MICHELLE ALEXANDER is the author of the best-selling book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New Press, 2010). She is an associate professor of law at Ohio State University and a civil rights activist whose talks on The New Jim Crow draw huge crowds across the country.
Alexander was interviewed by MATT PILLISCHER on May 23–24, 2012. Pillischer is an activist, a lawyer, and a filmmaker. He is currently organizing screenings and discussions across the country around his new documentary, Broken On All Sides: Race, Mass Incarceration & New Visions for Criminal Justice in the U.S.. Described by Gladden Schrock as a “poignant present-tense call-to-arms” and by Elaine Brown as a movie “every conscious person in the world needs to see,” Broken On All Sides investigates the role of criminal justice in the United States as a form of racial and social control. It shows vivid examples of the human costs of mass incarceration, and offers ways to change it. Michelle Alexander is prominently featured in his film.
THANK YOU so much for sitting down with me to do an interview for the International Socialist Review. First of all, after seeing massive Trayvon Martin protests and vigils and the media coverage around this case, has the conversation around race changed since you first published your book? And if so, how?
WELL, I think that the conversation has changed in some circles. I’m particularly encouraged by the growing awareness and mobilization within faith communities, who for too long I think have been quietly complicit in the era of mass incarceration. And I think there’s also a growing number of young people who have had their eyes opened by either encountering the book in their courses or who have watched videos that have been circulated online and the rest, and there’s really been an outpouring of interest and support from young people. Also from people in families who have been incarcerated or whose loved ones have been incarcerated, who I think have experienced the book as a validation to a large extent of their own experience, but also empowering. Allowing them to speak up more forcefully and feel as though they have a lot of that data, evidence, and the rest to support their claims and some of the advocacy that they’ve been engaged in.
But I think that although the book has done well in recent months, we’re seeing best-seller lists and all of that, I don’t think that the mainstream conversation about race in the criminal justice system has shifted much. And while the outpouring of support for Trayvon Martin was very encouraging, I don’t think that it suggests a fundamental shift yet in our collective consciousness about the system of mass incarceration and the role of race. In birthing that system and maintaining it, and how the divide and conquer politics that birthed the war on drugs and the “get tough” movement played into what happened that night when Trayvon Martin was killed. So, I think there’s a long, long way to go before I would feel comfortable saying that the kind of shift in consciousness that I’ve been hoping for and praying for really begins to take place, at least within mainstream circles.
I think one of the reasons that the Trayvon Martin incident resonated so strongly with millions of people, particularly Black and Brown men, is because it’s one of these rare situations in the so-called era of colorblindness—a time when we’ve become so deluded by the myth of great racial progress—it’s become even a violation to speak about race. You know, suddenly the curtain is pulled back and all you have is this young kid talking on the cell phone with his girlfriend, carrying a bag of Skittles and iced tea, and he’s viewed as suspicious. He’s deemed a problem. Someone to be dealt with, reckoned with, controlled. And it’s that experience of being viewed as a perpetual problem, as not just someone who has problems but who is a problem, who is a walking problem, that I think defines the experience of so many Black men in the United States. The uproar signals the level of frustration that people have with the racialization of crime and who’s perceived as a criminal. The idea that you could be doing nothing wrong and still be treated like this resonated very powerfully because it’s an experience that so many people can connect with.
But what didn’t happen in mainstream debates and discussions was a linking between what happened to Trayvon Martin and the millions of folks who are locked behind bars, cycling in and out of our criminal justice system. Many of the most vocal and visible civil rights advocates wittingly or unwittingly found themselves portraying Trayvon Martin as an aberrational incident, an outrage precisely because it is so unusual. What was missed was the fact that if George Zimmerman had had a badge with his gun we wouldn’t even know Trayvon Martin’s name today. What George Zimmerman was trying to do—which was find out who Trayvon was, where he was going, what he was up to, and all that, and deal with him harshly, try to seek to control him and confront him—that’s a crime when a private person does that to another private person. If a private person tries to forcibly stop someone, question them, perhaps search all over them, that’s called aggravated battery or aggravated assault. Or assault with a deadly weapon if the person is armed like George Zimmerman was. But when a police officer does precisely the same thing it’s called stop and frisk. Millions of Black and Brown men are expected to endure precisely what George Zimmerman was trying to do to Trayvon Martin as a matter of routine, as a matter of a price paid for the security of others. And yet we just treat that with a shrug of a shoulder.
