last a lifetime, even for those convicted of extremely minor, nonviolent offenses, but the vast majority of those swept into the system are eventually released. They are transferred from their prison cells to a much larger, invisible cage.
“The final stage has been dubbed by some advocates as the period of invisible punishment . . . [a] unique set of criminal sanctions that are imposed on individuals after they step outside the prison gates, a form of punishment that operates largely outside of public view and takes effect outside the traditional sentencing structure. These sanctions are imposed by operation of law rather than decisions of a sentencing judge, yet they often have a greater impact on one’s life course than the months or years one actually spends behind bars. These laws operate collectively to ensure that the vast majority of convicted offenders will never integrate into mainstream, white society. They will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives – denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Unable to surmount these obstacles, most will eventually return to prison and then be released again, caught in a closed circuit of perpetual marginality.”
During the last campaign I had the remarkable experience of reading the 2016 National Book Award Winner Ibram X. Kendi’s book: “Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” It was riveting, to say the least, yielding a treasure of insights into the persistent and perfidious curse of Racism in the US. Kendi followed with a publication this summer entitled “How To Be An Antiracist.” Kendi and Alexander’s work together place our campaign on the solid ground of clear understanding.
In 2018 fighting racism was a centerpiece of our campaign. In this 2020 campaign, we kick that up to fully championing Antiracism. In addition to this focus, we will also:
- Promote screenings of the Oscar-nominated documentary the “13th” to raise awareness of the predicament people of color find themselves in today. This is available on Netflix which promotes the free screening of this remarkable film for community audiences.
- Promote awareness of “Restorative Justice.” For more information please visit the Center for Justice and Reconciliation’s website.
- Promote the work of Real Justice Political Action Committee which seeks to elect District Attorney’s who seek to: “Elect candidates to county prosecutor positions where they can make a material impact on people’s lives by helping to combat discriminatory policing, limiting or eliminating money bail, and rolling back other practices that lead to mass incarceration.” For more information about this organization please visit their website.
- Work to immediately overturn the rights-violating “show your papers” Senate Bill 4. It is an attack on the Texas Hispanic community and an assault on all our Civil Rights.