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The Carceral State and the Crucible of Black Politics: An Urban History of the Rockefeller Drug Laws1

  • Michael Javen Fortner (a1)
Abstract

While scholars have illuminated the effects of mass incarceration, the origins of the criminal justice policies that produced these outcomes remain unclear. Many explanations obscure as much as they reveal—in great measure because they either ignore or minimize the consequences of crime. Emphasizing the exploitation of white fears, the construction of black criminality, or the political strategies of Republican political elites, prevailing theories ignore black crime victims. In order to excavate the historical roots of the modern carceral state, this study traces the development of New York State's Rockefeller drug laws. Rather than beginning in Albany, this history focuses on Harlem, a community hit hardest by rising crime rates and drug addiction. Drawing upon a variety of primary sources, this study traces how African American activists framed and negotiated the incipient drug problem in their neighborhoods and interrogates the policy prescriptions they attached to indigenously constructed frames. It describes how middle-class African Americans facing the material threats of crime and crime-related problems drew upon the moral content of indigenous class categories to understand these threats and develop policy prescriptions. It reveals how the black middle class shaped the development of this punitive policy and played a crucial role in the development of mass incarceration.

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michael.fortner@rutgers.edu
Footnotes
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1.

I am grateful to Michael Durfee, Jesus Franco, Jennifer Fronc, Richard Harris, Jennifer Hochschild, Eric Schneider, Robert Sampson, Joseph Spillane, and Alan Tarr for very helpful comments on earlier drafts or in response to queries. I would also like to thank Kumar Ghafoor, Jason D. Rivera, Daniel Staplekamp, Jonathan Warren, and Zachary Wood for excellent research assistance. Finally, I would like to thank two anonymous reviewers and the editors of this journal for very helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.

Footnotes
References
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2. Walmsley Roy, World Prison Population List, 8th ed. (London: International Centre for Prison Studies, King's College London, 2009); Sentencing Project, “New Incarceration Figures: Thirty-Three Consecutive Years of Growth,” December 2006, http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/inc_newfigures.pdf; Mauer Marc and King Ryan S., Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration by Race and Ethnicity (Washington, DC: Sentencing Project, 2007), http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/rd_stateratesofincbyraceandethnicity.pdf.

3. “Carceral state” refers to the potentially autonomous set of organizations and the capacities attached to them that a government employs to administer its monopoly on violence and maintain order within its borders. The carceral state encompasses both policing and penal organizations but is not necessarily reducible to either.

4. Mauer and King, Uneven Justice, 3.

5. Pattillo Mary, Weiman David F., and Western Bruce, Imprisoning America: The Social Effects of Mass Incarceration (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2004); Pager Devah, Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); Comfort Megan, Doing Time Together: Love and Family in the Shadow of the Prison (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); Uggen Christopher and Manza Jeff, Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Brown-Dean Khalilah, Once Convicted, Forever Doomed: Race, Ex-Felon Disenfranchisement, and Fractured Citizenship (New Haven: Yale University Press, Forthcoming); Weaver Vesla M. and Lerman Amy E., “Political Consequences of the Carceral State,” American Political Science Review 104, no. 4 (2010): 817–33.

6. Alexander Michelle, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010); Thompson Heather Ann, “Why Mass Incarceration Matters: Rethinking Crisis, Decline and Transformation in Postwar American History,” Journal of American History 97, no. 3 (2010): 703–34; Tonry Michael H., Punishing Race: A Continuing American Dilemma (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Muhammad Khalil Gibran, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).

7. Miller Lisa L., “The Invisible Black Victim: How American Federalism Perpetuates Racial Inequality in Criminal Justice,” Law & Society Review 44, nos. 3–4 (2010): 805–42.

8. Miller, “The Invisible Black Victim,” 809.

9. Murray Charles, Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950–1980 (Basic Books: New York, 1984), 117.

10. Beckett Katherine, Making Crime Pay: Law and Order in Contemporary American Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Thompson, “Why Mass Incarceration Matters;” Alexander, The New Jim Crow.

11. Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 8.

