Black and White: Racism in the Criminal “Justice” System

Few issues expose the  comprehensive racist oppression present at the systemic level in the United States better than understanding the criminal (in)justice system.  From street stops to arrests to charging and plea bargaining or jury selection to sentencing to treatment within the penal system to disenfranchisement post-release, racism infects every single level of the criminal (in)justice system.

No resource more comprehensively addresses this vast social problem than Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and as such, it ought to be required reading for every person in the United States.  But for those who shy away from the strong language of the “new Jim Crow” to describe mass incarceration in the United States, consider the following:


In considering this graphic, we should recognize that this is not just a Black vs White issue and that racist mass incarceration does disproportionately impact all people of Color, most particularly those people of Color without access to wealth.  While the graphic is useful, it should be understood to be limited.

Beyond that, though, perhaps the measures in the “There’s Hope Still” section at the end of the infographic bring hope to some, none of those indicate a widespread transformation of the systems of racist oppression that make the rest of these stats possible.

What does give me hope, though, are the people-powerful, organized activists both inside and outside of prisons who are fighting for justice and change.  Whether we’re talking about the organizers of the California Prisoner Hunger Strike or the people at the Sentencing Project or local activists (like Save the Kids here in Minneapolis) who are working daily to transform the (in)justice system that disproportionately impacts people of Color, knowing that there’s power in the people gives me hope that water will eventually drip through stone.

But if their work is ever going to do more than change the fates of individuals wrapped up in the racist system, there needs to be a critical mass of people calling for systemic transformation.

So start by knowing your facts. Then figure out how you will take action.


Infographic courtesy of Ashleigh Bell and ArrestRecords.  Ashleigh Bell is an author, working with strong passion for the site Her interests relate primarily to crime & criminal justice issues.  Feel free to drop her a line at ashleighbell928(AT)gmail(DOT)com.


The Election’s Over – Time to Get to Work

Well, the election is over, and there is cause to celebrate for those who champion justice!  So take a second and enjoy this dancing Chihuahua!

I just put this song on and watched him for about 5 minutes.  If the .gif isn’t working, click on it.

Misogynists and rape apologists were soundly defeated around the nation.

Gay marriage was approved by ballot for the first time in two states while one state defeated a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

At least one state defeated a voter ID amendment that would disproportionately hurt Transgender folkspeople of Color, and the poor.

Steps were taken to end the racist drug war in at least two states.

More women will serve in the U.S. Senate than at any other time in U.S. history, and one of those women will be the first openly gay U.S. Senator.

Oh . . . and there’s that whole thing where the nation’s first Black president was reelected to a second term.

A few weeks back, I called out the folks of privilege who refuse to vote.  I, for one, think that voting is a vital (though troubling) part of the process for creating positive change.  However, a lot of folks were pretty upset by my take on voting, saying that simply voting encourages complacency and that it endorses the oppressive system of corporate interests.  I agree!  If all we did was vote, then we’d be leaving a whole lot up to chance and in the hands of some folks who just got a lot of money from corporations I don’t much like!  But I firmly believe that all politics are local.

This amazing article by C. Riley Snorton and Mecca Jamilah Sullivan pretty much sums up my feelings about voting:

Voting, in and of itself, is neither wholly system-changing nor inherently conciliatory; it is one available gesture in the series of actions through which those of us committed to an anti-oppressive politics live our lives . . . To vote is to practice a strategic embodiment. It is to lodge one’s body in a deeply flawed system as part of a larger commitment to developing a world we all might be better able to live in. As feminists of color, we know that politics neither begin nor end with the casting of the ballot. But, for us, right now, the ballot must be part of the process. And so, when the dust settles on this particular moment in history and the two of us return home from the polls, we know that we will continue to voice dissent, to engage in acts of self-care, and to practice a set of politics anchored in the belief that liberation is something we must fight—in all possible ways—to attain.

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