How Kids Just Being Kids Became a Crime
Are poor kids ‘underserved’ by the government, or are they targeted? |
….. There are many explanations for the rise of American mass incarceration—the drug war, more aggressive prosecutors, the ’90s crime boom triggering a prison boom that started growing all on its own, a tough-on-crime rhetorical arms race among politicians, the rationalization of police work—and a lot of them can be true at the same time. Whatever the reasons, the U.S. incarceration rate has quintupled since the ’70s. It’s affecting young black men most of all and more disproportionately than ever. The white rate of imprisonment has risen in relative terms but not as fast as the black rate, which has spiked. The ratio between black and white incarcerations increased more between 1975 and 2000 than in the 50 years preceding. Considering the progressive story about the arc of racial justice, this is a crushing truth.
Mass incarceration, at least as much as rationalization or technological improvement, is a defining aspect of contemporary American society. In her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, law professor Michelle Alexander gives a chilling description of where we are as a nation: “The stark and sobering reality is that, for reasons largely unrelated to actual crime trends, the American penal system has emerged as a system of social control unparalleled in world history.”
The rise of racist mass incarceration has started to enter the national consciousness, but though it coincides with millennials’ growth and development, most commentators don’t connect the two. If the change in the way we arrest and imprison people is a defining aspect of contemporary America—and I believe it more than qualifies—then it follows that the criminal justice system also defines contemporary Americans. Far from being the carefree space cadets the media likes to depict us as, millennials are cagey and anxious, as befits the most policed modern generation. Much of what a few decades ago might have been looked on as normal adolescent high jinks—running around a mall, shoplifting, horsing around on trains, or drinking beer in a park after dark—is now fuel for the cat-and-mouse police games that Rios describes. One look at the news tells us it’s a lethal Setup….