“In a sense, we are already at war with and among ourselves. Affluent Americans are locked away into suburbs of physical comfort and metal insecurity; poor Americans are locked away locked inside ghettos of material privation and spiritual debilitation; and all of us can feel the presence of a kind of social insanity which could lead to national ruin.“Consider, for example, the spectacle of cities burning while the national government speaks of repression instead of rehabilitation… or a nation gorged on money while millions of it citizens are denied a good education, adequate health services, decent housing, meaningful employment, and even respect, and then are told to be responsible.”—Dr. Martin Luther King, JR., 1967 from a press conference announcing the Poor People’s Campaign.
Eats, Shoots and Leaves (2015)
Eats, Shoots and Leaves (2015) mixed media, uses fable to examine society’s tacit approval of the re-segregation and the creation of a new racial caste system of black and brown urban poor. Looking at the issue from the perspective of school-to-prison pipeline and the criminalization of nonviolent drug offences creating the ‘New Jim Crow’. This work analyzes the combustible issues of race, class and the future of our polarized society.
School-to-prison pipeline refers to ways in which children particularly in poor urban areas find themselves trapped in systems that put them on the pathway to prison. The pipeline was created by “zero-tolerance” policies, which initially were created to keep schools free of weapons and drugs.
Instead of improving school safety these policies criminalized all kinds of rule infractions. Disruptions once handled by a routine trip to the office or a resident school counselor are now dealt with by police officers stationed at the school sites. Data shows that zero-tolerance discipline disproportionately targets students of color and those with a history of abuse, neglect poverty, and learning disabilities. Once outside school students are thrown into communities were they will be too frequently, profiled, arrested, and subjected to aggressive policing.
Inadequately funded schools, inexperienced teachers, overcrowded class rooms, insufficient funding for counselors for student and family services and mandates such as the No Child Left Behind Act have placed unrealistic expectations on teachers, students and schools.
The New Jim Crow refers to the book of the same name by Michelle Alexander. In it she outlines how the recent mass incarceration of African Americans from poor areas for relatively minor nonviolent violent crimes has relegated African Americans to second class citizens.
In her book Alexander details how the policies begun under the Reagan presidencies ‘War on Drugs’, has lead to the current crisis and that those marginalized by the criminal justice system has undermined the gains of the civil rights era. As Alexander states, “ The right to vote, the right to serve on juries, the right to be free of legal discrimination and employment, access to education, housing, and public benefits, many of the old forms of discrimination that we supposedly left behind during the Jim Crow era are suddenly legal again, once you are branded a felon. “
As Cornell West cautions us in his introduction of Alexander’s book, “If the movement that emerges to challenge mass incarceration fails to confront squarely the critical roll of race in the basic structure of our society ... then inevitably a new system of racialized social control will emerge—one that we cannot foresee, just as the current system was not predicted by anyone thirty years ago.”