It’s Not Enough Just To Deplore Horrific Violence

(If you don’t know who Michelle Alexander is you should do some research on her history. She is a voice of reason among a sea of voices who speak only to hear the sound of their own voice pushing an agenda that benefits only the mighty few. Earlier in my postings are other articles and at least one video by her as well.)


Michelle Alexander: It’s Not Enough to Just Deplore Horrific Violence

We need a profound shift in our collective consciousness in order to challenge an entrenched system of racial and social control — and build a new America.

By Michelle Alexander / July 10, 2016

photo credit: flickr

I have struggled to find words to express what I thought and felt as I watched the videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile being killed by the police. Thursday night, I wanted to say something that hasn’t been said a hundred times before. It finally dawned on me that there is nothing to say that hasn’t been said before. As I was preparing to write about the oldness of all of this, and share some wisdom passed down from struggles of earlier eras, I heard on the news that 11 officers had been shot in Dallas, several killed from sniper fire. My fingers froze on the keys. I could not bring myself to recycle old truths. Something more is required. But what?

I think we all know, deep down, that something more is required of us now. This truth is difficult to face because it’s inconvenient and deeply unsettling. And yet silence isn’t an option. On any given day, there’s always something I’d rather be doing than facing the ugly, racist underbelly of America. I know that I am not alone. But I also know that the families of the slain officers, and the families of all those who have been killed by the police, would rather not be attending funerals. And I’m sure that many who refused to ride segregated buses in Montgomery after Rosa Parks stood her ground wished they could’ve taken the bus, rather than walk miles in protest, day after day, for a whole year. But they knew they had to walk. If change was ever going to come, they were going to have to walk. And so do we.

What it means to walk today will be different for different people and different groups and in different places. I am asking myself what I need to do in the months and years to come to walk my walk with greater courage. It’s a question that requires some time and reflection. I hope it’s a question we are all asking ourselves.

In recent years, I have come to believe that truly transformative change depends more on thoughtful creation of new ways of being than reflexive reactions to the old. What is happening now is very, very old. We have some habits of responding to this familiar pain and trauma that are not serving us well. In many respects it’s amazing that we endure at all. I am inspired again and again by so much of the beautiful, brilliant and daring activism that is unfolding all over the country. Yet I also know that more is required than purely reactive protest and politics. A profound shift in our collective consciousness must occur, a shift that makes possible a new America.

know many people believe that our criminal justice system can be “fixed” by smart people and smart policies. President Obama seems to think this way. He suggested yesterday that police-community relations can be improved meaningfully by a task force he created last year. Yes, a task force. I used to think like that. I don’t anymore. I no longer believe that we can “fix” the police, as though the police are anything other than a mirror reflecting back to us the true nature of our democracy. We cannot “fix” the police without a revolution of values and radical change to the basic structure of our society. Of course important policy changes can and should be made to improve police practices. But if we’re serious about having peace officers — rather than a domestic military at war with its own people — we’re going to have to get honest with ourselves about who our democracy actually serves and protects.

Consider this: Philando Castile had been stopped 31 times and charged with more than 60 minor violations — resulting in thousands of dollars in fines — before his last, fatal encounter with the police.

Alton Sterling was arrested because he was hustling, selling CDs to get by. He was unable to work in the legal economy due to his felony record. His act of survival was treated by the police as a major crime, apparently punishable by death.

How many people on Wall Street have been arrested for their crimes large and small — crimes of greed and fraud that nearly bankrupted the global economy and destroyed the futures of millions of families? How many politicians have been prosecuted for taking millions of dollars from private prisons, prison guard unions, pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, tobacco companies, the NRA and Wall Street banks and doing their bidding for them — killing us softly? Oh, that’s right, taking millions from those folks isn’t even a crime. Democrats and Republicans do it every day. Our entire political system is financed by wealthy private interests buying politicians and making sure the rules are written in their favor. But selling CDs or loose cigarettes? In America, that’s treated as a serious crime, especially if you’re black. For that act of survival, you can be wrestled to the ground and choked to death or shot at point blank range. Our entire system of government is designed to protect and serve the interests of the most powerful, while punishing, controlling and exploiting the least advantaged.

