#TheNewPacifism and “The New Jim Crow”

#TheNewPacifism and “The New Jim Crow” December 8, 2014

It’s that time of year again! My friend Rod is hosting the second annual #TheNewPacifism synchroblog over at Political Jesus. This synchroblog is for starting new conversations about pacifism, in light of privilege, injustice, and the intersections of gender, race, class, queerness, and other factors. Last year I contributed with my series on Privileged Pacifism.

Be sure to check out #TheNewPacifism! This year’s theme is The Cost of Peace. Read, tweet, or contribute your own posts. You can write these posts on your own blog, and share them on Political Jesus, or you can email me at if you don’t have a blog of your own–I would love to host you here on Sarah Over The Moon as a guest poster. 

Image by Alan Hooker
Image by Alan Hooker

[Content Note: Racism, Police Violence, Murder, Rape]

Most of my posts, both last year and this year, for #TheNewPacifism have spent some time dissecting and critiquing a group that I call “The Privileged Pacifists.” I’m going to turn to a slightly different group in this post: mainstream feminism.

I wouldn’t call feminism an inherently pacifist movement. Many feminists do (and should) recognize the ways that war often disproportionately harms women and girls, but I am not sure how many mainstream feminists would call themselves pacifists. Most strands of feminists at least claim to oppose violence against women, though.

Feminism, however, much like pacifism, has some “privileged” strands of people who claim anti-violence (and may even truly believe that they are working toward it), while perpetuating violent ideas and systems.

This is what I want to talk about today.

It’s hard to look at the news now-a-days and maintain trust that police and prison systems are the answer to violence against women. Yet, many mainstream feminist solutions to violence still involve more policing, more laws, and harsher sentences.

Who bears the cost of these kinds of solutions to violence? 

Ask Marissa Alexander, who until recently faced up to 60 years in prison for defending herself from domestic violence.

In Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, she discusses the fact that, in the U.S., “Almost no one ever goes to trial. Nearly all criminal cases are resolved through plea bargaining.” (pg. 85) Since the U.S.’s wars on drugs and crime (wars that many mainstream feminists have actually supported as solutions to violence against women), “the pressure to plead guilty to crimes has increased exponentially.” (pg. 86) Prosecutors, according to Michelle Alexander, use outrageously harsh sentences to pressure people into convicting themselves, “in exchange for some kind of leniency.”

Because of the mandatory minimum sentences that many feminists support, prosecutors were able to threaten Marissa Alexander (who acted in self-defense and did not injure anyone) with sixty years in prison. When given the choice to plea guilty in exchange for a more lenient punishment (of 65 more days in jail, plus two years probation), she did.

Can feminists really claim that the system that took away months of Marissa Alexander’s life, before basically forcing her to plea guilty, is really anti-violence against women?

image via Free Marissa Now
image via Free Marissa Now

This system itself is violent. 

How about asking the family of Aiyana Jones, a seven year old girl who was shot and killed by police during a raid of her home? Or Tamir Rice, a twelve year old boy who was shot and killed by police for carrying a toy gun? Or Michael Brown? Or Kimani Gray? Or  the many, many other black men, women, queer folks, and children, killed by police?

Ask the black trans/queer sex workers I met while interning at a shelter in Detroit, who were harassed, arrested, and/or raped by police officers who should have been protecting them from other violent offenders? Ask the First Nations people/Native Americans that Andrea Smith talks about in her book, Conquest, who faced horrific violence at the hands of police. (pg. 149)

While harsher prison sentences and more police may make white women feel like they are safer (though even many white women have learned, after reporting someone for rape or abuse, that the police are not always on their side), many women of color (especially black women) do not see these carceral solutions as anti-violence.

Michelle Alexander argues that our current legal justice system is a new manifestation of the Jim Crow laws that supposedly ended in the 1960s, and when you read her book and look at the news today it’s hard to disagree with her. From the police, to the courts, to the prisons, our legal justice system works to create and maintain what Michelle Alexander calls a racial caste system.

Any pacifist or anti-violence movement that is going to be relevant in the U.S. today has to stand against this “New Jim Crow.”

White pacifists may oppose the U.S.’s various wars in the middle east. White feminists may oppose the U.S.’s “War on Women.” This is good, of course, but we cannot ignore the tremendous harm that the so-called “War on Drugs” and “War on Crime” have done to people of color in America, perhaps especially black people.

#TheNewPacifism is, among other things, a call for white people to join in with those who have been opposing these wars for years. It is not our place to speak over anyone, or to lead, but to listen, support, and be in solidarity. Whether you’re a feminist who seeks to end violence against women, or a pacifist working to end all war, this is work we need to be doing.


A special thanks to folks on Twitter such as @KilljoyProphets, @ChiefElk, @Andrea366, and @PrisonCulture. Without these folks, I would remain ignorant of the many ways privileged carceral feminism can harm and do violence. They are doing important work. Follow them and listen.

Books for further information: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander; Conquest, by Andrea Smith

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