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Truth Spoken to Power! by Mae Catherine Godhigh

Truth Spoken to Power!

Activism is my rent for living on the planet.” – Alice Walker 

Mae Catherine Godhigh pic 1On February 12, 2015, at 7:00 pm, Professor Michelle Alexander spoke to a packed audience on the topic of “Colorblind Racism in the American Judicial System.”  The lecture was held in the Bradley University’s Michel Student Center Ballroom. 

Michelle Alexander pic2The atmosphere was set for continued activism.  Professor Alexander framed her lecture by speaking about her awakening. While working in the criminal justice system, she began to re-think the operations of our judicial system and its era of color blindness.

She stated there was a time when she didn’t always think this way.  Alexander firmly believes equality is for every American regardless of color. In the court of law, she was the voice for those without a voice.  Alexander believed in a system designed by the people and for the people.  She even questioned claims and comparisons of slavery, mass incarceration and Jim Crow practices.  Alexander believed people who supported those claims actually did more harm than good to efforts of reform and to the achievement of greater racial equality.

While working as a civil rights attorney, the light came on.  She realized she had been blinded by the very system she represented.  Alexander informed the audience, even with its disparities and evidence; the average American would not believe the hypocrisy within our judicial system.

Alexander spoke about a deeply embedded system within our criminal justice system.  This system targets people of color or the “others” and brands them as criminals. It is much like the Jim-Crow era of old.  Once this system targets you, sets sight on you, once in its grips, its surveillance and its control, it becomes virtually impossible to break free of it. 

In realMichelle Alexander pic 1ity, we have in place, an American judicial system which gave birth to a brutal and violent penal system.  This system is unparalleled in world history and the most punitive in the world. Please take note, the grip of our American penal system is not contained within the walls of mass incarceration.  Its arm reaches into the very fabric of our educational systems, towns, villages and cities.  It is the voice and the face of the New Jim Crow.  What is most disturbing, it is all legal.  Ask yourself, could it be possible that our laws can be legal and wrong at the same time?

The word criminal is defined as: offender, law-breaker, criminal felon, villain, culprit, evildoer, sinner, transgressor, rogue, scoundrel, crook and more…

This type of branding is the introduction and lead to the entrance of our mass incarceration system.  Call it a pipeline to prison.  Don’t be bamboozled, this profitable pipeline recycles itself; plus lines the pockets of American corporations and its greed.

I do believe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X would be disappointed but not surprised about the rising numbers of people of color who are a part of the pipeline to prison system.

Once you have been labeled a felon, you are denied the right to vote, jury exclusion, housing, denied employment and your basic right to function as a human being.  The average felon leaves prison encouraged with the idea of a fresh start. You served your time; you paid your debt to society. Upon reentering society, you quickly discover you are forever bound to the system.  It is a caste system that never had any use for you.  You decide you are through with the system but the system is never through with you.  No matter the notable reformation on your part.  Your constant reminder is the perpetual X on your back, on your life and in the “square box” on the employment application.  How long must taxpayers continue to pay for non-violent offenders to rot in prison?  God forbid the thoughts of the innocent who are praying for a university of law student to show up and exonerate them.

When we talk about the pipeline to prison crisis, we need to include talks about the future of our youth and educate them about the avoidance of the pipeline.  Have conversations about privatized prisons = profits and what that really means.  Talk about an American judicial system with deliberate intent of filling prisons beds.

Alexander’s proposed solution looked like this: When it comes to the dismantlement of the racial injustice system in America, it must begin with a unified grassroots movement by all people.  This movement will be one collective voice addressing our broken judicial system, privatized prisons and the never-ending war on drugs.

Later, a panel discussion was held on the topic “Where do we go from here?” followed by a Q&A with the audience.

During her book signing, I met with four energetic and focused Bradley University student coordinators.  Our side bar consisted of: Katie Dahlman, Victory Oglouru, Michaela Boyd and Judith De LaVega.

I asked them about their take away as it pertained to the “pipeline to prison” crisis in America.  Here are a few of their comments:

Michaela Boyd – Today’s Youth Leaders are not rappers or President Obama.  They are successful businessmen and women.  Education along with jobs can illuminate pipeline prisons and racism.

Judith De LaVega – To eliminate social injustices begins with educating our youth.  They will be better prepared to deal with the injustices in our country.  This is where it starts because it opens eyes and minds of future leaders.

In my mind, I believe there is much work yet to be done.  However, the ugly facts and the truth remains, Jim Crow still exists in America.  We are a long way from the mountaintop and from ending racial inequality in America. So with tongue in cheek, I remain optimistic.  The New Jim Crow is a lurking, willfully ignorant and hate-filled monster.  The real truth of the matter is it will not be dismantled by presidents, by an act of congress or the senate; or even by religion.  It will be eliminated by the singular power of consciousness.  A consciousness that embraces the inevitable truth, all men are created equal and there is only one race and it is the human race. ~ That’s why I write about it.  That’s why we talk about it.

Suggested reading:

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration by Professor Michelle Alexander

The Race to Incarcerate by Marc Mauer

Jailing Americans for Profit: The Rise of the Prison Industrial Complex – HuffPost