Teaching 'The New Jim Crow'
The War on Drugs—Mechanisms and Effects
Text Dependent Questions for "The Lockdown"
The following questions can be used during and after reading.
- How does Alexander juxtapose the first two paragraphs of the excerpt? What might be her intention with this strategy? How does this juxtaposition set the stage for the rest of the excerpt?
- Alexander argues that the War on Drugs is the necessary lens for understanding mass incarceration. Cite where in the excerpt she makes this point most directly.
- Far more people are arrested for possessing drugs than for selling them. Cite the statistical evidence that Alexander provides to substantiate this claim. What is your opinion on this approach of the War on Drugs?
- Alexander includes lots of statistics and data in the beginning of this excerpt. Which of these do you find most compelling or important? Why? Which do you think would surprise most people? Why?
- The Fourth Amendment protects the right to privacy. Alexander argues that the War on Drugs has undermined this right and other civil liberties. List three of the police practices she gives as examples of a violation of these rights.
- In Terry v. Ohio (1968) the notion of “probable cause” was replaced by “reasonable articulable suspicion” as sufficient justification to stop, question and frisk a person. Explain the difference. What was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Douglas’ opinion on the ruling? Alexander’s? Yours?
- How is a police officer able to search a random person on the street? What amounts to “consent” in these instances? What reason does Alexander give for being suspicious of the “consent” given?
- What is a pretext search? Provide an example of how such a search might take place.
- Is evidence of drugs or probable cause to suspect drugs necessary for consent searches and pretext searches? Explain your answer with evidence from the excerpt.
- A highway patrol officer is quoted saying, “It’s sheer numbers. ... You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you ﬁnd a prince.” What policing technique is he describing? Who are the “frogs” and who is the “prince”? What are the benefits of this approach to law enforcement? What are its problems for civilians?
- Alexander describes consent searches, pretext stops, the “volume” approach and the use of “drug-courier proﬁles.” What concerns does she raise in terms of the potential of these practices leading to widespread racial discrimination?
- Alexander raises the question of why police who are responsible for solving violent crimes, such as murder and rape, would invest so much of their time focusing on nonviolent low-level drug arrests instead. What answers does she give?
- What is the “prison label”? Alexander writes, “Reducing the amount of time people spend behind bars—by eliminating harsh mandatory minimums—will alleviate some of the unnecessary suffering caused by this system, but it will not disturb the closed circuit.” What is her point?
- Alexander illustrates the harshness of mandatory sentencing laws by giving a hypothetical, though realistic, example of an 18-year old man in California. Reread that scenario and then work with a partner to write your own hypothetical case of an individual who receives a harsh punishment for minor and nonviolent offenses. Use information from the excerpt to provide factually based details. If you have personal knowledge or experience with a relevant case, you can include that in your writing. DO NOT include information about another student and be sure that the details of your story are always anonymous. Share the scenario with your classmates, asking them if they think justice was served.
- In this excerpt, we learn that law enforcement agencies can keep, for their own use, the vast majority of cash and assets seized in drug arrests. How might this authority lead to corruption of power? Can you think of other people in positions of authority—possibly with power over you—who have similar freedoms? Who? Does the same risk for corruption exist?
- What happened at Stratford High School in Goose Creek, South Carolina? Has anything like that happened in your school? If so, talk about that with your classmates. If not, have you heard of anything similar happening at a nearby school? If so, discuss. How did race figure into the incident at Stratford High? How did race figure into the other examples you discussed?
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