Michelle Alexander on The New Jim Crow, at Union Theological Seminary
March 4, 2015
Michelle Alexander: Roots of Today's Mass Incarceration Crisis Date to Slavery, Jim Crow
Thursday, 05 March 2015
By Amy Goodman and Juan González, Democracy Now! |
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, part of the Justice Department’s investigation in Ferguson focused on traffic stops and found African Americans, who account for about two-thirds of the city’s population, made up 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of citations, 93 percent of arrests and 88 percent of cases in which police used force. African-American drivers were twice as likely as whites to be searched, but were less likely to be found with drugs or guns than whites. And in all 14 incidents in which a police dog bit the suspect and the person’s race is known, the person bitten was African-American. The findings reinforce details of a class-action lawsuit filed by Ferguson residents, who accuse local officials of creating a "modern debtors’ prison scheme" that targets African Americans with arrest and fines, and then locks them up when they can’t pay. Here on Democracy Now!, we spoke with Herbert Nelson Jr., a plaintiff in the lawsuit, who has been arrested multiple times. He was asked how his experience made him feel about the police.
HERBERT NELSON JR.: That’s a good question, because the last time I was arrested, the officer said I shouldn’t be afraid of officers. But that same officer, he actually—he was like, "Yes!" He was so excited to arrest me. And that alone made me afraid, because a lot of my friends and family won’t even come to see me because I live in Jennings. They’re scared to come into the county of North St. Louis, North County St. Louis, because of the police and how quick they are to arrest you over a minor, minor, minor traffic ticket.
AARON MATÉ: Herbert, when we were there, there was some hope among some residents that we spoke to that things might get better in the aftermath of these protests, of this organizing in Ferguson and the surrounding areas. Has anything improved in the six months since Michael Brown was killed?
HERBERT NELSON JR.: Far as the policing, no, it hasn’t. It hasn’t. And I wouldn’t honestly say it improved. No, actually, it began—it got worse, because it seems like the crime has went up, and the police are really—the jails are just running in an out, like they’re way more packed than they were before Mike Brown was shot. The jails are way more packed. So it hasn’t improved at all.
JOHN LEGEND: Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live. We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now.
JOHN LEGEND: We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on. God bless you.
JAMES COMEY: Much research points to the widespread existence of unconscious bias. Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face. … Police officers on patrol in our nation’s cities often work in environments where a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of color. Something happens to people of goodwill working in that environment. After years of police work, officers often can’t help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel. A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible, and maybe even rational by some lights. … We need to come to grips with the fact that this behavior complicates the relationship between police and the communities they serve.