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Michelle Alexander. (photo:


By Michelle Alexander  

It is often said that if we do not learn from our history we are doomed to repeat it. I applaud Rep. Rush’s apology for supporting Clinton’s crime bill. He doesn’t apologize for the fact he desperately wanted to do something about crack addiction and crack-related violence, and of course he shouldn’t apologize for that. Instead he apologizes for supporting a bill that contributed to the destruction of our most vulnerable communities. He apologizes for voting for an approach that offered no compassion and few resources for investment, help and treatment – instead investing billions in prisons, jails, police, and punishment.

Of course “sorry” isn’t enough, given the magnitude of the harm that has been done. A brand new system of racial and social control has been born again in the United States, one that has functioned as a literal war on poor communities of color. Millions have been taken prisoner and then stripped of basic human and civil rights upon release. While the political rhetoric of the 1990s invoked “super-predators”, the war that was actually waged in the streets was overwhelming focused on non-violent crime and drug offenders. Billions were slashed from child welfare, housing, and education at all levels of government.

State prison systems ballooned as federal funding was channeled to state and local law enforcement agencies that were willing to escalate the war. White kids using and dealing pot and cocaine in the suburbs were still heading off to college and grad school. On the other side of town, black kids were shuttled from their decrepit, underfunded schools to brand, new high tech prisons. It is difficult to say how long it may take for our communities to recover from the damage done.

Now we must urgently focus our energies on rebuilding our communities and reimagining what justice actually means. A sincere apology is a place to start. So many of us have been asleep to varying degrees regarding what truly went down, and why so many millions have been locked up or permanently locked out. I wrote my book when I finally woke up and faced my own complicity in a horrifying status quo. Facing our history honestly, and apologizing for whatever role we may have played in causing unnecessary suffering and harm, is a first step in the long journey toward healing our communities and making America what it must become.


IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century) is committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.