Race and the War on Drugs…Today

In an effort to unravel the true contributors to the modern day mass incarceration problem, Donna Murch sets out to critique Michael Fortner’s Black Silent Majoritywhere he seeks to reburden mass incarceration onto the backs of middle and working class African Americans. Murch aggressively attacks his lack of proof that the working class supported punitive policies such as the Rockefeller drug laws and his suggestion that there was a liberal shift in black politics, despite the blatant radicalism of the Black Power movement and figures such as Malcolm X. The largest issue Murch takes with this book is that the author draws exaggerate conclusions to reflect a made-up majority of the Black American Perspective following the civil war. She also hinges on how Fortner’s thesis essentially overlooks the effects of poverty and other social phenomenon that contributed to the crime and drug epidemic. 

In response, Fortner utilizes secondary sources to verify the poltical power blacks actually did have in Harlem specifically following the civil war, power that was used to introduce a conception of crime and drug addiction. He additionally quotes a report from the NYC Chapter of the NAACP and the Atlanta Daily World which laments on just how crucial addressing the crime issue was at the time. 

I truly appreciated the discussion and attention to the sources used as each author debates the credibility of his/her opinions. This was particularly interesting as one newspaper discussed, The Amsterdam News, was used in my primary response blog. This source was critiqued for representing only the views of Harlem’s elite. 

More importantly though is the debate at the heart of these two articles and the hard truth to confront : Did the black race have a hand in pushing through the original crime policies that have resulted in mass incarceration African Americans seem to detest so much today. 

What I find most interesting about this discussion is the similarity that can be drawn between Rockfeller’s motivations to push through draconian policies in the 1970s and the modern day presidential debate surrounding criminal justice reform as it pertains to Ex-Democratic Preisdential Candidate Kamala Harris. In immediate response to Ms. Harris’s announcement for presidency, many attacked her prosecutorial past and hand in mass incarceration. In an interview with the New York Times, Ms. Harris said, ‘I was swimming against the current, and thankfully, the currents have changed.’ She apparently blames the lack of political will in the late 1990s for her inability to make changes within the system. This can be juxtaposed with Fortner’s hypothesis on the politicization of the history of mass incarceration. Just as Rockefeller followed in the footsteps of Reagan’s presidency to appeal to a conservative republican party, Kamala seems to be following the foosteps of a growing liberal democratic party to appeal to young black voters for the benefit of her campaign. 

It is ironic to see the sources available for examining mass opinion today as these two sources debate the credibility of media surveys. Using twitter as an example in conversation with the discussion of Kamala Harris, a very simple search of Ms. Harris’s name and the debate can offer a variety of views. I am interested to see how this source might be used in the future as a historic tool. 

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Herndon, Astead. « Trust Me : Kamala Harris Makes Big Play on Criminal Justice Reform.’ New 

            York Times. 9 Sept 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/09/us/politics/kamala-harris-

            criminal-justice.html

Murch, Donna. ‘Who’s to Blame for Mass Incarceration ?’ Boston Review. 

http://bostonreview.net/books-ideas/donna-murch-michael-javen-fortner-black-silent-

majority. 

Fortner, Michale. ‘Historical Method and the Noble Lie : A Reply to Donna Murch.’ Boston 

            Review. http://bostonreview.net/books-ideas/response-michael-javen-fortner-donna-

murch-black-silent-majority. 

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