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January 29th, 2014

Wow! What a Serious Surprise!

Lillie Howard
On Saturday, January 18th I was shocked at what I saw as I entered the Newburgh Free Library to view the first film of their “Who is Jim Crow” film series. One Hundred & Fourteen people turned out to view the first film which was about the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander. WOW! In the film Michelle talked about the book which has sparked a nationwide movement to end mass incarceration and the racial caste system that it has created.

The facts brought forth in the film by Michelle Alexander, whom happens to be a highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, advocate, scholar and an associate professor of law at Stanford Law School, were mind-blowing. New Jim Crow Fact Sheet: 1) The United States imprisons more people than any other country 2) The U.S. has over 2.4 million people behind bars, an increase of over 500% in the past thirty years 3)The United States has 5% of the world’s population; 4) 25%, of it’s prisoners, whom are People of color, represent  60% of people in cages 5)One in eight black men in their twenties are locked up on any given day 6)75% of people in state prisons for drug conviction are people of color although blacks and whites see and use drugs at roughly the same rate.7) In New York State, 94% of those imprisoned for a drug offense are people of color. 8) The number of drug offenders in state prison has increased thirteen- fold since 1980. 9) 5.3 million Americans are denied their right to vote due to being incarcerated. 10) 13% of black men are disenfranchised due to being incarcerated. 11) Over the past two decades, state spending on prisons grew six times the spending of higher education 12) From 1997 to 2007 the number of women in prison has increased by 832% 13) Nearly $70 billion is spent annually on prisons, probation, parole and detention. WOW!

This is an excerpt from the last chapter in the book: “This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it....It is their innocence which constitutes the crime....This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence; you were expected to make peace with mediocrity...You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention; and, by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp on reality. But these men are your brothers -your lost , younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and then we can make America what it must become. It will be hard, but you come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity.”

The above is just a little piece of a book that you must purchase or get from the library for it will widely open your eyes and your mind to the hard-cold reality of this literal nightmare.. The people in attendance on that afternoon were deeply affected by what they saw in the film and also what was discussed afterwards. The reality of all of this will be discovered by what evolves from it. As most know, the city of Newburgh has a very large incarceration rate and up until now I’ve not seen any serious attention given to this most significant and destructive problem. Hopefully, on Thursday, Feb. 6th (7-9pm) you will come out and listen to Mr. Odell Winfield, founder of ENJAN (End the New Jim Crow Action Network). His topic will be: ENJAN in the Hudson Valley: what the different groups are working on; best practices and why ENJAN works to fight the racist criminal justice system. Hopefully, an ENJAN will be birthed in the city of Newburgh  for it definitely and very seriously is needed.

The next scheduled film showing in this series will be “Slavery By Another Name, Part 1on Saturday Feb. 22nd at the Newburgh Free Library, 124 Grand St. This series is being sponsored by the Greater Newburgh Ministerial Assoc., Ecclesia Ministries of Newburgh, and the Newburgh Free Library. All films  are free, open to the public with light refreshments and a discussion following the film.
For more information: Odell Winfield(914)388-3092 or Steve Ruelke (845)391-8890.

This is Lillie’s Point of View!

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