Renowned civil rights attorney and advocate Michelle Alexander spoke to hundreds of University of Wisconsin–Madison students and community members Thursday at Union South.
Author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” and previous director of the Civil Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School, Alexander spoke as part of the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Distinguished Lecture Series.
Alexander focused her speech on what she believed was racial discrimination within the U.S. justice system, saying the “war on drugs” particularly targets African Americans, who she said are nine times more likely to be arrested than white citizens for drug-related crimes.
“I argue that today in the so-called era of color blindness and even in the age of [President] Obama, something akin to a caste system is alive and well in America,” Alexander said. “It is, in my view, the moral equivalent of Jim Crow.”
Inspiring Alexander’s movement was her encounter with a 19-year-old African American teen who kept a record showing his experience with police discrimination in Oakland that he experienced over a nine-month period. Later investigations found police beat and planted drugs on him, resulting in an undeserved felony. According to Alexander, such felony charges prevent people from ever obtaining employment, housing or even food stamps upon their release.
Alexander called for a more favorable prisoner release system that would allow released inmates back into the job market and on track to financial stability.
“Prisons are out of sight and out of mind,” Alexander said. “And the people who cycle in and out of these prisons cycle in and out of their impoverished, often segregated communities into prisons, and then back out again.”
Alexander said government officials fail to pay direct attention to the issue and urged the public to become involved in helping end the hidden segregation occurring in the justice system that “would have certainly had Dr. King turning in his grave.”