Michelle Alexander Has Something to Say About Recent Cases of Police Brutality and We Should All Listen

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Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Twitter
Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Twitter

Michelle Alexander, legal scholar, civil rights activist and author of the critically acclaimed 2010 book, “The New Jim Crow,” posted a powerful message to legislators, law enforcement officials and the entire American political machine on her Facebook page Friday night.

“I have struggled to find words to express what I thought and felt as I watched the videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile being killed by the police. Thursday night, I wanted to say something that hasn’t been said a hundred times before. It finally dawned on me that there is nothing to say that hasn’t been said before. As I was preparing to write about the oldness of all of this, and share some wisdom passed down from struggles of earlier eras, I heard on the news that 11 officers had been shot in Dallas, several killed from sniper fire. My fingers froze on the keys. I could not bring myself to recycle old truths. Something more is required. But what?,” the Ohio State University law professor began before launching into a passionate call for meaningful, ideological reform to the U.S. criminal justice system.

“I no longer believe that we can ‘fix’ the police, as though the police are anything other than a mirror reflecting back to us the true nature of our democracy. We cannot ‘fix’ the police without a revolution of values and radical change to the basic structure of our society. Of course important policy changes can and should be made to improve police practices. But if we’re serious about having peace officers — rather than a domestic military at war with its own people — we’re going to have to get honest with ourselves about who our democracy actually serves and protects.”

Alexander points out the circumstances leading to the deaths of Philando Castile, 32, and Alton Sterling, 37, who both had fatal encounters with police last week. Castile, she noted, had been repeatedly targeted by Minnesota police for minor traffic violations, amassing thousands of dollars in fines. For Sterling, selling CDs was likely one of the very few income options available to a convicted felon in this country, Alexander said.

“How many people on Wall Street have been arrested for their crimes large and small — crimes of greed and fraud that nearly bankrupted the global economy and destroyed the futures of millions of families? How many politicians have been prosecuted for taking millions of dollars from private prisons, prison guard unions, pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, tobacco companies, the NRA and Wall Street banks and doing their bidding for them — killing us softly? Oh, that’s right, taking millions from those folks isn’t even a crime. Democrats and Republicans do it every day. Our entire political system is financed by wealthy private interests buying politicians and making sure the rules are written in their favor. But selling CDs or loose cigarettes? In America, that’s treated as a serious crime, especially if you’re black. For that act of survival, you can be wrestled to the ground and choked to death or shot at point blank range. Our entire system of government is designed to protect and serve the interests of the most powerful, while punishing, controlling and exploiting the least advantaged.”

“This is not hyperbole. And this is not new. What is new is that we’re now watching all of this on YouTube and Facebook, streaming live, as imagined super-predators are brought to heel. Fifty years ago, our country was forced to look at itself in the mirror when television stations broadcast Bloody Sunday, the day state troopers and a sheriff’s posse brutally attacked civil rights activists marching for voting rights in Selma. Those horrifying images, among others, helped to turn public opinion in support of the Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps the images we’ve seen in recent days will make some difference. It’s worth remembering, though, that none of the horrifying images from the Jim Crow era would’ve changed anything if a highly strategic, courageous movement had not existed that was determined to challenge a deeply entrenched system of racial and social control.”

“This nation was founded on the idea that some lives don’t matter. Freedom and justice for some, not all. That’s the foundation. Yes, progress has been made in some respects, but it hasn’t come easy. There’s an unfinished revolution waiting to be won.”

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