What was missed is that the George Zimmerman mind-set—of perceiving Black and Brown men as a perpetual problem, as a threat, as a problem to be dealt with, managed, controlled—that is the mind-set of law enforcement. And it is the Zimmerman mind-set, far more than the man himself, that must be found guilty. It’s the mind-set of police departments, courtrooms, it’s pervaded even our schools with zero tolerance policies and all the rest. It’s this mind-set that’s the problem. And I don’t think that connection got made between what happened between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman and the phenomenon of mass incarceration as a whole.
MAYBE THAT ties into the relationship between a system that produces prominent Black figures, including Barack Obama, and yet still so little has changed for the majority of African Americans in this country. Can you talk a little bit about that?
ABSOLUTELY. I think it is precisely the existence of a relative few wealthy, successful African Americans like Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Colin Powell, and even Herman Cain, that creates this mirage of great racial progress even as a system like mass incarceration exists in which millions of poor folks of color are trapped in a permanent undercaste. I think that the existence of Black folks who can be offered as proof that “if you just try hard enough you can make it,” really creates, helps to immunize a system of mass incarceration from serious critique. The appearance that if you try hard enough you can make it, makes it difficult even for many Black folks to view our nation as one that would readily create and sustain a caste-like system again.
We have over the last couple decades seen this simultaneous unfolding of affirmative action programs, which provide a pathway of opportunity for a relative few, at the same time that the system of mass incarceration has been developed, which provides a form of racial and social control analogous to slavery and Jim Crow that has a colorblind veil. We all stand back and say, “Look, there are success stories. Look at those who are lawyers and doctors, look at Barack Obama,” when in fact affirmative action has functioned in many ways as a racial bribe. Offering a relative few the American Dream—the nice car, the nice homes, the purchasing power, the blessing of inclusion in a system as is. And the price they pay is the virtual abandonment, as well as denial, of those who are trapped at the bottom.
YOU WENT into how the system of mass incarceration has developed over the years, somewhat at the same time that some scraps have been thrown to a section of African Americans in the country in the form of affirmative action. So, your work deals with race and class. You write about the American Dream and pieces of that being offered to some portion of African Americans to legitimize the system. Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between race and class in American history?
I OFTEN feel frustrated when people say, “Isn’t this system of mass incarceration, or even the problems affecting African Americans today, really about class not about race?” As though the two are separable in our nation’s history. Or separable for the purposes of analysis.
When we look back over the course of our nation’s history, what we see again and again almost like clockwork are these predictable efforts by the wealthy elite to use race as a wedge. To pit poor whites against poor people of color for the benefit of the ruling elite. Many people don’t realize that even slavery as an institution—the emergence of an all-Black system of slavery—was to a large extent the result of plantation owners deliberately trying to pit poor whites against poor Blacks. And ensure that poor whites would not join in any kind of resistance, movement, struggle, or revolt with poor Blacks. They created an all-Black system of slavery that didn’t benefit whites by much, but at least whites were persuaded that they weren’t slaves and thus were inherently superior to Black folks. Throwing poor whites that scrap of a false sense of racial superiority was enough to prevent an interracial movement that would really challenge the system of plantation slavery.
The same politics and dynamics emerged before the birth of Jim Crow in the South. Where white elites were threatened by the interracial alliances during the Populist era they used Jim Crow segregation laws as a wedge. So the white Populist allies of African Americans abandoned African Americans, convinced that they had more to gain by abandoning their Black allies. The elites deliberately appealed to the racism and vulnerability of poor whites, and decimated the interracial Populist alliance through proposing Jim Crow laws.
And we see the same dynamic repeating itself in the era of mass incarceration. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s poor people’s movement was decimated to a large extent by efforts, once again, by political and economic elites to pit poor whites and poor Blacks against each other with racially charged “get tough” rhetoric on the issues of crime and welfare.
What I hope is that we can find a way to begin a serious dialogue about the ways in which race has been used to pit poor whites and poor folks of color against each other repeatedly throughout history to the disadvantage of people of all colors. And that this conversation be pursued not just in leftist circles, but that we begin to have this conversation within communities that have not been open to this message in the past. Communities who I think when provided a history, the evidence, and the data can be open to thinking more critically about how and why poor folks have managed to stay locked in a bitter war, a virtual Hunger Games, battling things out amongst themselves rather than challenging more of those who are designing the rules of the game.
