|Civil rights lawyer, activist speaks at MLK Jr. Dinner|
|Written by Elizabeth Brei, Daily Vidette Reporter|
|Sunday, 22 January 2012 14:11|
Michelle Alexander, a civil rights lawyer and scholar, was the keynote speaker at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner. The dinner was sponsored by the ISU President’s Office and the ISU student chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The meal was provided by Campus Dining Services.
Laroyce Hawkins, senior acting major, began the evening by performing a dramatization of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
“The speech is important because it reinforces the urgency for change. It reminds us that we, African-Americans, are charged as an entire people to continue a fight that is not yet won,” Hawkins said. “To dream, one has to be asleep. I think to relive that moment wakes everybody up.”
President Al Bowman introduced Alexander.
“Illinois State will always remain committed to bringing great and diverse minds to the campus to better educate our students and better inform and inspire the community,” Bowman said.
Alexander is the author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” a book considered one of the top African-American books of 2010 and the winner of the NAACP’s Image Award for “outstanding literary work of nonfiction.”
Alexander’s speech focused on the topic of racial profiling and discrimination in the United States legal system. She said that since the days of Martin Luther King Jr., some progress has been made concerning race in the United States, but there have also been major setbacks and in some ways, the situation has become worse.
“I think we owe Dr. King and ourselves the answer to this question, ‘What really has changed?’” Alexander said.
One of the setbacks concerns the high rate of African-American incarceration for crimes. Alexander claimed this was not due to high crime rates, but due to racial profiling.
“The systematic incarceration of poor people of color has emerged as a new caste system, one that shuttles our children from decrepit, underfunded schools to brand new, high-tech prisons,” Alexander said.
She said that this incarceration of poor African-American citizens creates “the moral equivalent of Jim Crow.”
“Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination, employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, exclusion from jury service –suddenly legal,” she explained. “As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights and arguably less respect than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow.”
Much of this incarceration is due to the War on Drugs, according to Alexander.
“Not by accident, this drug war has been raged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies have shown consistently for decades that people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal [drugs] than whites,” she explained.
Alexander said the only solution to this problem of mass incarceration is to end the War on Drugs and focus that money toward more positive ventures, like improving school systems.
“In 1968, Dr. King told advocates that the time had come to transition from a civil rights movement to a human rights movement. Meaningful equality could not be achieved through civil rights alone. Basic human rights must be honored,” she said.
“Without basic human rights, he said, civil rights are an empty promise.”