This week President Obama commuted the sentences of “46 non-violent drug offenders.” In commuting these sentences, Obama is doing his thing to lead and otherwise contribute to the race-based assault on law enforcement.
As I noted a while back, if you want to get a handle on this particular assault, you must acquaint yourself with Michelle Alexander and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.. Published in paperback in 2012, the book is now in its eighteenth printing with a new foreword by Cornel West. In his foreword, West declares it “the secular bible for a new social movement.” This is one bible to which Obama subscribes with all his heart.
What social movement is West talking about? It’s the one we’ve seen on display in Ferguson and Baltimore and elsewhere across the United States over the past year. It’s a social movement that has taken root in the White House and the Department of Justice.
Alexander’s book represents the state of the art in the assault on law enforcement in the name of racial disparities. The American Civil Liberties has placed itself at the heart of this movement for at least 20 years. Alexander’s work on the issue originated in her work for the ACLU; Alexander served as director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Project in northern California.
Alexander now pursues her assault from within the academy as an associate professor of law at Ohio State University. She holds a joint appointment at the Kiran Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. She clerked for Abner Mikva on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals and for Harry Blackmun at the Supreme Court.
As you might expect given her background and her appointments, the book comes in a scholarly wrapping. It footnotes assertions of facts and data with citations to sources in the traditional style of legal scholarship, but the footnotes frequently fail to support the text. Moreover, and more to the point, basic scholarship that contradicts her theses goes missing. Following David Harris’s tack in Profiles In Injustice, Alexander’s scholarship is a pretense.
Alexander’s husband — Carter Mitchell Stewart — is an Assistant United States Attorney. As such, he has first-hand experience in the operation of the criminal justice system. If one were to take the book seriously, one would conclude that Alexander’s husband is instrumental to “the new Jim Crow” that she decries. She is literally in bed with an enforcer of “the new Jim Crow.” In her acknowledgements, Alexander graciously notes: “As a federal prosecutor, he does not share my views of the criminal justice system.” Alexander apparently doesn’t even take herself seriously.
Alexander’s book is not itself a work of scholarship. It is a polemic. It is, more accurately, a work of obfuscation in the service of political propaganda. As propaganda, it is an unsavory piece of work at that.
If one attempts to take it seriously, one will find it a source of frustration. Alexander announces in the first sentence of her preface: “This is not a book for everyone.” It is one of the few genuinely truthful sentence in the book.
Alexander’s book has gone mainstream. It spent 35 weeks on the New York Times paperback best seller list. The book deserves serious critical attention.
Some knowledgeable conservative scholar needs to attend to Alexander’s book. It is a deeply false and pernicious work. To my knowledge, however, the closest we have to such a necessary critique is the Spring 2008 City Journal essay by the invaluable Heather Mac Donald: “Is the criminal justice system racist?”
Mac Donald’s essay predates the publication of Alexander’s book, but Mac Donald anticipates and refutes Alexander’s essential theses. Students of rhetoric, I believe what we have here is a sweet case of prolepsis.
Now at the Weekly Standard John Walters comments specifically on Obama’s commutations earlier this week. The commutations, he notes, belie the charge of mass incarceration made by Obama, Alexander, West, and others:
[J]ust who is Obama releasing? Not “low-level, drug-possession offenders” or marijuana users. No, he is releasing crack dealers, cocaine dealers, and methamphetamine dealers. Most of the 46 were crack cocaine distributors, some convicted of dealing more than 10 pounds of crack.
Moreover, some of these felony drug dealers were also convicted of a gun crime, such as, “possession of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense.”
So, President Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder attacked the entire American criminal justice system, charging that large numbers of individuals were routinely imprisoned for non-violent drug possession. And after months of searching they have found no such individuals—none. But they will release a tiny group of convicted drug dealers and armed felons.
Before responsible Republicans and Democrats are stampeded into more of the Obama agenda on crime, they should look closely at these 46 examples of the true size of the problem and actual criminal histories they are asked to ignore. And if they care about the victims of crime—past, present, and future—they will stand against President Obama’s agenda on crime and punishment.
As we used to say back in the day, right on.
NOTE: This post is adapted from “Deep secrets of racial profiling (4).”