ALONG THOSE lines then, I’ve been traveling with my movie through rural communities across United States where there is little-to-no mixing of races and the majority white population’s only experiences with people of color are stereotypes on TV and the news, people they see pulled over by the police, or people in dead-end, low-wage jobs. And we live in a very segregated society, so what can people of conscience do to reach those people and challenge some of their racial stereotypes?
IT’S INTERESTING, you know, some of that work is actually being done. I’d like to introduce you to someone, to Chris Moore-Backman. He’s up in Redding, in Northern California where there are large marijuana fields all tended by whites and run by whites. The marijuana is cultivated legally for medical marijuana, but much of it finds its way onto the streets and enters the market. What he is attempting to do is begin a dialogue among whites in Northern California about the marijuana industry that they’ve created, what the relationship is between what they’re doing and the millions of folks who have been arrested for minor drug crimes who are primarily Black and Brown. What is the relationship between them? Not only what is the economic relationship between them, but why is it that poor folks of color are paying the price—doing jail time, spending decades behind bars—while they’re not? What’s the history behind that, what are the politics behind it? What are their own racial stereotypes about who those people are? The ones getting locked up for selling or using the drugs that they cultivate freely and imagine that they’re doing so in some kind of act of resistance themselves.
So I think that there are conversations about this. He created a radio documentary actually about that phenomenon, about how much drug sales and cultivation go on in the United States by whites that completely escape the attention of the authorities. There’s no recognition or awareness of the relationship between these different communities: those who are growing marijuana and those who are going to jail for it. Which is really interesting. [The link to the radio program is: http://www.prx.org/pieces/74878-a-bitter-harvest-california-marijuana-and-the-n]
But you know, it’s not going to be easy. I think it’s going to take a tremendous amount of work and I think it’s going to take white people being able to have the conversation with other whites, and then beginning to create situations in which community leaders and activists from those communities can engage with those from other communities as well.
It’s very difficult for someone who is Black from the ‘hood to just show up in rural Oklahoma and have a conversation that is going to be productive without some kind of initial groundwork being done to facilitate that dialogue. Just as in Black churches it’s not helpful to have white activists come into Black churches and just lecture them about why the drug war really isn’t in their interest if there hasn’t actually been a conversation within those communities that kind of prepares them for that conversation and for hearing that message from someone of another race. There’s going to have to be a lot of work within communities defined by race as well as defined by class, as well as very deliberate thoughtful efforts to begin to have the interracial dialogues and organizing efforts as well.
I’M THINKING about how whites are affected by mass incarceration as well. Black people clearly bear the brunt of the war on drugs and mass incarceration. How do you think about this concept of white people as “collateral damage,” as you’ve put it, in the era of mass incarceration?
WHEN I say that white people are collateral damage in the war on drugs, I don’t mean to minimize at all the harm or suffering that they’ve experienced in the drug war, because it has been real and devastating. The point I’m attempting to make is that the drug war was declared with Black folks in mind. People of all races have been harmed as a result. When a white kid in rural Nebraska gets a prison sentence rather than drug treatment he needs but cannot afford, he’s suffering because of a drug war declared with Black folks in mind. And by describing white people as collateral damage in the drug war it creates an opportunity for us to see the ways in which people of all colors can be harmed by race-based initiatives or attacks that are aimed at another racially defined group.
There’re plenty of other examples. It’s fascinating to see how in Georgia, where the harsh anti-immigration laws were passed, how there was collateral damage to whites. Latinos and undocumented folks began to flee the state and suddenly white businesses were suffering. You had people whose livelihood depended on having a large population of Latinos come to their stores to buy their goods, groceries, or whatever. And as they vanished, white people suffered as well. They weren’t the intended targets. We must find ways to show how all of our experiences and destinies are truly interwoven. That racialized or racist attacks against one group will have ripple effects. There will be collateral consequences and collateral damage for other racial or ethnic groups. It’s important to show how we do all have a stake in ending the divide and conquer theme that has been played for so long.
YOU SPEAK so eloquently about the divide and conquer strategies to benefit the ruling elite, what some people are calling the 1% now, and I like how you said all of our human experiences are interwoven so the majority of people of all races do not benefit under these systems of divide and conquer. Do you think your conception of a racially just and equal society is possible within a capitalist framework?
