[Note: This is the third installment in a series on Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. For other posts in this series see:

I’ve moved away from the discussion/commentary structure of my previous posts in this series to instead just listing the main sources that Alexander cites, along with the facts they reference. My impression has been that most people reading this series are scrolling through for relevant information to aid their own research. Hopefully formatting each post to more clearly focus on the sources and facts will be more helpful.]

the new jim crow

In Chapter 3, Alexander focuses her attention on the racial disparities between groups in the criminal justice system that cannot be explained by higher rates of crime, drugs, or other factors. Here are the major talking points and some of the evidence she offers in support:

1. African Americans are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and unfairly associated with criminality.

One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008

  • In 2006, about 1 in every 14 Black men were imprisoned compared to 1 in 106 white men. For young black men, there was 1 for every 9 in prison. Such racial disparities cannot be explained by rates of drug activity. Yet drug arrests account for the majority of those imprisoned.

Correctional Populations in the United States, 2010

  • Over 7 million adults (7,100,000) were under some form of correctional control as of 2010. Of these 7 million adults, only about 2 million (2,266,800) were actually in prison or jail. The rest live in a caste-system crafted for the modern day. Permanently branded as criminals or felons, they must shoulder the status of second-class citizen for the rest of their lives.

Report of the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission

  • In one case study of Cook County Chicago, 72 percent of those entering the criminal justice system had been arrested on a drug charge, and the majority of those arrested were charged with the lowest-level felony charge.

Automaticity of Social Behavior

  • Participants primed with images of African Americans responded with more hostility than those who were not primed with images of African Americans, seeming to suggest a subconscious association of black people with aggression.

Prime Suspects

  • For the purposes of this study, “New Racism” was defined as “1) denial that discrimination against African Americans continues; 2) a sense that Blacks have violated traditional American values of hard work and self-reliance; 3) a perception that Blacks make illegitimate demands; 4) the belief that Blacks receive undeserved benefits from government.” The study measured the level of support participants expressed for New Racism.
  • Exposure to any element of violent crime strengthened the measure of “New Racism” in participants. In particular, seeing a black perpetrator raised the number of White participants in favor of new racism from 40 percent to over 50 percent.
  • Exposure to a Black perpetrator had the greatest impact on support for punitive measures.

Looking Deathworthy

  • The more stereotypically “black” a defendant looked, the more likely they were to be sentenced to death. The likelihood of receiving the death penalty more than doubled for those with the most “black-looking” faces.
  • Astonishingly, Black people who looked more stereotypically “black” were more likely to be sentenced to death only if their victims were White.

Seeing Black

  • Participants primed with Black faces detected crime-relevant objects significantly faster than participants primed with White faces. In fact, priming participants with White faces actually reduced participants’ ability to detect crime-related objects.
  • When primed with crime, participants located the Black face significantly faster than the White face. When primed with no crime, the pattern reversed, and participants located the White face faster.
  • Police officers were significantly more likely to direct their attention to the Black face than the white face when primed with crime-related words. When primed with no crime, the pattern once again reversed, and police officers directed their attention to the White face.
  • Police officers were more likely to falsely identify the stereotypically Black face when primed with crime, even when the actual perpetrator was in the lineup.
  • Police officers were shown images of 2 men and asked, “Who looks criminal?” Black faces were more likely to be judged as criminal. Those with the most stereotypically “black” faces were more likely to be judged criminal than any other group in the study.

The Influence of Afrocentric Facial Features in Criminal Sentencing

  • Inmates with more Afrocentric features received harsher sentences than those with less Afrocentric features


2. Blacks and Hispanics are consistently targeted for arrest and prosecution, even when Blacks and Hispanics commit crimes and use drugs at the same or lower rates than Whites.

Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs

  • In seven states, African Americans constitute 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison.

Schools and Prisons: Fifty Years After Brown v. Board of Education

  • Although the majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white, three-fourths of all people imprisoned for drug offenses are Black or Latino.

Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report

  • Crime rates do not explain the huge disparities in arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. Surveys indicate that people of all races use and sell illegal drugs at similar rates, and if disparities are found, they actually indicate that White people (particularly White youth) are more likely to engage in illegal drug activity than people of color.

Monitoring the Future, National Survey Results on Drug Use

  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported in 2000 that Black youth are the least likely of any ethnic group to be guilty of drug possession and sales.

Race to Incarcerate

  • The rise in incarceration has no connection to increasing crime. Between 1970 and 2010, the incarceration rate continued to skyrocket regardless of overall crime trends.

