01/29/12 Michelle Alexander

Century of Lies

"Stop & Frisk in NYC" w/ Michelle Alexander author of New Jim Crow + Jamal Mims, Mary Black & Benita Rivera from Building Bridges

Audio file


Century of Lies / January 29, 2012


DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


DEAN BECKER: Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. Today we’re going up to New York, WBAI. We’re going to tune into a recent “Building Bridges.”


MIMI ROSENBERG: This is Building Bridges – your community and labor report produced and hosted by Mimi Rosenberg and Ken Nash. “Stopping the NYPD’s ‘Stop and Frisk’”

More than 700, 000, according to the NYPD documentation, predominantly African-Americans and Latinos have been profiled for Stops and Frisks as a result of what is now referred to as “The New Jim Crow Policies of Policing.”

KEN NASH: Policing that inflicts state terror on communities of color. In a response to the increasing criminalization of communities of color is a burgeoning movement prepared to stop Stop and Frisk as they say, “No” to “The New Jim Crow.”

First we’ll hear from Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of color blindness”, as she spoke at Harlem’s Baptist Church.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: The War on Drugs and the “Get Tough” movement are waging a punitiveness that washed over the United States. What changed dramatically was not crime but what gets defined as crime and how we respond to it.

And nothing has contributed more to this harsh response than the War on Drugs. Drug convictions alone account for 2/3r ds of the increase in the federal prison system and more than half of the increase in the state prison system between 1985 and 2000.

Drug convictions increased more than 1,000% since the Drug War began. There are more people in prison jails today just for drug offences than were incarcerated for all reasons in 1980.

Now most Americans violate drug laws in their lifetime. But the Drug War, not by accident, has been raged almost exclusively in poor communities of color even though studies have consistently shown people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites.

A white kid living at home doesn’t drive to the hood to get his marijuana or his meth or his cocaine. He gets it most likely from somebody in his own race down the road. In fact, where significant differences in the survey data suggest that white people are more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black people.

But that’s not what you would guess by taking a peek inside our nation’s prisons and jails that are overflowing with black and brown drug offenders. 80 to 90% of all drug offenders sent to prison have been African-Americans.

Many people when they see the data are stunned and they say, “Yeah, that’s awful but we need to keep waging a drug war in those ghetto communities because that’s where the violent members can be found. That’s where the drug kingpins are found. We have to get tough with them.”

In my experience most people seem to think the War on Drugs was declared in response to the emergence of crack-cocaine. But it’s not true.

President Ronald Reagan declared the current drug war in 1982 at a time when drug crime was on the decline. He declared the drug war before – not after – crack became a media sensation.

President Richard Nixon was the first to coin the term a “War on Drugs” but it was President Ronald Reagan that turned horrible war into a literal war. At the time he declared the war drug crime was actually on the decline and less than 3% of the population identified drugs as the nation’s most pressing concern.

So why declare a drug war at a time when drug crime is declining and the population isn’t much concerned about drugs? The answer is the drug war had little to do with genuine concern about drug addiction or drug abuse and nearly everything to do with politics – racial politics.

The War on Drugs is a Republican strategy known as the Southern Strategy. It was a racially coded get tough on issues of crime and welfare to appeal to poor and working-class whites in the south who were resentful of, fearful of and anxious about gains of African-Americans in the Civil Rights movement.

Pollsters and political strategist found that thinly-veiled promises to get tough on a group of people not so suddenly aligned by race could be enormously successful in persuading poor and working-class white people back from the Democratic coalition to join the Republican party in droves.

In fact H.R. Haldeman, Richard Nixon’s Chief of Staff, explained the strategy this way, “The whole problem is with the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

Where do we go from here? Those of us in the civil rights community – we’ve allowed a human rights nightmare to occur on our watch.

While many of us, myself included, fighting for affirmative action, fighting to cling to the gains of the past millions of people rounded up, stripped of their rights - people gave their lives for.

So what do we do? Over the last few decades one trillion dollars have been spent waging the Drug War. Funding that could have been used for education in our communities, for job creation instead those dollars were being used for destruction of so many of our families, our communities and our dreams.

What do we do? Nothing short of a major social movement has any hope of ending mass incarceration in America.

If you think piecemeal policy reform is enough, if you think tinkering with this machine will get it right – consider this. If we were to return to the rates of incarceration that we had in the 1970s, before the War on Drugs, we would have at least 4 out of 5 people out of prison today. More than a million people are employed by the criminal justice system would lose their jobs. Private prison companies listed on the New York stock exchange would be forced to watch their pockets empty.

This system is now so deeply rooted in our political, economic structure it’s not just going to fade away. It’s not going to just fade away without a major social upheaval – a radical shift in our times.

