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Michael Fortner Talks to Salon About 1994 Crime Bill & More

With #BlackLivesMatter bringing the 1994 Crime Bill back into the fore, and a competitive race for the Democratic presidential nomination that has placed Bill and Hillary Clinton’s record back on trial in the court of public opinion, more people than ever are asking: what really happened in the 90s? How did we get here, into a world of harsh sentencing and mass incarceration? And how can understanding what happened in the past help us move forward?

The Murphy Institute’s Michael Javen Fortner, author of the widely-reviewed book Black Silent Majority: The Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment, recently spoke with Salon.com’s Chauncey Devega to address some of these questions. Check out some of this fascinating interview below, and head to Salon to read it in full.

As I watched Bill Clinton’s exchange with the “Black Lives Matter” protesters in Philadelphia several weeks ago, I immediately thought of your book “The Black Silent Majority.” What was your response to Bill Clinton’s behavior at the Philadelphia rally?

I had two reactions. One was that Bill Clinton is obviously out of practice and he continues to be amazingly thin-skinned. In terms of a political performance he acted badly. I thought he was condescending and way too defensive. I also thought it was strange at first, because he also has in the past repudiated some of his anti-crime strategies. His wife also gave a speech on the era of mass incarceration saying that it needs to end. So Bill Clinton’s attitude and posture towards the protesters given all those factors seems strange and unwise.

My second reaction to Bill Clinton was that there was some truth to what he was saying. The part where he suggested that he had been hearing from African-American groups and individuals that the federal government needed to do something about crime in the streets and that their children were dying was largely correct. Continue reading Michael Fortner Talks to Salon About 1994 Crime Bill & More

New York Academy of History Awards Prize to Dr. Michael Fortner

The New York Academy of History has chosen Murphy Professor Michael Fortner’s book, Black Silent Majority, the Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment, to receive the 2016  Herbert H. Lehman  Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in New York History.  Dr. Fortner is an Assistant Professor at the Murphy Institute and the Academic Director for the M.A. in Urban Studies and B.A. in Urban and Community Studies.

In his correspondence to Professor Fortner announcing the award, New York Academy of History President and Columbia Professor Kenneth Jackson, stated that the award, “named in honor of Governor Herbert H. Lehman, is part of the New York Academy of History’s mission to promote and honor outstanding historical research and writing.” Professor Jackson indicated that the “book was selected by jury from more than 60 submissions for prizes for scholarship for 2013, 2014, and 2015.”

The award will be given at the New York Academy of History Gala Dinner on May 5, 2016, at the Cosmopolitan Club in New York City. 

Michael J. Fortner on Criminal Justice – Roots & Reform

By Cher Mullings
Recording by Zenzile Greene

Why would members of the Harlem community consciously support policies that endorse incarceration of their brothers and sisters?

Dr. Michael J. Fortner’s latest book Black Silent Majority: The Rockefeller Drug Laws and The Politics of Punishment examines how black-on-black crime influenced a chasmic class division within Harlem from the 1940s – 1960s.

Continue reading Michael J. Fortner on Criminal Justice – Roots & Reform

Debating Criminal Justice Reform

For more on this topic, join us at the Murphy Institute on October 19th for this month’s Labor Forum: Black Lives Matter & the Fight for Fifteen: A New Social Movement? 

When looking to reform our obviously broken criminal justice and carceral system, at what point must we examine the structural causes of urban crime? Can we address some of the damning injustices of our criminal justice system without first addressing urban poverty and the conditions that produce and uphold it?

blacksilentmajorityThe latest issue of Dissent Magazine features a debate from two corners of the Murphy Institute. Murphy Prof. Michael Javen Fortner, whose new book Black Silent Majority: The Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment came out to wide coverage and acclaim this fall, argues that we need to begin by taking an honest look at the roots and effects of urban crime if we want to achieve meaningful and enduring criminal justice reform.

Meanwhile, Marie Gottschalk, professor of political science at thecaught University of Pennsylvania, member of the New Labor Forum editorial board, and writer of Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics, argues, “Alleviating the poverty and income inequality that are at the root of extraordinarily high levels of violent crime in certain communities will take some time. In the meantime, no compelling public safety concern justifies keeping so many people from these communities locked up or otherwise ensnared in the carceral state.” Continue reading Debating Criminal Justice Reform

More Press for Black Silent Majority

Murphy Prof. Michael Fortner’s new book Black Silent Majority: the Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment has taken the media world by storm, garnering press from publications, radio and television. In addition to coverage in the New Yorker and Chronicle of Higher Ed, the book has been featured in the NYTimes and New York Magazine and on Brian Lehrer.

From Fortner’s own op-ed in the New York Times last week, The Real Roots of 70’s Drug Laws:

Today’s disastrously punitive criminal justice system is actually rooted in the postwar social and economic demise of urban black communities. It is, in part, the unintended consequence of African-Americans’ own hard-fought battle against the crime and violence inside their own communities. To ignore that history is to disregard the agency of black people and minimize their grievances, and to risk making the same mistake again.

New Yorker Coverage of Book by Prof. Michael Fortner

Murphy Institute Professor Michael Fortner’s hotly anticipated new book Black Silent Majority: the Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment gains yet more coverage with the latest edition of the New Yorker. In Kelefa Sanneh’s review, Body Count, the writer places Fortner’s book in conversation with the latest from Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) as well as Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, The New Jim Crow:

This summer, the Black Lives Matter movement got a literary manifesto, in the form of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me” (Spiegel & Grau), a slender but deeply resonant book that made its début atop the Times best-seller list[…]

Four decades ago, a number of black leaders were talking in similarly urgent terms about the threats to the black body. The threats were, in the words of one activist, “cruel, inhuman, and ungodly”: black people faced the prospect not just of physical assault and murder but of “genocide”—the horror of slavery, reborn in a new guise. The activist who said this was Oberia D. Dempsey, a Baptist pastor in Harlem, who carried a loaded revolver, the better to defend himself and his community. Dempsey’s main foe was not the police and the prisons; it was drugs, and the criminal havoc wreaked by dealers and addicts. Continue reading New Yorker Coverage of Book by Prof. Michael Fortner