Archive for Sunday, January 15, 2012

Join the cause and get the book

January 15, 2012


I have something for you.

In June 2010, I wrote in this space about a book, “The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander, which I called a “troubling and profoundly necessary” work. Alexander promulgated an explosive argument. Namely, that the so-called “War on Drugs” amounts to a war on African-American men and, more to the point, to a racial caste system nearly as restrictive, oppressive and omnipresent as Jim Crow itself.

This because, although white Americans are far and away the nation’s biggest dealers and users of illegal drugs, African-Americans are far and away the ones most likely to be jailed for drug crimes. And when they are set “free” after doing their time, black men enter a legal purgatory where the right to vote, work, go to school or rent an apartment can be legally denied. It’s as if George Wallace were still standing in the schoolhouse door.

“The New Jim Crow” won several awards, enjoyed significant media attention, and was an apparent catalyst in the NAACP’s decision last year to call for an end to the drug war. The book was a sensation, but we need it to be more. We need it to be a movement.

As it happens and not exactly by coincidence, Alexander’s book is being reissued in paperback this week as we mark the birthday of the man who led America’s greatest mass movement for social justice. In his battle against the original Jim Crow, Martin Luther King, in a sense, did what Alexander seeks to do: pour sunlight on an onerous condition that exists just beyond the periphery of most Americans’ sight.

I want to help her do that. So here’s the deal. I’ll give you a copy of the book — autographed by the author, no less — free of charge. You don’t even have to pay for shipping. All you have to do is tell me you want it and promise me you’ll read it.

In fact, make that the subject line of the email you send to request your copy: “I want it. I’ll read it.” Send it to Make sure to include your contact information and mailing address. At month’s end, I’ll draw 50 names from a bucket and send out 50 books. If you work for the company that syndicates my column, or a newspaper that runs it, you can’t participate. The same goes if you’re my kin or my friend.

On March 15, Alexander has agreed to appear with me at Books & Books in Coral Gables, Fla. where I will moderate a discussion with an audience. You’ll also be able to submit questions via Twitter @MiamiHeraldLive and Facebook. Video from the event will be posted on The Miami Herald’s website.

And here, let me make one thing clear. This giveaway is underwritten neither by my employer nor by Alexander’s publisher. Me, myself and I will pay for both books and shipping. I chose to do it that way in order to impress upon you how vital I personally feel it is that you read this book.

No, I have no financial interest in its success. I do, however, have tremendous emotional interest. Half a century ago, Martin Luther King and a cadre of courageous idealists made a sustained appeal to this nation’s misplaced sense of justice, forced Americans to see an outrage that was right in front of them yet, somehow, beyond their line of sight.

There could be no better homage to his memory than to do that again.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. each Wednesday at


FalseHopeNoChange 3 years, 2 months ago

Poor Poor Pitts. I feel his Anger. If only he could find it in his heart to be more like the Republican, MLK. Then maybe he could see the light.

Aside from that. I wonder why Pitts says "African-Americans are far and away the ones most likely to be jailed for drug crimes".

It has to be that he thinks they are singled out. That can be the only reason. No other reason than police go into their homes., plant the drugs., call them drug dealers., then haul them off to jail. It has to be only the white policepeople's just has to be....what else could it be....

I think Harvard and UCSD need to do a study.

realisticvoter 3 years, 2 months ago

Suggest you read the book prior to commenting so negatively. In fact, why don't you, mathy and phoeny enter your names for free copy. Maybe winning one would give you incentive to actually read it.

grammaddy 3 years, 2 months ago

Nice column, Leonard. I hope I'm one of the lucky ones.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 2 months ago

If one person uses powder cocaine in the privacy of their own home and another uses crack cocaine in public, on a street corner, might that account for one person becoming a "victim" of the criminal justice system while the other does not?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 2 months ago

Ah, the search for simplistic (but somehow comforting) explanations to those things whose existence some would rather deny.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 2 months ago

