Civil Rights

Law Prof's Popular Book Argues Drug War Is a System of Racial Control


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Cover courtesy of The New Press.

An Ohio State law professor’s book with a provocative title has become a surprise success, earning a spot on the New York Times paperback nonfiction best-seller list for six weeks.

The book by Michelle Alexander, a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Project in Northern California, is called The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Her thesis: The war on drugs was a deliberate effort to reverse civil rights gains. The New York Times reports on the book and its supporters and detractors.

Alexander chronicles the effects of get-tough drug policies in the book. Nearly one-third of black men are likely to spend time in prison at some point in their lives. When they are freed, many will face job discrimination, loss of the right to vote, and inability to receive benefits such as food stamps, public housing and student loans.

“It’s easy to be completely unaware that this vast new system of racial and social control has emerged,” Alexander told the Times. “Unlike in Jim Crow days, there were no ‘Whites Only’ signs. This system is out of sight, out of mind.”

Yale law professor James Forman Jr. will be challenging some of Alexander’s arguments in a law review article set to be published next month, the story says. He opposes mass incarceration, but says Alexander minimizes the rise in violent crime. More violent offenders are in jail, he says, than drug defendants.

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