12. Western Bruce, Punishment and Inequality in America (New York: Russell Sage Foundation Publications, 2006), 4950.

13. Ibid., 4.

14. Ibid., 79.

15. Weaver Vesla M., “Frontlash: Race and the Development of Punitive Crime Policy,” Studies in American Political Development 21, no. 2 (2007): 237.

16. Ibid., 237.

17. Flamm Michael W., Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005); Gitlin Todd, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (New York: Bantam Books, 1987); Perlstein Rick, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (New York: Scribner, 2008); Schulman Bruce J. and Zelizer Julian E., eds. Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008); Edsall Thomas Byrne and Edsall Mary D., Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics (New York: Norton, 1991); Carter Dan T., The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000).

18. Durr Kenneth D., Behind the Backlash: White Working-Class Politics in Baltimore, 1940–1980 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); Countryman Matthew J., Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006); Kruse Kevin M., White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005); Self Robert O., American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003).

19. Blumer Herbert, “Race Prejudice as a Sense of Group Position,” Pacific Sociological Review 1, no. 1 (1958): 3–; emphasis in original.

20. Ibid., 6.

21. Ibid., 6.

22. Schneider Eric C., Smack: Heroin and the American City (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 99.

23. United States National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, To Establish Justice, to Insure Domestic Tranquility; the Final Report (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970), 2021.

24. Sidney E. Zion, “Interracial Assaults: Studies Show That Most Violent Crimes By Negroes Are Against Other Negroes,” New York Times, 18 Apr. 1967, 29.

25. David Burnham, “Murder Rate for Blacks in City 8 Times That for White Victims,” New York Times, 5 Aug. 1973, 1.

26. Beckett, Making Crime Pay, 8.

27. Richard Reeves, “Survey Indicates Voters in State Drift to the Right,” New York Times, 4 Oct. 1970, 1.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid.

31. Richard Reeves, “Survey Confirms Politicians' Views of Attitudes of Ethnic-Group Voters,” New York Times, 25 Oct. 19701.

32. Ibid.

33. Ibid.

34. Ibid.

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid.

37. Weaver, “Frontlash,” 233; emphasis in original.

38. Ibid., 236.

39. Ibid., 237.

40. Ibid.

41. Ibid.

42. Ibid., 236.

43. Ibid., 237.

44. Carmines Edward G. and Stimson James A., Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 38.

45. Weaver, “Frontlash,” 252.

46. Wilson William Julius, The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978); Wilson William Julius, The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987); Wilson William Julius, When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor (New York: Vintage, 1997).

47. Wilson, When Work Disappears, 44; See also Sampson Robert J. and Wilson William Julius, “Toward a Theory of Race, Crime, and Urban Inequality” in Crime and Inequality, ed. Hagan John and Peterson Ruth D. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995).

48. Wilson, When Work Disappears; Massey Douglas S. and Denton Nancy A., American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993); Pattillo-McCoy Mary, Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril among the Black Middle Class (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

49. Frazier E. Franklin, Black Bourgeoisie (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1957); Drake St. Clair and Cayton Horace R., Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993); Du Bois W. E. B., The Philadelphia Negro (New York: Cosimo Classics, 2007).

50. Drake St. Clair, “The Social and Economic Status of the Negro in the United States,” Daedalus 94, no. 4, (1965): 779.

51. Ibid.; emphasis in original.

52. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 196.

53. Gaines Kevin K., Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).

54. Kingdon John W., Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies (Boston: Longman, 2003), 173–74.

55. Ibid.,116.

56. Stone Deborah A., “Causal Stories and the Formation of Policy Agendas,” Political Science Quarterly 104, no. 2 (1989): 281300.

57. Alexander, The New Jim Crow; Bobo Lawrence D. and Thompson Victor, “Unfair by Design: The War on Drugs, Race, and the Legitimacy of the Criminal Justice System,” Social Research 73, no. 2 (2006): 445–72; Provine Doris Marie, Unequal under Law: Race in the War on Drugs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

58. Gangi Robert, “The Rockefeller Drug Laws,” in Racializing Justice, Disenfranchising Lives: The Racism, Criminal Justice, and Law Reader, ed. Marable Manning, Steinberg Ian, and Middlemass Keesha (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 49.

