Michelle Alexander At Marist College

On March 1st, 2018 Michelle Alexander gave a Keynote Lecture at Marist College Nelly Goletti Theatre in Poughkeepsie New York, on the sub­ject of mass incar­cer­a­tion of peo­ple of col­or in the United States.
The Lecture was mod­er­at­ed by Dr. Tia Sheree Gaynor Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Dr. Joycelyn Smith-Lee Assistant Professor, of Psychology both African-Americans.

Dr.Gaynor left Dr. Smith Lee cen­ter and Ms. Alexander right.

I had the priv­i­lege of attend­ing the lec­ture with my wife Cheryl and meet­ing Michelle Alexander a woman whose work I have admired. It was inter­est­ing to hear Ms. Alexander speak to her fears at the prospect of not being tak­en seri­ous­ly in her advo­ca­cy. Michelle Alexander is a writer, civ­il rights advo­cate, and a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at Union Theological Seminary.
She is best known for her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
Ms. Alexander spoke to her mis­giv­ings at the start of her social activism around the time then Illinois Senator Barack Obama was run­ning to be President of the United States and the atten­dant feel­ing of eupho­ria which abound­ed at the time, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the African-American com­mu­ni­ty.
Professor Alexander mused that before Obama was elect­ed she thought to her­self that if Obama was elect­ed no one would lis­ten to her grip­ing about the bro­ken racial sys­tem in America.
She spoke about how dif­fi­cult it was to get any­one to lis­ten to her when she first broached the sub­ject.

Ms. Alexander

Ms. Alexander talked about the begin­ning of her social activism at ACLU, there as an Attorney, she rep­re­sent­ed vic­tims of racial bias. It is at this junc­ture of her life she revealed, that she had an awak­en­ing.
She talked about whilst there she was con­stant­ly suing Police Departments in the State of California in the late 1990s for racial pro­fil­ing or (DWB) dri­ving while black a term which was not well known at the time.
DWB was said to be a fig­ment of peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tion accord­ing to Police and their sup­port­ers she quipped.

Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book the new Jim crow.
Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

According to her, a hot­line was set up so that vic­tims of police abuse could report their encoun­ters. The sys­tem crashed as a result of the vol­ume of calls.
One young black man had gone to great lengths to doc­u­ment the mul­ti­ple times he was stopped by police, searched, roughed-up, made to lie spread-eagled on the side­walk, and oth­er­wise abused. His doc­u­men­ta­tion includ­ing date and time, badge num­bers of the offices involved in stacks and stacks of paper against the Oakland Police. Ms. Aleaxnder spoke to her sense of excite­ment at the prospect of rep­re­sent­ing this par­tic­u­lar young man.
And then he revealed that he was a felon.

My wife Cheryl pos­ing with Ms. Alexander hav­ing bought her sec­ond book.

She con­tem­plat­ed how the nar­ra­tive would be framed, how the police and media would frame the talk­ing points around the vig­i­lance of the police doing their jobs effec­tive­ly by keep­ing tabs on a con­vict­ed drug felon.
Who would care about her advo­ca­cy on this issue? The young man was enraged when she told him that she could not rep­re­sent him.

Posing with Ms. Alexander after the lec­ture.

I was framed they plant­ed drugs on me I was forced to take a plea despite my inno­cence or risk going to prison for years”.“You are no dif­fer­ent than the police he accused”, he tore up the sheets of detailed data he had doc­u­ment­ed and stormed out.
According to Ms. Alexander sev­en months lat­er a media report broke a news sto­ry nam­ing the very same offi­cer as hav­ing plant­ed drugs on inno­cent young black and brown men. Michelle Alexander spoke at length on the state of jus­tice in America, argu­ing that the Portugees mod­el works bet­ter than the one we have here at home.
Present at the lec­ture were indi­vid­u­als who did seri­ous prison time as a result of America’s war on drugs and are now pick­ing up the pieces of their lives in an effort to move on.
Ms. Alexander bemoaned the way the crack epi­dem­ic was viewed as a pun­ish­ment of crim­i­nals unwor­thy of empa­thy while the opi­oid epi­dem­ic is now viewed as a pub­lic health issue. The dif­fer­ence of course between the two being race.

A packed the­ater turned out to hear Michelle Alexander speak on March 1st.

After the lec­ture, Ms. Alexander signed copies of her book the new Jim crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, for those who brought their copies of her 2010 book to the lec­ture as well as for those who pur­chased copies of her book in the hall­way.
My wife and I stood in the long snaking line for what seemed an eter­ni­ty before we final­ly got to her. She smiled and chat­ted with us as she did with every­one else. She was extreme­ly gra­cious with her time even though it was well into the night.