Teaching 'The New Jim Crow'
Lesson 7: Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System
Text-Dependent Questions for “The Color of Justice”
The following questions can be used during and after reading.
- What is a dilemma? (Note to teachers: Clarify that a dilemma is not merely a difficult choice, but a choice that one must make between two or more undesirable and unfavorable options). Describe the dilemmas faced by Erma Faye Stewart and Clifford Runoalds. What were their options? What did they each decide given those circumstances? Discuss the role of choice versus coercion in these instances.
- According to Alexander, what is the public perception about who represents the majority of drug users and dealers? What is, in fact, the reality? What primary reason does she offer for the misconception?
- Explain the meaning of this finding, “Studies consistently indicate that drug markets like American society generally, reflect our nation’s racial and socioeconomic boundaries.” By citing these studies, what larger point is Alexander trying to prove?
- Alexander claims that the disproportionate number of African Americans incarcerated is due to a criminal justice system that discriminates based on race, yet is immune to charges of racial discrimination. How does this one-two punch work, according to her?
- What is unique about the activities associated with drug crimes? What challenge does this pose for drug-law enforcement?
- How was this challenge addressed under the Reagan administration in order to build support for the War on Drugs?
- How did the drug narrative, as covered by the media, shift from the early- to mid-1980s? How did the role of law enforcement shift?
- Describe the two research-based examples Alexander provides to demonstrate the prevalence of implicit bias in the way people think about crime.
- Why do you think Alexander writes about implicit or unconscious bias in “The Color of Justice” as opposed to racism or bigotry? In doing this, what potential counterclaims does she refute? How does the discussion of implicit bias relate to law enforcement officers?
- Why does Alexander place such an emphasis on the role—and failure—of the U.S. Supreme Court in her discussion of mass incarceration?
- What was the ruling in McCleskey v. Kemp (1987)? What are its implications for plaintiffs seeking to prove racial discrimination in sentencing?
- What is the relationship between McCleskey v. Kemp and the role of implicit bias in the disproportionate arrest, conviction and sentencing of African-American men?
- How was McCleskey v. Kemp used to reverse Judge Cahill’s ruling in the Edward Clary case?
- What is the job of a prosecutor? Why does Alexander state they have the most power in the criminal justice system?
- What does research suggest about the role of bias in prosecutorial decision making? What does the law say about the role of bias in prosecutorial decision making? Who suffers the most harm from this discretion?
- Alexander points out that while black men are disproportionately targeted in the War on Drugs, they are underrepresented when it comes to jury selection. Why is this?
- According to the Supreme Court, what did Adolph Lyons need to show in order to prove that the LAPD’s use of the chokehold was discriminatory? In your opinion, is that a reasonable burden of proof? Is it possible to show?
- Are the police authorized to use race as a factor in deciding whom to stop and search? Are they allowed to use race as a sole factor in making such determinations?
- Police departments may defend against charges of racial profiling by pointing to a number of other factors, in addition to race, that inform their decisions about who to stop and search. What skepticism does Alexander raise about these “seemingly race-neutral” factors? Do you agree with her assessment?
- The excerpt concludes with this statement: “The system of mass incarceration is now, for all practical purposes, thoroughly immunized from claims of racial bias.” Explain the takeaway message. In your opinion, what are the two most convincing pieces of evidence Alexander provides in “The Color of Justice” to support her thesis?
- Some argue that since drug use and sales are nonviolent and consensual acts, there are no victims and, therefore, should be made legal. Do you agree? Explain?
- On the whole, how does “The Color of Justice” characterize law enforcement officials? How does that assessment compare with your view of the police? Your family’s? Your community’s?
- What is implicit bias? Describe an example of implicit bias that you have experienced or observed that lead to discriminatory actions or behavior.