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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness


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walters-murray-the-new-jim-crow-revisited-2.phpPower Line:

Scott Johnson

Aug 30 2015


After John Walters wrote a Weekly Standard article on President Obama’s commutations of incarcerated drug offenders, I asked him to take a look at Michelle Alexander’s dreadful but influential book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. I noted the Walters article and discussed Alexander’s book in the post “Meet the new Jim Crow, same as the old BS.”


Now Mr. Walters has turned his attention to Alexander’s book. Together with his Hudson Institute colleague David Murray, he has written the important essay below on the book. The essay will be posted in footnoted form on the Hudson Institute site this Wednesday. In the meantime, we are pleased to present this essay that fills a gap in the literature on the controversy over “mass incarceration.” Walters and Murray write:



This book (hereafter, TNJC) is careless. The carelessness produces misdirection and it undermines the argument. Facts are stretched, the scholarly apparatus is weak, and the core argument is often contradicted by its own evidence.


Nonetheless, TNJC is a very popular book—rising to The New York Times best seller list, required reading for incoming students at Brown University, said by the San Francisco Chronicle to be “the Bible of a social movement.” Is its power rooted in a deeper truth or in a revealing lie that many of us want to believe or need to believe in the face of an ugly reality?


Full disclosure: We have lived through and remember the drug and crime problem of the 1980’s onward. We have done our best to make the problem smaller from positions within the White House, serving for at least a time in every Administration from Reagan to Obama. We know from personal experience that TNJC is built on falsehood. We also recognize that those who want to believe TNJC may view our experience as a cover-up of the great wrong alleged. But we write with the hope that open-minded readers can and will judge the facts for themselves.


In a nutshell, TNJC argues that “[w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” From the book jacket: “By targeting black men through the War on Drugs, and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to permanent second-class status.” A primary concern is the loss of the right to vote.


The specific list of factual misstatements is long. For a book with scholarly pretentions, it is noteworthy that the book lacks a bibliography, and that its endnote citations are woeful.




The author should acknowledge that great political pressure for tough law enforcement has come from black communities that suffer disproportionate victimization. It has come from the fears, and hopes, of mothers of sons at risk of death from gang involvement. This decisive truth about law enforcement in America is the real refutation of TNJC.











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