How do we build this system? We’ve got to be willing to admit out loud that we as a nation have managed to rebirth cast-like system in the United States. We’ve got to be willing to tell the truth in our churches, in our schools and our communities because if we fail to really wake up – we will never build the type of movement that is necessary to end this.

But even that is not enough. Conscious raising is not enough. We’ve got to be willing to build an underground railroad for the people returning home. People who are struggling to make a true break to freedom have got to be supported, have got to be welcomed with open arms, with love.

There are people doing life sentences for first time drug offences. No other country in the world does that. We’ve got to stop this “Us vs.Them” and instead say there but for the grace of God go I.

All of us are sinners. All of us have made mistakes and done wrong and all of us need to be given second and third and fourth chances because none of us have made only one mistake in our life.

Support those returning home and the families who are struggling to survive and we’ve also got to be willing to work for an end to this system. And that means ending the War on Drugs once and for wall. It means abolishing all the laws that authorize legal discrimination against people in employment, housing and access to public benefits.

And last but not least we’ve got to shift from a purely punitive approach when dealing with violence in our community to a rehabilitative and a restorative approach.

We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to end mandatory-minimum sentences and Stop and Frisk practices and federal funding for sheer numbers of drug arrests. We’ve got a lot of work to do.

A multi-racial, multi-ethnic human rights movement must be born. A movement that respects and honors the dignity and humanity of all people. This has got to be a multi-racial movement because although this War on Drugs was born with black persons in mind – it is a war that destroys the lives of people of all colors.

And the same divisive, racial policies used for mass incarceration is now being played out on immigrants as the target. So we got to connect the dots and build a multi-racial, multi-ethnic movement out of all of us.

But before this movement can get on its way – awakening is required. We’ve got to awaken from this colorblind slumber that we’ve been in to the realities of race in America. Our refusal to recognize the dignity and humanity of all people that has been the nomination for every cast system that has ever existed in the United States or anywhere else in the world.

It’s our task to end not just mass incarceration but to end this history and cycle of cast in America.

MIMI ROSENBERG: Michelle Alexander to a standing ovation at Abyssinian Baptist Church.


DEAN BECKER: Alright, you are tuned into the Century of Lies show on the Drug Truth Network on Pacifica Radio. We have extracted the majority of a recent “Building Bridges: Your community and labor report”, a national edition. It’s produced by Ken Nash and Mimi Rosenberg.


MIMI ROSENBERG: We now bring you this sound from a rally and press conference in front of the Manhattan Criminal Court in support of Mary Black whose son was arrested when he said no to Stop and Frisk”

KEN NASH: We’ll hear from parents Mary Black and Benita Rivera, Latisha James city council member and Occupy Wall Streeter Jamal Mims.

MIMI ROSENBERG: We head to the sound.

CROWD: No more Stop and Frisk. No more Stop and Frisk.

MIMI ROSENBERG: We are in front of 100 Center Street, the criminal court in Manhattan. Jamal, this is one of a number of stop Stop and Frisk activities I’ve certainly seen you at. You’ve been arrested yourself at stop Stop and Frisk. Why are these important issues to you?

JAMAL MIMS: Actually coming right off a presentation of Michelle’s new paperback release of “The New Jim Crow” she really went into how the Civil Rights movement of old has had a huge let down in letting the system of mass incarceration in this new cast system, this new underclass of repeatedly incarcerated or otherwise Stop and Frisk black and Latino youth and letting this new underclass form.

We are out at the 32nd precinct really drawing from the community and telling the stories of the community and people who have been repeatedly harassed by police there and who have come to gain some clarity on the actual role of the police in neighborhoods and society.

I’ve been a part of this action and have gotten arrested and done some civil disobedience similar to the way that the Freedom Riders and Freedom Fighters challenged the old Jim Crow with civil disobedience.

Simple things like stepping up to a lunch counter that were deemed illegal to do so with people of different races now we go out and stop the illegal actions of the NYPD through Stop and Frisk, through shutting these precincts down, gaining awareness around the issue altogether. This is a human rights issue of our time.

MIMI ROSENBERG: Why is there this targeting of young, primarily black and Latinos in the urban areas?

JAMAL MIMS: What you see is a total narrative framed around ideas of safety and around ideas of keeping the community safe, keeping them away from criminals or people who resemble criminals. This conversation totally ignores the overt criminalization of those youth and really where this source comes from.

A lot of this policy actually preceeds any of the justification for it. You have things like the War on Drugs preceeding the introduction of crack-cocaine and mass amounts of drugs being such a ubiquitous thing in black and underclass communities.The War on Drugs actually preceeded that.

