Is Drug War Driven Mass Incarceration the New Jim Crow?

By Bill Frezza

Once in a great while a writer at the opposite end of the political spectrum gets you to look at a familiar set of facts in a new way. Disconcerting as it is, you can feel your foundation shift as your mind struggles to reconcile this new point of view with long held beliefs. Michelle Alexander has done just that in her book, The New Jim Crow.

A liberal ideologue with impeccable leftist credentials, Alexander was Director of the Racial Justice Project at the American Civil Liberties Union before moving on to an appointment in Race and Ethnicity studies at Ohio State University. Her thesis pushes disparate-impact logic to an extreme, ascribing deeply racist motives to a society that has traveled a very long way since the system of legal and cultural discrimination known as Jim Crow stained the land.

Yet there is no denying that if your goal were to consign African Americans to a permanent underclass—one which the rest of us would be culturally and legally permitted to discriminate against in employment, housing, voting rights, and government benefits—the war on drugs would be a great way to do it.