59. Hall Peter A., “Aligning Ontology and Methodology in Comparative Research,” in Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences, ed. Mahoney James and Rueschemeyer Dietrich (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 373404.

60. Pierson Paul and Skocpol Theda, “Historical Institutionalism in Contemporary Political Science” in Political Science: State of the Discipline, ed. Katznelson Ira and Milner Helen V. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2002), 693721.

61. Gaines, Uplifting the Race.

62. “Drug Addiction in New York TV Feature,” New York Amsterdam News, 7 Jan. 1961.

63. John P. Shanley, “‘Junkyard by the Sea,’ Documentary Film, Interviews Victims of Habit,” New York Times, 13 Jan. 1961.

64. Ibid.

65. Ibid.

66. Schneider, Smack, 130.

67. John Wicklein, “Parish Is Seeking Care for Addicts,” New York Times, 23 Feb. 1959.

68. Schneider, Smack, 131.

68. Message of the Governor,” McKinney's Session Laws of New York, Volume 2 (Brooklyn, NY: Edward Thompson Company, 1962), 3595.

70. Ibid.

71. Laws of New York,” McKinney's Session Laws of New York, Volume 1 (Brooklyn, NY: Edward Thompson Company, 1962), 391.

72. See the following for a detailed discussion of this moment of transition in black politics in Harlem: Michael Javen Fortner, “‘Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?’: Reverend Oberia Dempsey and His Citizen's War on Drugs” (paper presented at the Sixth Biennial Urban History Association Conference, New York City, NY, October, 25–28 2012).

73. Organized Crime and Illicit Traffic in Narcotics,” Hearings before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations, United States Senate (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964), 760.

74. Clark Kenneth B., Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power (New York: Harper & Row, 1965).

75. Ibid., 34.

76. Ibid.

77. Ibid., 90–91.

78. Ibid., 91.

79. “Ghetto Testimony Before Senate Draws Mixed Harlem Reaction,” New York Amsterdam News, 3 Sept. 1966.

80. “‘I Won't Tolerate Bigotry’ . . . Wagner,” New York Amsterdam News, 28 Oct. 1961, 1.

81. Ibid., 13.

82. “Mark T. Southall, Leader in Harlem,” New York Times, 30 Jun. 1976, 35; “Mark Southall Dead, Former Assemblyman,” New York Amsterdam News, 3 Jul. 1976, A1.

83. Murray Illson, “Addiction Spread in Harlem Scored,” New York Times, 9 Dec. 1961, 29.

84. “Southall Hits Drugs In Harlem,” New York Amsterdam News, 16 Dec. 1961, 13.

85. James Booker, “The Political Pot,” New York Amsterdam News, 9 June 1962, 11.

86. James Booker, “The Political Pot,” New York Amsterdam News, 30 June 1962, 11.

87. James Booker, “The Political Pot,” New York Amsterdam News, 8 Dec. 1962, 13.

88. “Last Protest Parade On Dope, Crime,” New York Amsterdam News, 8 Dec. 1962, 3.

89. “Dempsey Gratified in His Anti-Dope Drive,” New York Amsterdam News, 1 Sept. 1962, 23.

90. James Booker, “Lindsay and the Negro: An Exclusive Interview with Our James Booker,” New York Amsterdam News, 18 Dec. 1965, 1.

91. “Dempsey Has Advice For Lindsay Dope Fight,” New York Amsterdam News, 11 Dec. 1965, 14.

92. “Groups Flood Rocky with New Requests,” New York Amsterdam News, 4 Apr. 1964, 5.

93. Ibid., 5.

94. “Governor Unveils War Plans on Narcotics,” New York Amsterdam News, 11 Dec. 1965, 51.

95. “‘Rocky’ Speaks In Harlem,” New York Amsterdam News, 20 Nov. 1965, 51.

96. Osofsky Gilbert, Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto: Negro New York, 1890–1930 (New York: Harper & Row, 1996), 115.

97. Daniels Lee A., “The Political Career of Adam Clayton Powell,” Journal of Black Studies 4, no. 2 (1973): 115–38; Glazier Stephen D., Encyclopedia of African and African-American Religions (New York: Routledge, 2001), 12.