This is not hyperbole. And this is not new. What is new is that we’re now watching all of this on YouTube and Facebook, streaming live, as imagined super-predators are brought to heel. Fifty years ago, our country was forced to look at itself in the mirror when television stations broadcast Bloody Sunday, the day state troopers and a sheriff’s posse brutally attacked civil rights activists marching for voting rights in Selma. Those horrifying images, among others, helped to turn public opinion in support of the Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps the images we’ve seen in recent days will make some difference. It’s worth remembering, though, that none of the horrifying images from the Jim Crow era would’ve changed anything if a highly strategic, courageous movement had not existed that was determined to challenge a deeply entrenched system of racial and social control.

This nation was founded on the idea that some lives don’t matter. Freedom and justice for some, not all. That’s the foundation. Yes, progress has been made in some respects, but it hasn’t come easy. There’s an unfinished revolution waiting to be won.


Michelle Alexander is a legal scholar, human rights advocate and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.


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Everything Michelle Alexander is saying is what I have been writing about and for quite some time.  Understanding this when it is too late won’t help anyone.  How many more children have to lose one or both of their parents to a system they can’t fight against because there are men who are much stronger who can make a profit out of selling them?  How many of you have lost someone to the system? American dream?  Is there an American dream for most people?  This America – Land of the Brave – Home of the Free – ceased to exist a long time ago yet the rhetoric is still being fed and it is still being believed. 

It isn’t just the prisons, it is any way they can convince you to give up your life or the life of your loved one for a cause that only exists for profit.  Join the armed service and fight for the freedom of America is really – fight the war of the corporations in the countries that have something we want and wrap it up in patriotism.  Our men and women think they are fighting for one reason – but it isn’t the real reason. We are being used.  Our families are being torn apart.  We are expendable.  And as president Bush Sr once said ( off camera), he considered each American to be equal to one fodder unit. Do you know what a fodder unit is? Our men and women in prison are also fodder. 

The corporations that own the prisons get paid for every person they incarcerate.  This is why their 20 year contracts state that the prisons they take over have to be kept 90% and sometimes 100% full at all times or we, the taxpayers have to pay these corporations for their loss of money to make up for what they aren’t getting. 

So how can our prison populations go down when the people with money are fighting in the opposite direction?  This is our country and we need to fight for it.  Right now we are not only losing, we are fighting among ourselves – just what they want us to do.

This blog is about a man you should be familiar with by now – Jamie Cummings –  the black father of one of my grandsons, with a white mother, my daughter. My grandsons are black – not white.  It is easy for a white person to say they aren’t racist until they come face to face with it and it affects their own family. It is easy for white people to glance at the situation and turn their face away and go on with their lives because they think it doesn’t affect them.  Many people turn a blind eye and pretend it isn’t there because they don’t want to get involved.

Have you ever had a cause? Something you believed in so strongly it permeated through your bone marrow? Something that at the end of your life, defined who you are?  How you will be remembered? If someone where to describe who you were and finished the sentence, (your name), believed in (something) and (did something) that affected the lives of . . .Not for recognition but because your life affected other people in a positive way. After I had a liver transplant in 2012,  I wanted my life to mean something. I didn’t want to waste it.  I didn’t want to waste these extra years of life I was given. These are my thoughts for me, not meant to disparage anyone else.  We all make our own choices.  This is when I started this blog.

This issue affects everyone and it continues to slide the power more and more into the wealthy hands of wealthy men who think they have the right to profit off the sales of human beings they decide have no value. It is a sophisticated and ALLOWED form of slavery. Allowed because we don’t pay attention. Allowed because too many people believe the hype that prisons are only for locking up bad people. Unless you take the time to to take notice, it just slides by you because you think it has nothing to do with your life. I recently watched a video where a man was auctioning off a brand new prison – in auctioneer vernacular – to the highest bidder promising them there was an endless stream of new prisoners and they’d make lots of money on the sale of these people they decided are beneath them and they should have the right to profit from them.

