Meeting Minutes from InspireSeattle Social on January 25, 2014

No New Jim Crow


Following the Civil War and continuing right into the 1960s, African-Americans were racially segregated and systematically discriminated against by a series of local and state laws that collectively became known as Jim Crow laws. These laws would eventually be undermined by the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But has the United States truly achieved legal equality for all of its citizens? In 2010 Michelle Alexander published The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness where she argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Now it is the U.S. criminal justice system that targets black men with higher conviction rates and longer sentences in the name the “War on Drugs”. These practices decimate communities of color and relegate millions to a permanent second-class status as “ex-cons” where they cannot vote, are denied many public resources, and become pariah to potential employers.

Our two speakers, Steve Leigh and Mary Paterson, represent No New Jim Crow Seattle Campaign, one of several groups in the Seattle/King County area working to promote positive alternatives to jails, prisons, and punishments. This group formed two years ago, inspired by Michelle Alexander's groundbreaking book. Our first speaker, Steve Leigh, summarized the findings of Michelle Alexander's book and detailed the history, the extent and the consequences of racial bias in our legal system. Our second speaker, Mary Paterson, introduced the concept of "transformative justice" as an alternative to a rigid and biased system of crime and punishment. Instead, transformative justice addresses what actual harm was done and how to recover from that harm. Both the offending and the harmed parties are brought together along with members of the community to determine how best to repair relationships and encourage healing for both individuals and the community. Transformative justice has been a long-standing tradition in many tribal cultures (Mary cited the indigenous people of Alaska, the Navaho Nation, and the Maori of New Zealand). Several cities (including a pilot project in Seattle's East Precinct) are now applying transformative justice, most commonly as part of the juvenile justice system. The No New Jim Crow Seattle Campaign is focusing both on education and community organizing programs to raise awareness and provide an alternative to a racially biased legal system and the mass incarceration of American citizens.

Our speakers provided the following additional resources: 

Many thanks to Mary Paterson and Steve Leigh for taking time to talk to us about this important issue. Thank you to Barbara Sardarov for organizing this event and to Betsy Bell for hosting.


Left to right:  Mary Paterson (speaker), Steve Leigh (speaker), Barbara Sardarov (organizer), Betsy Bell (host)


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