Look at death row. The overwhelming majority or people there are men. Is it because the system is sexist or is it because men commit the overwhelming majority of the types of crimes that get you put on death row. I know sexism exists, but common sense tells me that the reason the majority of death row inmates are men is because they are the ones committing those crime. Go to any major American city and you will see ares of town dedicated to the use of crack. In San Francisco, where I lived for much of the crack epidemic, I would see many people using crack on a daily basis. I never once saw a person using powder cocaine. Common sense tells me that users of crack are far more likely to get arrested simply because they make themselves more visible to law enforcement. If that means that a certain ethnic group happens to get caught because one group chooses crack while another chooses powder, that's not racism.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 2 months ago

My first Dead concert was just after Pigpen died. My last was "Furthur" in St. Louis in November. And I've seen a couple of hundred in between. Do you recall the bust of their house in the Haight? Pigpen was the only band member home at the time. He was arrested for the drugs in the house. The irony - he was the only band member that didn't use, he being a well known boozer. Wrong place at the wrong time, I guess.
That doesn't change the fact that crack users on street corners are going to get busted while pot users at a Dead concert, or powder cocaine users who use in the privacy of their homes are far less likely to get busted.

Peter Macfarlane 3 years, 2 months ago

"So it's the white man's fault the black community embraced the breakdown of the family wholeheartedly?"

How did you manage to get that out of the article?

Look's to me like you are reading your own racial stereotypes into the article.

Kathy Getto 3 years, 2 months ago

Sunshine makes some people squint or put on dark glasses, in order to avoid the truth.

seriouscat 3 years, 2 months ago

e-mail sent. This is a cause that every freedom loving American ought to be fighting for.

Armstrong 3 years, 2 months ago

 Lenny Pitts, the Quick Trip of morality. I have an effective solution for the drug issue and it works regardless of race, color, creed and or sexual orientation.  Ready ? If you are doing drugs stop. If you are selling drugs stop. This action drastically reduces your chances of getting arrested for using and or selling illegal drugs.

beatrice 3 years, 2 months ago

How very Nancy Reagan of you.

So you think it okay that people of color are convicted more frequently and given stiffer penalties for drug offenses than Whites under our judicial system?

Armstrong 3 years, 2 months ago

I could be wrong but... if you don't use or sell drugs what are the chances of getting convicted of using or selling drugs ? Common sense 101

beatrice 3 years, 2 months ago

Just Say No!

We get that. What about the article and the fact (based on variations in sentences given) that the justice system is weighted against people of color? Care to comment on that at all, or can you only parrot Mrs. Reagan?

Armstrong 3 years, 2 months ago

Wow you found possible exceptions. Should I post real drug busts for you to watch ?

yourworstnightmare 3 years, 2 months ago

No one forces anyone, black or white, to use drugs. It is a choice.

However, the law's response to drug use in America has been extremely biased, resulting in the disproportionate incarceration of black male drug users compared to their white male counterparts. Any fair-minded, freedom-concerned individual should at least pay attention to this fact and want to get to the bottom of it.

Part of it could be behavioral (e.g. black male drug users do so in a more conspicuous manner). However, this cannot be the whole story.

Our laws on drugs were set up with the idea that use of drug by black men was more dangerous and a bigger threat to society than white male drug use, and thus black drug use was given harsher sentences and more attention and enforcement resources (think powder versus crack cocaine).

Mr. Pitts is correct. It is time to even the drug laws with respect to blacks and whites.

voevoda 3 years, 2 months ago

Maybe more whites can afford lawyers to plea-bargain the charges down to misdemeanors or get the charge dismissed in exchange for entering (and paying for) a drug rehab program.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 2 months ago

(think powder versus crack cocaine) Think drinking 12 oz. of beer versus drinking 12 oz. of whiskey. While both are "alcohol", the effects on the body and mind are very different. A person drinking a beer after work and then gets in his car to drive home won't get a DUI while a person drinking 12 oz. of whiskey will. Just saying they're both "alcohol" misses the point. Comparing powder cocaine to crack cocaine also misses the point.