I have studied and researched this issue to the point that if it were possible to have a degree in this – I would have at least a masters. But what to do with this information? How do I make a difference with this knowledge?  I am very concerned for my grandsons, now ages 6 and 8 because I know what is coming for them and i want to be able to protect them.  I know the possibilities that await them and it scares the daylights out of me.  I know now, what every other person of color has now for a long time.  I apologize to them for taking so long to join the fight.

I was never aware before of the prison system and what it stood for.  I only knew what you know.  I never thought of myself as a racist. It is easy to think you aren’t racist if you are white because it doesn’t affect your immediate life. But we are programmed to be racist. In speaking with a woman who said strongly that she isn’t racist, still said, without thinking, that if a black boy came toward her with a hooded sweatshirt she would be suspicious. Why? I asked. She had no answer other than she couldn’t see his face. We are programmed to think that a black person wearing a hooded sweatshirt is someone who is up to no good and might hurt us. There is a an earlier blog post, a letter from Jamie,  Walking While Black that is worth reading if you haven’t already.

After I started this blog, posting Jamie’s letters, and after starting the book, “Inside the Forbidden Outside”, I realized absolutely that I had a cause and that cause is probably the most important thing I will have done in my life. There are other prison blogs and prison books written by inmates, and many of them are about how bad they were as criminals and all the horrible things they do to each other in prison. Some have been able to change their lives in positive ways and some want to help influence the young people to keep them out of prison.

This book I am writing is about the person. The heart. The mental anguish of loneliness, separation from family, Loss of dignity and indignities shown, humiliation of being treated as less than a person. I want this book to be able helping to change what is happening. I want more people to stand up and say it needs to be changed. So much of all the bad things our government is doing that makes our life harder are things that we have allowed to happen. We listen to the hype. We pass bad information as if it were truth. We listen to sound bites and believe them.

I know what is waiting for Jamie when he gets out of prison. Not only will it be hard to get his life together, it will be next to impossible unless my voice is loud enough to help change it for him. Where does the money come from for him to have a place to live when no one will give him a job?  Will he have to depend on a family who hasn’t even given him $10 to buy the stamps he needs to write letters they never answer? All he wants is to be a father. He was pushed through the school to prison pipeline from the age of 16 and he’s 32 now. My hope is that writing his story, also about the injustice and racism in the prisons with horrible living conditions will sell to help bring him enough income to help get his life together.. He is a special person. A man with heart and hopes and dreams just like everyone else and I want him to be able to help him be that man.  There will bee a second book.  This one is the inside of prison.  The second book will be about what happens on the outside.

Life after prison. I see the possibility of lectures,  of him speaking at schools and communities and finding a way to turn a negative into a positive. I see this so clearly in my mind. Without this support he will not know which way to turn or what to do because he doesn’t have the wisdom gained by life experience. He is not a “criminal”. He is, unfortunately black and has not one skill to depend on. The prison system has kept him so far down he hasn’t even been able to study for his GED. Even McDonalds wouldn’t hire him because he will be an ex-felon. Also having epilepsy is a major setback. He came into my life for a reason and this is the reason why I do what I do. This is my cause and the reason for my day. It is what I am meant to do. What will be his life after prison?

There is something I have told many people. “The only legacy of value we can leave behind when we die, is the affect we have on other people.” It is how we live on. I want to be part of this change. My problem – I don’t know where to take it from here. I don’t know the right people. Where and how do I begin speaking out? I have spoken in different circumstances in front of a hundreds of people. Being able to speak is not an issue. How does one get more involved? You may not have those answers but I have to keep pushing ahead in any way I can to find them.