Reducing Racial Disparities in Juvenile Detention

  • In 1997, White youth accounted for 71 percent of juveniles arrested for crimes but only 37 percent of those committed to a detention facility
  • From 1997-1998, Black youth were only 15 percent of juvenile population, “but 26 percent of youth arrested, 31 percent of youth referred to juvenile court, and 44 percent of youth detained.”
  • When Black and White youth with no prior offense were charged with the same exact crime, Black youth were 6 times more likely to be incarcerated and Latino youth 3 times more likely.
  • 3 out of every 4 youth in state prison were minority in 1997

And Justice for Some

  • In 2007, White youth were 69 percent of cases but only 58 percent of cases waved to adult court for drug cases. Black youth were 29 percent of drug cases but 41 percent of cases waived to adult court

Race, Drugs, and Policing

  • Whites account for the vast majority of heroine, meth, and ecstasy transactions (81.9%, 55.1%, 83.3%) and a plurality of powder cocaine transactions (34.6%)

Drug Use, Drug Possession Arrests, and the Question of Race

  • Crack cocaine and heroine both accounted for the same amount of outdoor drug exchanges in Seattle (33%). But crack cocaine, which is predominantly used by African Americans, accounted for 75% of arrests while heroine only 16%.
  • Seattle’s crack market was found to be less violent in Seattle than other drug markets — 25.9% of heroin arrests involved guns but only 2.3% of crack arrests.
  • Operations targeting “street dealers,” which deal in mostly minority communities, yielded only .1 grams of illegal drugs and about $0.33 in seized funds per officer-hour. Search warrant arrests (indoors), which were more often completed in White communities, yielded about 52 grams of illegal drugs and about $749 per officer-hour.
  • Street arrests, which occur predominantly in communities of color, outnumbered indoor arrests by 15 to 1. But only an average of 2 weapons per street operation were seized compared to 52 weapons per search-warrant operation.
  • 72% of drug possession arrests occur outdoors.
  • In the Capitol Hill area of Chicago, blacks made up only 3% of people who purchased drugs outdoors but over 20% of those arrested for drug possession


3. Stop and frisk policies unfairly target people of color even though they are no more likely to turn up drugs and other contraband than Whites.

Color of Drivers is Key to Stops

  • Volusia County, Florida examined by Orlando Sentinel. About 70% of stopped motorists were Black or Hispanic, 80% of searched cars were owned by Blacks or Hispanics, less than 1% of all stops resulted in a traffic ticket, 90% of drivers from whom money was confiscated were black or Hispanic, 70% of these cases involved no criminal charges
  • Blacks and Hispanics were only 5 percent of the drivers on the stretch of I-95 being reviewed (see “Driving While Black and All Other Traffic Offenses”)
  • Blacks and Hispanics were detained twice as long as Whites

Driving While Black or Brown

  • Blacks and Hispanics were 2.5 times more likely to be searched than Whites, Native Americans more than 3 times as likely as Whites to be stopped
  • 34% of searches resulted in contraband being found for Whites
  • 22% results in contraband for Hispanics
  • 38% resulted in contraband for Blacks
  • 26% resulted in contraband for Native Americans

Stanford Big Data Study Finds Racial Disparities in Oakland

  • 60% of police stops were of Blacks, almost 30% were Hispanics, only 13% were White
  • 25% of Black men stopped were put in handcuffs
  • About .06% of White men stopped were put in handcuffs
  • 20% of Black men stopped were also searched
  • About .05% of White men were searched, even though Blacks were no more likely than Whites to be carrying contraband
  • About 17% of Blacks when stopped were arrested
  • About .07% of White men were arrested
  • 74% of police officers chose to not handcuff a White person who was not arrested in the end
  • 72% of police officers did choose to handcuff a Black person even though he was not arrested in the end

Report on the NYC Police Department’s “Stop Frisk” Practices

  • About 50% of arrests from stops were Black
  • About 33% of arrests were Hispanic
  • About 10% of arrests were White
  • Whites were over 50% more likely than Blacks to receive an ACD and avoid conviction for misdemeanor marijuana possession

Racial Disparity in NYPD Stops and Frisks

  • 80% of stops were of Blacks or Latinos between 2005 and 2008, even though Blacks and Latinos are only 25% and 28% of NYC population
  • 10% of stops were of Whites, who are 44% of city population
  • 85% of those frisked between 2005 and 2008 were Black, 8% of those frisked were White
  • 6% of stops and frisks yielded contraband or a weapon. Whites were slightly more likely to produce contraband than other ethnic groups

The War on Youth

  • In the 90s “gang lists” in cities across the country criminalized youth for nothing more than looking criminal. Wearing baggy jeans or simply being related to someone who was suspected of gang activity was enough to earn someone a spot on the list. Employers could call to see if someone was on the list. At least 80 percent of young people in Denver were on the list in one investigation.
  • In Cook County, Illinois, 66% of the gang database was Black
  • In Orange County, California, 92% of the gang database was Black


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