The Cleveland chapter of
American Civil Liberties Union held a public forum June
24, 2010 to discuss the ‘New Jim Crow’ as dubbed by civil
rights advocate Michelle Alexander. She is the author of
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of
Colorblindness, and states the principles of Jim Crow are
still enforced against felons under the guise of legalized
discrimination in employment, housing, education, public
benefits and jury service, granting them fewer rights than
African-American men are
the largest group incarcerated, followed by Latino men.
James L. Hardiman,
legal director of ACLU-Ohio, said the language of racism has
become more sophisticated but discriminatory practices of Jim
Crow are still common. “When a person sees you as an equal, no
laws needs to be written,” said Hardiman as he explained the
history of Jim Crow and struggles civil rights groups faced in
repealing the laws.
ACLU of Ohio education
director Shakyra Díaz shared disturbing statistics that
highlight the disparity in numbers of African-American men in
prison compared to any other group. Quoting from Alexander’s
book, Díaz said more African-Americans are under correctional
control in 2010 than there were enslaved in 1850.
“There are currently 1.5
million African-American men who cannot vote in this country
because of a felony conviction,” said Díaz. These statistics are
not simply rationalized by the notion that African-American men
commit more crimes, Díaz explained, but they are targeted and
often persecuted more harshly for the same offense committed by
any other group.
Hardiman illustrated this
through recent cases in Cleveland of identical crimes that
received strikingly different punishments based on race. “The
criminal justice system needs to be revamped,” he said.
Díaz said the judicial
system is heavy on punishment and lenient on rehabilitation, so
those convicted return to society and are unable to re-integrate
and doomed to lead a life of crime. “This should motivate us to
be proactive in elections,” she said and demanding lawmakers
address the main causes of crime rather than punishment only
According to the
International Center for Prison Studies, compared to all
countries in the world, the United States has the highest
fraction of its population in prisons.
Díaz said the public
should be outraged at the government’s priorities in allocating
more money to build prisons than investing in the education
system. “It takes $80,000 to educate a child, and $86,000 to
imprison an inmate,” she said.
Dr. Michael R. Williams,
Director of Black Studies at Cleveland State University said
enforcing psychological inferiority was crucial for Jim Crow and
its effects are still apparent in today’s generations through
societal codes that enforce stereotypes, especially in the
Editor’s Note: Racial
profiling—as exemplified with Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law—
illustrates another example of Jim Crow laws.
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