The First Civil Right: Race and the Rise of the Carceral State

Naomi Murakawa



Naomi Murakawa discusses the historical progression towards a neo-liberal means of solving the problem of the color line in america, mass incarceration. She explains mass incarceration as a means of dealing with black people sharing the same neighborhoods, schools, and shops that caused racial tension and the ability for society to accept that through the criminalization of black people's behavior under a heading of being "tough on crime" and the policies specifically of the Clinton's in the 90's.

The explosive rise in the U.S. incarceration rate in the second half of the twentieth century, and the racial transformation of the prison population from mostly white at mid-century to sixty-five percent black and Latino in the present day, is a trend that cannot easily be ignored. Many believe that this shift began with the "tough on crime" policies advocated by Republicans and southern Democrats beginning in the late 1960s, which sought longer prison sentences, more frequent use of the death penalty, and the explicit or implicit targeting of politically marginalized people. In The First Civil Right, Naomi Murakawa inverts the conventional wisdom by arguing that the expansion of the federal carceral state-a system that disproportionately imprisons blacks and Latinos-was, in fact, rooted in the civil-rights liberalism of the 1940s and early 1960s, not in the period after. 

Murakawa traces the development of the modern American prison system through several presidencies, both Republican and Democrat. Responding to calls to end the lawlessness and violence against blacks at the state and local levels, the Truman administration expanded the scope of what was previously a weak federal system. Later administrations from Johnson to Clinton expanded the federal presence even more. Ironically, these steps laid the groundwork for the creation of the vast penal archipelago that now exists in the United States. What began as a liberal initiative to curb the mob violence and police brutality that had deprived racial minorities of their 'first civil right-physical safety-eventually evolved into the federal correctional system that now deprives them, in unjustly large numbers, of another important right: freedom. The First Civil Right is a groundbreaking analysis of root of the conflicts that lie at the intersection of race and the legal system in America.

ISBN 9780199892808
List price $26.95
Publisher Oxford University Press
Year of publication 2014

Three upcoming events focusing on mass incarceration and policing

September 4, 2014


While we have a lot of great events coming up in September, including the Radical Bookfair, we thought it'd be a good idea to specifically highlight three events we have coming up in October and November that focus on different aspects of our exceptionally problematic criminal "justice" system.  The police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson is, sadly, not an exceptional case—and we thought bringing authors to town who could address some of the larger questions around the systemic dysfunction and structural racism in the American systems of policing and incarceration would be a helpful contribution we could make as a bookstore.




Prisons and policing

with many suggestions taken from the excellent Prison Culture blog

2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Authors we brought to Baltimore

Just some of the highlights from the events we hosted in our first year on North Ave.

How non-transformative demands for prison reform reinforce the prison system

Liberal complicity with the growth of the mass incarceration runs deep—by refusing to acknowledge the structural transformations and reparative action needed for real political and economic equity, calls for more effective or more fair policing can in reality fuel the growth of a repressive carceral apparatus.

Abolishing prisons and police