Mike Ford 3 years, 2 months ago

always love it when willfully ignorant people profess sarcastic sympathy for others. maybe I should profess such sarcasm myself. I'm so sorry math you can't a totally caucasian country....I'm so sorry you can't have the articles of confederation adopted....I mean they worked so well in 1782 you know what the articles of confederation are right??? I'm so sorry you can't round up all the people you scapegoat for all this countrie's ill's and removed you'll get anyone else to do the dirty work right? I mean these 1 percenters want something for nothing also....that's why they aren't willing to pay fair market wages with benefits for workers to create a spending middle class which this country needs....maybe you can get someone from Bain Capital to come in and gut a company so you can support vampire capitalism while I have to speak with call centers in India and the Phillipines instead of James in Topeka or Ann in Fargo or Sioux's that presidential thing working....think you'll get churchlican dixiecrats to vote for a Morman??? their bigotry not mine. You'll probably vote for Ron Paul and split the vote between the third party and the establishment republicans while Mr. Obama wins again. Sweet dreams....I mean this with all sincereity...

Flap Doodle 3 years, 2 months ago

And ... there's .... tuschie ... with ... the ... expected ... stuff ... (from a source)

beatrice 3 years, 2 months ago

For someone who rants against merrill on a daily basis for repeating himself, you sure have run with the "from a source" line a few too many times, don't ya think?

Armstrong 3 years, 2 months ago

But we also get your "razor sharp" wit to comment after snap. Just sayin....

jaywalker 3 years, 2 months ago

I'll certainly check out the book. And I'm aware of the discrepancy between mandatory sentences based on drug type. But crime is crime and criminals are what they are. I highly doubt there's a high number of men in prison who shouldn't be. I imagine a lot of this is relative, as in I'm bettin' there's an overwhelming majority of white convicts who were involved with meth. It's going to be a hard sell to equate the war on drugs to a systematic, conspiratorial attempt to create a "racial caste system." Also, it's not just black men that face those hindrances once released, though again I highly doubt that voting or going to school were high priorities for many felons.

Katara 3 years, 2 months ago

You know, I also wondered what the impact the emphasis that is placed on meth abuse now would be. Crack used to be the drug used to show how bad drug addiction is but now I'm seeing a trend toward using meth to illustrate the point now.

I googled "meth conviction rates + race" just to see what came up & found this.

"This stability in the number of drug offense incarcerations is intriguing, but hides an even more dramatic change – a significant shift in the racial composition of people incarcerated for a drug offense. Our analysis below documents these striking trends: • The number of African Americans in state prisons for a drug offense declined by 21.6% from 1999-2005, a reduction of more than 31,000 persons. • The number of whites incarcerated for a drug offense rose significantly during this period, an increase of 42.6%, representing an additional 21,000 persons in prison."

Something seems to be changing although I am not sure what exactly. It could be that meth is now a bigger target than crack (maybe because it is easier to produce and is made by common household items?).

This was an interesting statement in the study above: "Persons who use drugs, though, generally report that they purchased their drugs from someone of their own race."

jaywalker 3 years, 2 months ago

Excellent info. I think you're probably right about how easy it is to manufacture meth and I don't know how prevalent crack use is anymore. I mean, I'm sure it's still around and I don't think it's very hard to make either, but meth comes completely from store bought items like you said while you still need coke for crack. Things like Ice and meth may have taken the place of crack over the last years.
Both drugs are absolutely devastating for the user and highly addictive. Have you ever seen the ads for "Faces of Meth"? Downright scary! They'll have a before and after mugshot with a date stamp and the transformation in a year or two is mind boggling. Some time ago I taped a 2 minute snippet from some real cops show because there was a woman on there that had no teeth and looked somewhere between 70 and 80 years old, but she ended up being 42! Freaked me out!

As to that last note, that doesn't surprise me much because there does seem to be a segregation of drug users

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