Battling the New Jim Crow

October 19, 2011

NEW YORK--More than 140 people attended a citywide launch meeting in Harlem October 1 for a new organizational initiative: the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow (CENJC).

CENJC is being organized by a coalition of groups and individuals for racial and economic justice, including the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, All Things Harlem, American Friends Service Committee, Center For Constitutional Rights, Religious Society of Friends Morningside Meeting, Think Outside the Cell Foundation and others.

Situated in the famous Riverside Church Prison Ministry, CENJC was born out of a study group around Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness.

At the end of their study group, the group set up a public event and invited Alexander to speak in May. The meeting was widely attended, with over 1,000 people showing up to hear her shed light on the de facto racist practices in our criminal justice system and the institutions that continue to perpetuate them.

Alexander focused on what she calls the "collateral consequences of mass incarceration"--including the disproportionate numbers of African Americans behind bars and the millions denied the right to vote, employment and access to public housing, all because of a felony conviction.

Seeing such strong support from the public, this loose coalition was inspired to take the initiative and create the CENJC, setting out a foundational structure for the organization and formally launching its first public meeting October 1.

Following the solutions Alexander lays out in her book, the CENJC is dedicated to bringing awareness about mass incarceration and institutional racism, with the goal of building a grassroots, bottom-up movement that challenges the racist ideologies which have helped produced these conditions.

The group's intention is to dismantle these racist structures, with a focus on challenging the criminal justice system, police brutality, mass incarcerations and all the laws that attempt to justify, legitimize and institutionalize such acts of racism.

More than 60 percent of the incarcerated population are people of color. One in eight Black men in their 20s are currently behind bars, and one in six Latino men born today can expect to be incarcerated in their lifetimes.

CENJC's vision is for a "movement that is committed to ending mass incarceration entirely" and to push for "a fundamental shift from a punitive model to a healing and transformative model of justice--a model that does not criminalize people for public health problems like drug addiction and does not criminalize poverty" is an exciting entry into a movement that takes aim at the new Jim Crow.

PEOPLE FROM all walks turned out for the launch of the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow--seasoned activists in the prison justice movement; people of color trying to bring these issues back to their workplaces and unions; students looking to build sister-chapters on their campuses; and revolutionary socialists and radicals of all shades uniting in their willingness to struggle together to create a real challenge to these injustices.

Prominent in the prison-justice realm, leading member Joseph Jazz Hayden--a participant in the Attica rebellion--is making himself accessible to appear on campuses for students who would like to build public events addressing the New Jim Crow.

Hayden has been speaking enthusiastically about giving CENJC a mass character by encouraging the building of chapters in all sections of society. One of the main focuses of the community outreach committee of CENJC is to bring more young people to the citywide CENJC meetings and to build CENJC chapters on college campuses.

In the wake of the murder of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia, where an innocent man was a victim of our racist criminal justice system, outrage and shame has inspired many new and veteran activists to take on these important issues with a new sense of confidence, militancy and anger. The Campaign to End the New Jim Crow can help be the start of a new rainfall of justice that will nourish and strengthen the grassroots necessary to advance this movement.

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