Alexander at IU Northwest: King would be ‘bursting with pride’ over Ferguson protests

Author and activist Michelle Alexander called Tuesday for a new movement for social justice that brings together advocates for poor people, prisoners and their families, immigrants, minorities and other groups that are denied justice.

“We’ve got to be able to connect the dots and build a multiracial, multi-ethnic human rights movement,” she said. “Our challenge is not simply to change the law but to change public consciousness.”

Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander speaks at IU Northwest. (Photo by Erika Rose).

Alexander, a law professor and the author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” spoke at Indiana University Northwest in connection with its “One Book … One Campus … One Community” initiative. The lecture was live broadcast to other IU campuses.

In a talk that was part of multi-campus Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances, Michelle decried the tendency to ignore King’s radical critique of inequality. She reminded listeners that, when King was killed, he was organizing a “poor people’s campaign” for economic justice.

“We must not forget that he died a revolutionary,” she said.

“The New Jim Crow” argues that harsh criminal laws and procedures, especially the war on drugs, disproportionately target people of color and have supplanted slavery and racial segregation as a system of social control. She said the nation’s prison population exploded from 300,000 to 2 million in a recent 30-year period, before starting a small decline in recent years.

People who have been convicted of crimes, she said, routinely face legal discrimination in housing and employment and are unable to vote in many states.

“The ‘whites only’ signs have come down, but other signs have gone up,” she said.

Alexander said police and prosecutors probably don’t set out to target minorities. But fear-based laws and policies produce a system in which people of color are much more likely to be charged with drug offenses, even though studies show white people are just as likely to use and to sell drugs.

“These unconscious biases and stereotypes have infected all of us,” she said. “They lead to enormous disparities in our criminal justice system.”

Alexander said there is cause for optimism in the protests that broke out last year in response to police killings of black men and youth in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere, and especially in the fact that young people have led the protests.

“I can tell you, when I think of these protesters, I feel nothing but pride,” she said. “And I can tell you Dr. King would be bursting with pride.”

Tags: ,