98. Wintz Cary D. and Finkelman Paul, Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, vol 1. (New York: Routledge, 2004), 272.

99. Ibid.

100. “Excerpts from Governor Rockefeller's Message Delivered to the Opening Session of the Legislature” New York Times, 6 Jan. 1966, 16.

101. Governor's Memoranda Approval of Bills,” McKinney's 1966 Session Laws of New York, Volume 2 (Brooklyn, NY: Edward Thompson Company, 1966), 2985.

102. Ibid.

103. John Sibley, “State tries New Answer to Riddle: How to Cure Addiction,” New York Times, 3 Apr. 1966, E5.

104. Barnard Weinraub, “Confinement of Addicts Proposed by Rockefeller,” New York Times, 24 Feb. 1966, 1.

105. “Rockefeller Launches All-Out War On Dope,” New York Amsterdam News, 26 Feb. 1966, 43.

106. “Rocky Calls For Total Drug War,” New York Amsterdam News, 8 Jan. 1966, 44.

107. “All Our Fight,” New York Amsterdam News, 8 Jan. 1966, 10.

108. “Editorials,” New York Amsterdam News, 24 Dec. 1966, 16.

109. Connery Robert H. and Benjamin Gerald, Rockefeller of New York: Executive Power in the Statehouse (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979), 269.

110. Earl Caldwell, “Group in Harlem Ask More Police,” New York Times, 4 Dec. 1967, 1.

111. Ibid.

112. Ibid.

113. Connery and Benjamin, Rockefeller of New York, 269.

114. Homer Bigart, “Middle-Class Leaders in Harlem Ask Crackdown on Crime,” New York Times, 24 Dec. 1968, 46.

115. Caldwell, “Group in Harlem.”

116. Ibid., 61.

117. Bigart, “Middle-Class Leaders,” 46.

118. Ibid.

119. Caldwell, “Group in Harlem,” 61.

120. Ibid.

121. Bigart, “Middle-Class Leaders,” 25.

122. Ibid.

123. “Excerpts from the Message by Governor Rockefeller on the State of the State,” New York Times, 4 Jan. 1973, 28.

124. Ibid.

125. “Hard Line in Albany,” New York Times, 4 Jan. 1973, 36.

126. Francis X. Clines, “Legislature Open,” New York Times, 4 Jan. 1973, 1.

127. Lesley Oelsner, “Governor's Drug Plan Draws Anger, Cautious Applause and a Sense of Anguish,” New York Times, 4 Jan. 1973, 29.

128. “Senate Nod for Rocky's Plan,” New York Times, 29 Apr. 1973, 218.

129. William E. Farrell, “Revised Narcotics Measure Is Voted 80-65 in Assembly,” New York Times, 4 May 1973, 1.

130. William E. Farrell, “Senate Passes Assembly's Version of Antidrug Bill,” New York Times, 8 May 1973, 28.

131. Nelson Rockefeller, “Remarks on Extremism at the 1964 Republican National Convention,” Rockefeller Archive Center, http://www.rockarch.org/inownwords/nar1964text.php.

132. “Excerpts from the Message by Governor Rockefeller on the State of the State,” New York Times, 4 Jan. 1973, 28.

133. Persico Joseph E., The Imperial Rockefeller: A Biography of Nelson A. Rockefeller (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), 145.

134. New York State, Senate Debate Transcripts 1973, Chapter 278 (New York: New York Legislative Service, 1973), 1043.

135. Francis X. Clines, “Governor's Drug Bill Splits Black and Puerto Rican Legislators,” New York Times, 4 Mar. 1973, 38.

136. Ibid.

137. Plumer, “Albany Notes.”

138. C. Gerald Fraser, “Harlem Response Mixed,” New York Times, 5 Jan. 1973, 65.

139. Ibid.

140. Ibid.

141. Maurice Carroll, “After Crime, Big Issues Are Prices and Fares,” New York Times, 17 Jan. 1974, 36; David Burnham, “Most Call Crime City's Worst Ill,” New York Times, 16 Jan. 1974, 113; Nathaniel Sheppard, “Racial Issues Split City Deeply,” New York Times, 20 Jan. 1974, 1.