WELL CERTAINLY not the capitalist framework that we have in the United States right now. The version of hypercapitalism in which greed and profit are the bottom line, where we have a political system that is owned by the wealthy—no, not within the model that we have today. I find myself reluctant sometimes to say, to label myself, “Oh, I’m a socialist, I’m an anticapitalist,” or I’m a this or I’m a that. I’m not an economist and I don’t pretend to know precisely what would be the ideal or the optimum economic model for our system. But what I do know is that the brand of capitalism that we have in the United States today is fundamentally inconsistent in my view with basic human rights or a multiracial, multiethnic egalitarian democracy.
I think that it’s going to take not just a tinkering with our economic system, but a radical overhaul in the way in which we define and create opportunity for people of all colors and classes, for anything approaching a just system to be possible. So, I find it most helpful to think in terms of what it is I want to create. I want to ensure that every human being has basic human rights, including the right to work, and the ability to support themselves and their family, earn a living wage, and contribute to our society. To have a right to housing, shelter, food, quality education, and health care. These are considered fundamental human rights, and we need an economic system and a model of economics that will guarantee that all of these rights are honored for each and every one of us.
LIBERALS ARE becoming a little bit more aware of the “Southern strategy” of the Republican Party that laid the roots for the tough-on-crime and antiwelfare rhetoric as a racial issue. Can you talk about the role of the Democratic Party in the rise of incarceration rates in the United States and how you see the Democratic Party today?
I THINK it’s absolutely right that when people think about the Southern strategy, if they think about it at all, they associate it with the Republican Party. It’s a mean-spirited effort to exploit our nation’s racial divisions for political gain, using get-tough rhetoric and issues of crime and welfare. And it’s true that get-tough rhetoric and the law-and-order mantra, and the tactics of using not so subtle code language to appeal to poor and working-class whites really begins with Richard Nixon and even earlier, into the Reagan era. But the Democrats, once they began to see how successful the Southern strategy was in appealing to poor and working-class whites, began adopting the very same rhetoric and the very same strategy in an effort to win back the so-called white swing voters, the Reagan Democrats, the folks who had defected from the Democratic Party in the wake of the civil rights movement.
It was President Bill Clinton who escalated the drug war far beyond what his Republican predecessors even dreamed possible. It was the Clinton administration that championed laws banning drug offenders even from federal financial aid for schooling upon release, banning them from public housing based on arrest records, not even on convictions. Banning them from food stamps for the rest of their lives under federal law if they’re convicted of a felony drug offense. So, to a large extent it was the Clinton administration and the so-called New Democrats who are largely responsible for the emergence of this new caste-like system. Their zeal to prove how tough they could be—even tougher than their Republican counterparts, on the “others,” the dark-skinned others who were imagined to be criminal predators and welfare queens—that effort is largely responsible for the escalation of the war on drugs, the birth of mass incarceration, and the web of rules and laws that operate to lock people into a permanent second-class status for life.
They embraced all of this in an effort to be better than the Republicans at their own game. To prove that they too could appeal to those poor, working-class white folks—not by actually dealing with their genuine and legitimate economic anxieties and concerns, but again by using the divide and conquer strategies that worked to birth slavery, worked to birth the old Jim Crow, and were being trotted out once again in the era of mass incarceration. So it was really a collapse of political resistance across the spectrum that made it possible for this vast new system of racial and social control to emerge again.
AND WHAT about today? Obviously there were a lot of hopes with Obama coming into office, well-meaning people thinking he had a lot of good things to say, but he’s still the head of a party and a system that enforces the laws of the United States.
WHAT WE’RE seeing with Obama’s election is that although the players have changed, the game remains the same. While many people of color, as well as many progressive whites, really were inspired by Obama’s ascendency to the presidency for good reason—today when we step back and see where we are a few years later I think it’s fair to say that so many of the most damaging practices, tactics, and policies of the previous administration remain largely intact and not even openly challenged by the Obama administration. When I say that I’m thinking specifically of the war on drugs and all of these rules and laws that operate to lock people in a caste system.
