Thursday, June 28, 2012

Free People, No Homes

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Who is more blameworthy: the young black kid who hustles on the street corner, selling weed to help his momma pay the rent? Or the college kid who deals drugs out of his dorm room so that he’ll have cash to finance his spring break? (Alexander 216)

In an attempt to better understand our guests, community, and the world, the staff at LPCS has developed a monthly book club. This past month the staff attempted to grasp the significance of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander.

First question on the table was: who managed to finish the book? This New York Times Bestseller is over 200 heavy pages challenging the racism that exists from America’s neighborhood policing up through to the 14th Amendment. While many people considered the election of Barack Obama an end to racism, Alexander proposes that we have not yet entered an era of colorblindness, but rather redistributed racism back into the justice system.

There were many interesting points of conversation that occurred after reading the book. Murray pointed out how, when it comes to drug related crimes, it is interesting that there is no actual victim. No one is actually calling the police to report a crime because both parties involved (the dealer and the purchaser) is willing participants. After the emergence of the War of Drugs, police learned new tactics of finding criminals and then prosecuting them without a crime actually being reported.

Once arrested, few drug related crimes actually go to trial. Some people will remain in jail for a significant amount of time. Others will plead guilty because they will have charges stacked on top of themselves and do not have the resources for a strong lawyer. Odds are rarely in the favor of the person arrested, so a plea bargain is often the only way out.

It is important to always consider how these concepts relate to the guests at LPCS. Alexander pointed out how difficult it is for a person to get a home once they have been arrested for anything, even if it occurred decades ago. A person that felt obligated to plead guilty to a charge from over 15 years ago is often going to find him or herself without a home or job because many places will not take anyone with a record. “Throughout the United States, public housing agencies have adopted exclusionary policies that deny eligibility to applicants even with the most minor criminal backgrounds” (Alexander 145). Job applications will also weed out all of the people that have a background. Even if a person chooses to decline to answer, that often sends a red flag up to the employer or landlord.

So, what can be done to rehabilitate someone who has done their time but is out of options now that they are a free person again? We were not able to come up with any realistic solutions, only frustrations. Can you think of any ways around this system?

Respond with your thoughts and suggestions below -


Gilaad said...

Great post. What a wonderful idea to have a book club. I love the many ways that LPCS develops positive and respectful interaction.
-- Gil

estesgirl said...

A very timely discussion, since Mayor Emanuel just approved a new policy on possession of small amounts of marijuana...instead of criminal charges, a fine will be issued for possession of less than 15g. The policy change had wide support because nearly 90% of cases were dismissed, using up police resources and detracting focus from more serious crimes, and because the law disproportionately affects people of color, even though drug use among all races is comparable. A small step in the right direction!

estesgirl said...

For more information on the new marijuana policy in Chicago

LPCS said...

Thanks for the link, estesgirl! It was great timing to read this book while Chicago was making these changes.

An interested stat was given in the novel, it said that the majority of drug charges were against people of color, and that the majority of people hospitalized for drug related activity were Caucasian.

You make a great point, hopefully the change will allow our police to focus on other crimes, such as the increase in homicides in Chicago.

If anyone would like to follow in our Book Club, we will be reading "Beautiful Boy" and "Tweak" at the same time to compare a parent's perspective and a child's perspective on drug abuse.