You have what is really the counter insurgency before the insurgency. This system learned a lot in the 60s and 70s from the conditions of black and Latinos and their struggle and coming up and knowing that within those people are the seeds of making this system a lot more egalitarian and undoing it and that’s a very threatening thing.

So you have policies like Stop and Frisk that overtly target specific populations as well as a lot of political ramifications as far as bringing in a largely white and middle-class vote from swing states. All the language of being tough on crime that was developed during the Clinton administration.

There’s a lot of political undercurrents but the main reason is the counter insurgency before the insurgency and this thing that has stemmed from the War on Drugs that Nixon began with “the problem is the blacks.” They just need to find something to do about it without being overt about saying that. There’s a lot of racially coded language that was pushed through.

JAMAL MIMS: People should get involved to have a little more lead way to get involved. People who might not have otherwise get involved in the criminal justice system and I guess in our society most people who get involved in the criminal justice system are people of color.

It seems like white people have a lot more options and could maybe use some of their privilege to draw attention to a serious emergency issue.

MIMI ROSENBERG: What do you mean privilege?

JAMAL MIMS: Just that in New York City, in my experience, white people aren’t subject to this policy. They say that over 10% of the people who are stopped and frisked are white but honestly I feel that if they’re lying about anything they are lying about that because I have never seen a white person stopped and frisked in New York City.

MIMI ROSENBERG: And you are?

BENITA RIVERA: Juanita Rivera. I’m the co-founder of Mothers’ Agenda New York also known as the MANY.

MIMI ROSENBERG: Why did you come down here to support Mary Black and to raise up this issue of Stop and Frisk?

BENITA RIVERA: Because Mary Black’s son is my son. All of us mothers need to put our foot down and say, “It’s enough. It’s absolutely enough.”

This fear and horrific terrorizing and traumatizing of our children and what we feel in our guts every time they leave our view and until they come home safely and without incident – this is horrendous. This should not be happening in New York City.

Children, young men, our brothers, our husbands, our sons, our fathers should be able to “walk while black/while Latino” in all areas of New York City. They have not committed a crime because of the color of their skin.

This racial profiling of our humanity is unacceptable. The mothers of this city need to rise up and say so.


MARY BLACK: I want to thank each and every one of ya’ll for coming out and supporting me. This was a day that I hoped I wouldn’t have to endure. Unfortunately I’m here because of an act that is unjust because my son is not a criminal. He’s a very good kid.

He’s caught up in a policy that the New York City police department has enacted and that’s to stop and frisk.

One day I was home. I had just come home from school and he had just left out the house. He was gone no longer than 5 minutes when my bell rung. It was a neighbor telling me that the cops had my son up against the wall. He was on his way to the gym at that moment.

I ran downstairs with just my robe and my socks and it was a cold day and I seen him handcuffed in the back of the police car. I know a lot of you probably can’t relate to it but as a mother when you see your child being treated as a criminal when you know that you taught him morals, values and standards and ways to carry on to lead a productive life….at that moment all of that went out the door.

When I approached the officer and ask him what did my son do and could I see him – I was told no. I would have to go to the precinct. When I did get to the precinct I asked them what he had done and why was he arrested. Their response was, “He talked too much.”

So now, as a mother, I had to beg and I asked him to please just think of what I’m doing. I’m trying to raise him to be a good kid. Go to school. Get your education and do what you need to do in life. At that moment I broke down. I told him, “He’s a good kid. Just give me a chance. Don’t arrest him.”

He agreed to give him a desk appearance and not send him in for booking. That moment should have never occurred. I, being a mother, have to stand out and say you have to look at me because I am someone. My child is someone. He is not a criminal. Whatever policy they have has to be looked at and asked do people like myself and many others that are standing around deserve for our children to be treated this way.

That’s why I’m here this morning to let the world know that if anyone is experiencing this – the way we’re going to get our voice heard is by speaking up. If we don’t speak up they are going to look at as if this what they can do because nobody’s going to say anything.

I just want to let everybody know that I’m here this morning and I’m a working mom. His father is a working father. We should not be here today. This is really unnecessary day for both of us. But as a mom and the way that he was treated I really felt bad because when you see your child in a police car – you know that that’s your child. But once those handcuffs go on you have no say so over your child. That was a hurting moment for me because there was nothing that I could do.

I just want a lot of us to speak out and do something about this because this really has to stop because it affects people’s lives. It affects children’s lives. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing what I need to do.

Another point I want to make is that the reason I’m so adamant about it now is because in a 5 month period my son had 4 summons and 1 arrest and that’s one of the reasons that I’m adamant about doing something about this.