The Obama administration has changed its rhetoric in the war on drugs. The current drug tsar, Gil Kerlikowske, has said publicly that he doesn’t think we should continue to call the war on drugs a war anymore because we ought not be at war with our own people. Rhetorically it sounds good, except that in reality the Obama drug control budget looks very much like the drug control budget of his predecessors: about the same ratio of dollars that’s invested in enforcement instead of prevention and treatment. And the drug war wages on. Including a war on medical marijuana and small time marijuana users.
One has to wonder whether within the current political system, which is a pay-to-play system, it will be possible to achieve the scale of change that I think is necessary. My own view is that as long as we have a two-party system in which those who are running for office are accountable primarily to those who fund them we are not going to have a truly egalitarian democracy in the United States.
CAN YOU talk a little bit more about the development of racially coded language since the civil rights movement and give us some ideas of how to take apart the language currently used to make Black and Brown people “the other” in society?
IF YOU trace the origins of the racially coded rhetoric, we really need to go back to the 1950s. When the tide began to turn against segregation in the courts—after Brown vs. the Board of Education struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine—into the 1960s when the civil rights movement really began to gain steam. And as explicitly racial and racist language and policies began to decline in public favor, segregationists found that they could no longer get away with saying “segregation forever,” but they could get away with saying “law and order” when calling for a crackdown on civil rights protesters. So the public debate began to shift, at least on the surface, away from whether we should have segregation to the legitimacy of the tactics being used by civil rights protesters.
Former segregationists started accusing civil rights activists of contributing to a decline in society generally and the law and order rhetoric was used in order to appeal particularly to poor, working-class whites—but also to white elites who needed a formally colorblind rhetoric and language in which to justify their opposition to desegregation and the demands of the civil rights movement.
Public consensus began to shift away from open endorsement of racial bigotry to one that found open bigotry to be distasteful if not immoral. And over the years, the language became perfected and evolved. We moved from law and order rhetoric to get-tough rhetoric. It was really President Reagan who perfected the colorblind justification of racially discriminatory policies and practices by using racially coded imagery of “welfare queens” and criminal predators.
EVEN THOUGH the majority of people on welfare are white.
EXACTLY, EVEN though the majority of people on welfare are white, thanks to media portrayals of welfare recipients being largely African American. The assumption that gained currency is that Black folks were now dependent on whites, having won their freedom they couldn’t fend for themselves or wouldn’t fend for themselves, or were unwilling to work and wanted to live off white taxpayers’ dollars. Reagan really became the master of using get-tough rhetoric on issues of crime and welfare to conjure up negative racial stereotypes without stating them explicitly. He mobilizes people in ways that clearly had a discriminatory impact and results, ways that really were no secret to anyone yet everyone could claim to be acting for nonracial reasons and to be nonracist once it no longer became politically or publicly appropriate to use openly racist language.
And then of course as attitudes continue to evolve—and I really think the civil rights movement has to be credited for having an extraordinary impact on racial attitudes to the extent that it became no longer OK to describe oneself as a racist, or to justify openly racial attitudes—people began to have a desire to see themselves as nonracist. So the ability of politicians to both tap into conscious as well as unconscious stereotypes and biases through these racially coded images and rhetoric gave people cover for their unwillingness to dismantle the vestiges of segregation and policies that would promote greater equality. All of this created an environment in which people could feel more and more justified in saying on the one hand, “I support racial equality and I’m no racist,” and on the other hand, “I want to get tough on them.” A group that has been defined not so subtly as Black and Brown people.
IN THAT context, what about this phrase, “Black on Black crime”? Can you talk about how that fits in?
YES. I think the term “Black on Black crime” ought to be abandoned in its entirety. The phrase implies that there is something especially wrong with Black folks that leads them to want to destroy their own and commit acts of cruelty or violence on one another. The term ignores the structural reality, which is that due to hypersegregation of the Black poor, crime is inevitably intraracial. Most crime is intraracial. When white people murder someone they typically murder someone of their own race. When they steal, they typically steal from someone of their own race. Because of the segregated nature of our society, the overwhelmingly majority of crime is intraracial.
In fact, William Julius Wilson’s research, among that of other scholars, suggests when you control for joblessness—in other words, if you compare Black jobless men with white jobless men—the racial disparity in violent crime disappears. Joblessness isn’t an excuse for violence. Most people who are jobless are not violent. But the reality is that we know what conditions are likely to lead some people to break, to commit acts of violence. And joblessness, especially chronic joblessness, is a very good indicator of the level of violence that’s going to exist in any community.
