What a spectacular book. I was a bit skeptical of the title going in—it's a bit Godwin-esque to compare all racial injustices to slavery and/or Jim Crow. But she addresses that head-on, with a bit of skepticism on her own part. Having recently read The Warmth of Other Suns and seen some of the ways that Jim Crow actually played out in real life, though, I could certainly see the pervasive parallels that Alexander draws here.
America's prison system is incredibly racist in its implementation, that I knew. But what this book illuminates so well are the facts that (a) the system was transformed along racial lines in a discrete, systematic way and (2) the worst iniquities of our criminal justice system might actually be the lives we force felons into after prison. The concept of "civil death" underlies so many of our laws that pertain to convicted people, and it's all out of proportion to the petty crimes that most of them committed. Beyond which, it has broader implications for the black community that do, indeed, recall Jim Crow.
Finally, while the last chapter seemed a bit rushed, I did accept a lot of her prescription for where to go from here. It might seem contradictory to say that, on one hand, we can't pretend that the current system is equally harsh to all races, and on the other, that we have to address this in a manner that helps both racial minorities and whites. Her appeal to King's sense that it's time to move beyond civil rights and toward human rights is, I think, dead on.