When you look at it…5 months – 4 summons and 1 arrest something is wrong with that picture. I’m a mother that keeps very close tabs on my child. He doesn’t run from here, there – all over the place. This was done within a 2 block radius from home. Now you ask yourself what’s wrong with that.

When he got arrested he was up against the wall right across the street from where I live after being out of the house for 5 minutes. I just want everyone to know that we have to do something. As a mother I’m here to ask anyone that can feel the pain that I feel to please come forward and help me get an agenda across that something has to be done.

We should not be terrorized or feel like we’re being terrorized because I can’t rest in my home. When my son goes out the door I am literally scared that he won’t come back home. I’m constantly calling him, texting him, “Where is he”.

I know his freedom is gone as well as mine. I can’t rest. I can’t even get undressed if he’s not in the house because I don’t know when that moment will come again.

I just wanted to let everyone know the experience that I experienced and I know that I shouldn’t have to go through that.


DEAN BECKER: Once again we’re tuned into a recent Building Bridges: Your community and labor report, the national edition produced by Ken Nash and Mimi Rosenberg. I got to say it’s wonderful to see more and more broadcasters talking about the horrors and stupidity of everlasting drug war.


LATISHA JAMES: My name is Latisha James and I’m a member of the New York City council. Yesterday we celebrated Dr. King’s birthday. The mayor attended several events and based on media reports in two events, one in Brooklyn and one in Harlem, he was jeered. He was primarily jeered because of the policies related to “Stop and Frisk.”

Police Commissioner Kelly unfortunately does not recognize that we have a problem in New York City. The reality is that 1 out of every 2 African-American male child will be stopped and frisked in their life. That is absolutely unconscionable and should be a shock to anyone who has a conscience.

Quite simply the end does not justify the means. The means unfortunately is not resulting in any reduction in crime. It is producing the criminalization of an entire generation.

In my district in Brooklyn this past summer a number of college kids came home and most of them were stopped and frisked as they went out. A majority of them were young college kids who just came home for the summer in what has been somewhat described as a working-class/middle-class community. Their only crime is that they were young and black and male. That really should not be the case in New York City.

The law basically says that the only reason you should stop and frisk someone is based on some sort of objective criteria because you could observe perhaps a gun. There’s some sort of indicia that in fact they’re carrying a gun or pose a threat to someone – not based on the fact that they are young, black and male.

Crime in certain community also, the courts have said, is not a basis for stopping and frisking anyone which is illegal, unconstitutional, abusive and in violation of the rights of all of us.

We are here today because if they can come after young, black males – they can come after all of us. We do not want to live in a society where the only basis for the police officers abusing their authority is because you’re young, black and male.

We urge the mayor to really examine these policies. As someone who examined these policies when I was in the Assistant Attorney General’s office there’s a number of recommendations that have not been implemented. That was under former Attorney General Spitzer. Nothing has been done. These abuses continue.

Unfortunately they abuse the system by arresting individuals for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration – all of these subjective crimes which unfortunately have been used to violate the rights of young, black men and also to justify their arrests.

We as good conscious individual of good consciousness need to stand up and say to the mayor of New York City and Police Commissioner Kelly that, “You need to cease and desist and respect the rights of all individuals.”

This would not be happening in neighborhoods that do not look like mine. We should not live in a world particularly, again, after we celebrated Dr. King and after Mayor Michael Bloomberg took to the podium and said we should respect Dr. King and live out his legacy and his dream. We should not engage in these policies clearly based on race.

My name is Latisha James. I’m a member of the New York City council and a member of the progressive caucus of the city council. I never want to hold any more mother’s hands and never want to get any more calls in the middle of the night saying, “Tish, they’ve arrested my child. I need you.”

Those are some of worst calls and unfortunately I get them all too often. In fact most elected officials of color get them and that should not be the case in the city of New York.

Mayor Bloomberg, put a stop to this “Stop and Frisk” practices in the city of New York. Honor Dr. King by examining these policies and stopping them immediately.

Thank you.


DEAN BECKER: I want to thank Ken Nash and Mimi Rosenberg for a great edition of Building Bridges. You can check them out WBAI. I want to thank all the good folks out there who are standing forth, who are speaking up, who are challenging the status quo and who are trying bring an end to, again, what else is there but madness of this drug war which enriches our terrorist enemies, has caused 45,000 Mexican deaths in the last 5 years and which has created more than 30,000 violent U.S. gangs selling contaminated drugs to our children at a 17,000% markup.

How insane can a policy be? So, once again, I urge you to do your part to end the madness. Please visit our website which is endprohibiton.org. It points you to all kinds of great reform organizations. Prohibido istac evilesco!


For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

Drug Truth programs archived at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.Drugsense.org