Because of the hypersegregation of the Black poor, and the skyrocketing rates of unemployment among urban Black men due in large part to globalization and deindustrialization and the disappearance of work in inner-city communities—and their relative isolation from those places where those jobs do exist, and the underfunding of schools and all of this—means that there’s going to be high levels of violence that is intraracial. Black on Black.
But I think the term “Black on Black crime” pathologizes what is a basic reality given the way our society is structured along racial and class lines. It pathologizes something that is quite explainable given the social and economic realities of the segregated urban poor.
WITH THE ramp-up and militarization of local law enforcement, how has the role of police changed since the civil rights and Black Power movements arose across America in the sixties and seventies? Talk about if they’re related.
WELL, TO some extent the role of the police has always been to enforce a certain degree of racial separation. To help keep poor people and people of color in check, in their place. Police have been used as a form of discipline for poor people generally and poor people of color especially since police became an institution in the United States.
The role of the police has changed in the era of mass incarceration because they are now charged with waging a literal war against communities defined by race and class. And because in many of these urban ghettoized communities, nearly everyone in them has either already been arrested and been to jail and processed through the system at some point, he/she is likely to have that experience in the future, or has a loved one or friend who is behind bars who has been processed. The police are no longer just kind of a threatening presence in these communities, they now serve as the primary managers of certain racially defined populations.
The level of surveillance and constant monitoring and harassment by the police—increasingly stopped, checked, searched, plus the people who are on probation or on parole and all those who look like they might be up to no good—I think creates a scale of police control and a virtual police state in many of these communities. That did not exist during the Jim Crow era or earlier, even though police back then, as they do now, played an important role in maintaining the racial and social order.
I think also with the diversification of law enforcement in recent years, it’s been easier for the public generally and for African Americans in particular to rationalize law enforcement conduct in these communities. I’ve heard so many times, “Well, the police department can’t really be engaged in discrimination or bias because the police chief is Black, or the police officers in that neighborhood are mainly Black.” So we see how diversifying the institutions which themselves are discriminatory and serve to maintain a particular racial or economic order, that that diversity actually serves to immunize those institutions from the kind of critique that they would otherwise attract. That’s one of the down sides of affirmative action in particular and the promotion of a very superficial commitment to diversity. We find they’ve diversified the institutions without changing the nature of what they are and what they do.
IN THE same way you could say, “with Black on Black crime it’s not a racist problem,” you have Black police officers committing police brutality against Black people. And you can say, “well it’s brutality but it’s not a racist problem.”
YOU’RE A lawyer, a legal scholar, you’ve been a professor, and you’re a writer. Would you consider yourself an activist or an organizer now, too? Talk about those different roles.
I actually considered myself an activist long before I thought of myself as a legal scholar or a writer. Even before my days joining the ACLU and doing civil rights work and advocacy, I engaged in activism in college and after around a number of issues and causes. Once joining the ACLU, although I was working as a civil rights lawyer bringing litigation, challenging racial profiling and educational inequity and all of that, I was also doing organizing. Really large-scale organizing for the first time. We organized thousands of people to attend protests against the governor, against racial profiling legislation. We built a statewide racial justice coalition of grass-roots organizations and advocates. That work preceded my interest in writing the book or pursuing legal academia.
I decided to write the book out of my experience. Working as an advocate, attempting to organize people against the drug war and mass incarceration, that led me to feel that a book like the one that I wrote was desperately needed. I saw how confused and paralyzed so many people were because of the myths and misinformation about the nature of the system, its origins, and its consequences. I saw how these myths and this misinformation and this confusion—basic misunderstandings about what was going on—had prevented me from seeing this truth earlier than I did and acting on it.
I kept running up against it in organizing efforts, where similar kinds of questions and comments were resurfacing over and over again. So I decided I really wanted to write a book that I thought would help support consciousness raising, organizing, and advocacy. Sort of the book I wish I had read before I began the work. So, I definitely see myself as an activist first and a writer and a legal scholar second.
I THINK your book has done that job of piecing together the argument for people in a way that’s very coherent, and we can take it out onto the streets, and it’s obviously having an impact. Hopefully it will wake people up and be the beginning step of the movement that can end mass incarceration one day.
THAT’S WHAT I hope.