Today’s book recommendation is about the criminal justice system and its treatment of black Americans. Over the last three months, protests popped up, challenging the authority of the state to rob individuals of their fundamental rights. After every death of an innocent black man at the hands of a police officer, people of color say the same thing: Fully fulfill the promises that this country made in the Declaration of Independence. Hold the government accountable.
I have to ask those that supported lockdown protestors but not the peaceful demonstrators in the streets this question. If lockdowns had continued for not just one month, but decade after decade, would you be angry at being ignored? Would you feel rage at the 80% of the country that did not support you, that mocked and dismissed you, and at a government that refused to listen? How would that rage be expressed?
Every human being has the right to life, liberty, and property. A Byzantine system of laws exists to keep black Americans from that promise. The right is uncomfortable this past decade because it is experiencing what much of this country has always felt. Libertarians generally frame their struggle against the government through the lens of oppression by the state. That boot is on the neck of black men at a higher percentage than that of white men. The evidence is concrete and irrefutable.
We just witnessed the state put its knee on the neck of George Floyd. What will our response be this time? Will it be indifference by saying, “Whites get killed too.” “What about Chicago?” “I won’t listen because of looters”? Will those that do care move on after week, changing nothing? Or will we finally come together to fight for the rights and dignity of every human being?
When a government fails to hold itself accountable, the people are duty-bound to force the state to comply with its original promises. The task is not impossible, and it takes a majority of Americans to end injustice. The first step is to understand the problem. Yesterday’s book was Rise of the Warrior Cop, and today’s is the New Jim Crow. These books sufficiently inform readers about what has happened in the last two weeks as well as a path to ending it.
Seldom does a book have the impact of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Since it was first published in 2010, it has been cited in judicial decisions and has been adopted in campus-wide and community-wide reads; it helped inspire the creation of the Marshall Project and the new $100 million Art for Justice Fund; it has been the winner of numerous prizes, including the prestigious NAACP Image Award; and it has spent nearly 250 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
Most important of all, it has spawned a whole generation of criminal justice reform activists and organizations motivated by Michelle Alexander’s unforgettable argument that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” As the Birmingham News proclaimed, it is “undoubtedly the most important book published in this century about the U.S.”
Now, ten years after it was first published, The New Press is proud to issue a tenth-anniversary edition with a new preface by Michelle Alexander that discusses the impact the book has had and the state of the criminal justice reform movement today.