142. Oelsner, “Governor's Drug Plan Draws Anger.”

143. C. Gerald Fraser, “Harlem Response Mixed,” New York Times, 5 Jan. 1973, 1.

144. Ibid.

145. Ibid.

146. “Man of the Hour,” New York Amsterdam News, 13 Oct. 1973, A4.

147. Richard Reeves, “Rockefeller's Strengths and Weaknesses Are Analyzed,” New York Times, 30 Mar. 1970, 47.

148. Richard Reeves, “Rockefeller's Strategy,” New York Times, 21 Sep. 1970, 37.

149. Persico, The Imperial Rockefeller, 144.

150. Ibid.

151. “Excerpts from the Message,” 28.

152. Ibid.

153. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Crime in the Nation's Five Largest Cities: National Crime Panel Surveys of Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia: Advance Report (Washington, DC: National Criminal Justice Information and Statistics Service, 1974); U.S. Dept. of Justice, Crime in Eight American Cities: National Crime Panel Surveys of Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Newark, Portland, and St. Louis; Advance Report, July 1974 (Washington, DC: National Criminal Justice Information and Statistics Service, 1974)

154. Jack Rosenthal, “The Cage,” Life, 11 Jul. 1969, 16–23.

155. Charles P. Kochakian, “Charles Drug Trade Thrives on East 21st Street,” The Sun, 9 Aug. 1970, 22.

156. Ibid.

157. Ibid.

158. Ibid.

159. Jewell Chambers, “Residents Gripped by Fear of Thugs,” Baltimore Afro-American, 27 Jan. 1968, 1.

160. Ibid.

161. Ibid.

162. Ibid.

163. Ibid.

164. Ibid.

165. Ibid.

166. Ibid.

167. Donald Jansons, “Youth Gangs' Violence Found Rising in 3 Cities,” New York Times, Apr. 16, 1972, 1; “How Drugs Are Used to Rip off the Black Community,” Jet, 10 Aug. 1972, 22–29; “Black on Black Crime,” Jet, 12 Jul. 1973, 20–26; Peter Kovler, “Black on Black Crime: A Taboo Broken,” Nation, 23 Oct. 1976, 390; Black-on-Black Crime,” Ebony 29, no. 1 (1973): 200; Leroy F. Aarons, “Anxiety Pervades a Black Community,” Washington Post, 29 May 1973, A8.

168. “Public Supports Drug-Pusher Law,” New York Times, 11 Feb. 1973, 46.

169. Col. Leon H. Washington, Jr., “Nation Watches as N.Y. Inaugurates Tough Drug Law,” Los Angeles Sentinel, 13 Sept. 1973.

170. “We Commend Mr. Mitchell,” Atlanta Daily World, 21 May 1971, 4.

171. “We Commend Mr. Mitchell,” Atlanta Daily World, 21 May 1971, 4.

172. “Crime Must Be Stopped,” Atlanta Daily World, 18 Sep. 1970, 4.

173. Ibid.

174. Ibid.

175. Ibid.

176. Ibid.

177. Quoted in Parker J. A. and Brownfeld Allan C., What the Negro Can Do About Crime (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1974), 5253.

178. Ibid.

179. Ibid.

180. William Raspberry, “What's the Compulsion to Shoot Heroin?” Washington Post, 14 Feb. 1973, A15.

181. Ibid.

182. Ibid.

183. Ibid.

184. Ibid.

185. Ibid.

186. Joe Black, “By the Way,” Chicago Defender, 9 Apr. 1975, 6.

187. Ibid.

188. Ibid.

189. Joseph W. Sparks, “Black Idiots,” Chicago Defender, 10 Jun. 1975, 7.

190. Ibid.

1. I am grateful to Michael Durfee, Jesus Franco, Jennifer Fronc, Richard Harris, Jennifer Hochschild, Eric Schneider, Robert Sampson, Joseph Spillane, and Alan Tarr for very helpful comments on earlier drafts or in response to queries. I would also like to thank Kumar Ghafoor, Jason D. Rivera, Daniel Staplekamp, Jonathan Warren, and Zachary Wood for excellent research assistance. Finally, I would like to thank two anonymous reviewers and the editors of this journal for very helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.

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Studies in American Political Development
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