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Feb-10-2012 18:38printcomments

Jim Crow Never Left

With a faltering economy, states cannot continue continual prison growth.

Symbol of Jim Crow, the cork-faced minstrel.
Symbol of Jim Crow, the cork-faced minstrel.

(SAN FRANCISCO ) - In his article, "The Caging of America" in the January 30, 2012 issue of The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik quotes Robert Perkin's "Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire," which argues that the South is "the fountainhead of subjugationist discipline." That is, America's prison system is a slave plantation, a way of reimposing Jim Crow.

Jim Crow was not the name of an actual person. Rather, it was a stereotype; the name of a rigid racial caste system. But it was more than a series of rigid anti-Black laws enacted from 1876 to 1965. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens and and Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-Black racism.

Remember, "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett and later the movie adaptation? While the book and especially the movie are a bit stereotypical and melodramatic, they do provide a somewhat white-washed, somewhat sanitized view of the Jim Crow laws. There is a section in the book where Skeeter, the main white character, is at the library and finds a little booklet titled, "Compilation of Jim Crow Laws of the South." Skeeter has never seen these laws in print before and is "mesmerized by how many laws exist to separate us." If you can get over the disbelief that Skeeter, a 22-year old white women born and raised in the South was so naive about Jim Crow laws and the plight of blacks in Jackson, Mississippi, the book is worth reading and the movie worth seeing, especially the performances of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, both Academy Award nominees.

The United States has the disgraceful distinction of being the world's largest jailer with over 2 million incarcerated. We are ahead of Russia and China. And African Americans are disproportional imprisoned due to discriminatory laws, biased enforcement, and sentencing even though white Americans commit crimes at the same rate as people of color. One-in-nine black men aged 20-34 is incarcerated.

In 2007, states spent more than $44 billion on incarceration and related expenses, an increase of 127 percent since 1987, and the cost to states is expected to be an additional $25 billion to 2011. With a faltering economy, states cannot continue this prison growth.

In Sneak Preview of "Slavery By Another Name," to be shown on PBS on February 12, 2012, the program debunks the idea that slavery ended with the Declaration of Independence.  In fact, the enslavement of black Southerners continued under the guise of convict labor -- or convict leasing -- from the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of World War II and was often as brutal and arbitrary as during slavery.  Southern states enacted numerous criminal laws aimed at blacks.  For example, it was a crime to be unemployed or to be employed and look for another job without permission and sent back to their employers to work off their debt as convict laborers.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery except as a sentence for a crime. Thus, for example, a farmer could not force a black person to work to pay off a private debt, but the state could force a black person to work off fines levied against them, and then the state could sell their labor to farmers and factories. Employers paid the state to lease the prisoners. Thus, those charged with arresting people had an economic interest in arresting more people because their profits increased.

Consider that more than half of all black men without a high school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Blacks are now imprisoned seven times more often as whites. There are more black men in prison, on parole, or probation than were in slavery. African Americans go from police harassment to imprisonment, to invisible control where they are prevented from voting, discriminated against, and most likely become imprisoned again. According to Perkins, "White supremacy is the real principle, . . . [white] racial domination is the real end." If that is the goal of our prison system, then it is a great success.

Jim Crow is alive and well today.

___________________________________ writer Ralph E. Stone was born in Massachusetts. He is a graduate of both Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School. We are very fortunate to have this writer's talents in this troubling world; Ralph has an eye for detail that others miss. As is the case with many writers, Ralph is an American Veteran who served in war. Ralph served his nation after college as a U.S. Army officer during the Vietnam war. After Vietnam, he went on to have a career with the Federal Trade Commission as an Attorney specializing in Consumer and Antitrust Law. Over the years, Ralph has traveled extensively with his wife Judi, taking in data from all over the world, which today adds to his collective knowledge about extremely important subjects like the economy and taxation. You can send Ralph an email at this address

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Anonymous February 11, 2012 5:57 pm (Pacific time)

This article is completely bogus in regards to blacks causing crime at the lower levels of whites. Let's be intellectually honest. Do it for the black kids so they know that they are out of control. Unbelievable lies. Why Ralph? You think everyone is stupid?

Editor I sincerely doubt your ability to be intellectual about anything, I've never met a bigot with a high IQ, they rarely exist.  Black people were owned when your ancestors were murdering the Native Americans,  They were subjugated right into the early 60's and then it took MLK and others to break the back of the racist society you cling to.  In WWII all Blacks were segregated, almost a century after the Civil War.  Then who was it that was in office when the guns for drugs program began flooding America's poverty stricken cities?  Oh yeah, Reagan, another white racist.  Sick, I spit in the face of this machine you represent, living in fear and cowardice of things you don't understand.  Sure, you're a product of your environment, racists breed racists; but in the end it is no excuse because even racists know right from wrong in their hearts.   

Anonymous February 11, 2012 10:27 am (Pacific time)

Ralph it's truely unfortunate about the crime rates out there, but it is what it is. Do you have any ideas on how to ameliorate this criminal behavior? New ideas that have not been tried on micro/macro levels? Since the 1960's we have spent trillions (yes, $trillions) to change behaviors and lift people out of poverty. The black illigitimate birthrate has gone from 25% (1960's) to over 75% in some urban areas. One of the biggest indicators of future crime behavior for adults is the crime rate of our youth. Please see this report by the CDC (from FBI collected data), it's pretty scary, and it is what it is. I have seen so many different programs over the years, maybe it's time for current black leadership to listen to people like Bill Cosby? If not, I believe things will worsen (that is the trend), and the blowback may become very intense.

Editor: Gonna be on your porch with a shotgun grandpa?  Thanks for the laugh, and I am laughing, this article absolutely nails it and all of the ugliness just flows forth, so you think a super rich guy like Cosby is the leader whose call is being missed?  Fine, he's the 1%, any idea what that means?  The kids in the inner cities should follow Cosby, how do they do that again?  Oh yeah.. they act white, right?  Geez....

Douglas Benson February 10, 2012 8:41 pm (Pacific time)

Its no longer about skin color its about rich and poor .We are now all slaves to the "man" . Citizens have become state property instead of free men. Statutory law was for the freed slaves,common law is for free men ,now we are all slaves .

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