No excuses: the criminals do it to themselves

Our good friend Wagonwheel wrote:

And then we have voter suppression which is clearly race based, as discussed right here regarding the New Jim Crow, quite appropriate to be aired today on our Martin Luther King Jr’s life celebration day.

The link refers to an article on his site, Bridging the Gap:

“The New Jim Crow”

Posted on January 16, 2012 by Perry

Michelle Alexander is a civil rights advocate and the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which has just been re-released in paperback.

Appropriate for our Martin Luther King Jr day of remembrance, read what she had to say in a recent interview:

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Michelle Alexander.

Michelle Alexander: Thank you.

Amy Goodman: As you join with Randall Robinson in this discussion, it’s also the hundredth anniversary of the ANC in South Africa. And you have talked about how there are more African Americans percentage-wise imprisoned in the United States, more black people, than were at the height of apartheid South Africa.

Michelle Alexander: Yes, yes. You know, I think we’ve become blind in this country to the ways in which we’ve managed to reinvent a caste-like system here in the United States, one that functions in a manner that is as oppressive, in many respects, as the one that existed in South Africa under apartheid and that existed under Jim Crow here in the United States. Although our rules and laws are now officially colorblind, they operate to discriminate in a grossly disproportionate fashion. Through the war on drugs and the “get tough” movement, millions of poor people, overwhelmingly poor people of color, have been swept into our nation’s prisons and jails, branded criminals and felons, primarily for nonviolent and drug-related crimes-the very sorts of crimes that occur with roughly equal frequency in middle-class white neighborhoods and on college campuses but go largely ignored-branded criminals and felons, and then are ushered into a permanent second-class status, where they’re stripped of the many rights supposedly won in the civil rights movement, like the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, and the right to be free of legal discrimination in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits.

I’ll omit some of the middle, but suggest that you can read the whole thing if you follow the link . . . and Wagonwheel could sure use the traffic! But I will quote his concluding paragraph for you:

I question whether this “New Jim Crow” is in the consciousness of most white Americans. I personally am aware of it, but not of all the ramifications. We have another American Tragedy on our hands here, again, so we must work together to rid ourselves of it!!!

WW’s article reminded me of another one on the same subject, that I read yesterday, Stop the School-to-Prison Pipeline on the far-left site truth-out.org.

“Every man in my family has been locked up. Most days I feel like it doesn’t matter what I do, how hard I try – that’s my fate, too.”
–11th-grade African American student, Berkeley, California

This young man isn’t being cynical or melodramatic; he’s articulating a terrifying reality for many of the children and youth sitting in our classrooms—a reality that is often invisible or misunderstood. Some have seen the growing numbers of security guards and police in our schools as unfortunate but necessary responses to the behavior of children from poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods. But what if something more ominous is happening? What if many of our students—particularly our African American, Latina/o, Native American, and Southeast Asian children—are being channeled toward prison and a lifetime of second-class status?

Much more at the link, Now, being the hard-hearted soul that I am, I left the following comment:1

Sorry, but this whole article is just whining. I grew up dirt poor, too, but I managed to avoid going to prison by not breaking the law.

The kids in our schools know what the law is, in its basic form: they know that if they steal, if they knock over a convenience store, if they buy or sell drugs, they are committing crimes and can go to jail for them.

Getting locked up isn’t anyone’s “fate;” getting locked up is a person’s own decision, own choice. You don’t want to go to jail? It’s real simple: don’t break the law!

Now, why is that so difficult to understand? Wagonwheel wishes for us to believe that disenfranchisement due to felony conviction is “clearly race based,” but what it really is is self-selection. You want to knock over a liquor store? If you get caught, you’re going to jail, you’re going to have a criminal record, and all of the disadvantages that come with being a convicted felon, and it’s all your own damned fault.

From The Philadelphia Inquirer:


Life full of promise and charisma cut short

By Darran Simon, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

Kevin Kless had been back in Philadelphia for about six weeks, closer to his college buddies, no longer feeling isolated in Harrisburg.

The 2010 Temple graduate had just started a new job at an insurance firm in the city, and his family said he couldn’t have been happier.

He was a jokester, his mother said. Once for a Halloween party, he donned an Indian headdress, threw a cardboard box over his head, cut out flaps for the cupboards, and went as the Indian in the cupboard from the children’s book.

Last holiday season, when friends wore Santa hats during a night of bar-hopping, he took the festive feeling one step further: He also took a five-foot pine tree with him into the bars, his mother said.

Kless’ life was cut short Saturday when, police said, three men beat him to death on the steps of the historic Second Bank of the United States on Chestnut Street. His assailants smashed his head against a low granite wall in front of the bank building.

More at the link. And why did three assailants beat Mr Kless to death? Mr Kless had apparently tried to hail a taxi, which had it’s “available” light on; the taxi didn’t stop, because the driver already had a passenger. According to the Philadelphia Police, Mr Kless then yelled something along the lines of “Turn off your (fornicating) lights” at the taxi. Three men in a maroon Mazda traveling behind the taxi apparently thought that Mr Kless was yelling at them, had “disrespected” them, so they stopped, got out, and beat him to death.

I would like Wagonwheel, or any of the apologists for such savagery, any of the bleeding hearts who think it’s somehow someone else’s fault but the criminals that they went to jail, just what kind of upbringing, what kind of environment, somehow excuses what those three men did? Those three thugs should spend the rest of their miserable lives in prison, and the fact that the poor dears won’t get to vote does not bother me in the slightest.

They knew that attacking and beating someone was wrong, and they knew that it was against the law. They knew full well that, if they got caught, they’d go to jail for it. It is possible that they didn’t intend or expect the assault to lead to Mr Kless death, though beating the man’s head against a stone wall can certainly be interpreted as an attempt to kill, but they didn’t have to think that he would die to know that they were committing a crime, committing a serious felony.

So, absolutely the last argument that I want to hear, or will ever take seriously, is that voter disenfranchisement for felony convictions is somehow racially biased: felons choose their own actions, themselves, and if most of them are stupid, they aren’t so ignorant as to not know what they are doing is wrong and criminal.
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  1. Individual comments on truth-out.org do not separately link.

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