Angela Conley, the first black commissioner for Hennepin County in the Minnesota district’s 166-year history, took her oath of office on Tuesday on a copy of a book about how racist politicians have abused the criminal justice system to disenfranchise black voters. While it is traditional to take oaths of office with a hand on a holy book such as the Bible or Quran, Conley said she opted for a copy of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, in order to provide people with a reminder of a seldom-discussed reason why white Americans continue to dominate politics nationwide.
“The choice of ‘The New Jim Crow’ was an intentional pick for this historic moment,” Conley told The Hill in a statement. “We must never forget that the institutions that created and sustained white supremacy and structural racism never intended to include Black people in the decision making process. These institutions must be held accountable to this and the devastating effects they have had on people of color.”
What an incredible night! @voteconley WINS District 4 County Commissioner in Minneapolis! Along with this incredible win, @IlhanMN also won her campaign for US House; making them both deserved and HISTORIC wins for people of color, women, and immigrants everywhere! pic.twitter.com/ZfG9hfqxLv
— Storyteller Journal (@storyteller_org) November 7, 2018
Alexander’s book has been critically acclaimed as an illuminating and unflinching perspective on how politicians nationwide conspired to disenfranchise black voters and force them into manual labor by deliberately targeting them for felony convictions. In most states, a felony conviction forces American citizens to sacrifice their right to vote. And under the 13th Amendment, slavery remains technically legal when used as a punishment for committing a crime.
Overseeing Conley’s swearing in ceremony was a fellow pioneer — retired Hennepin County District Judge Pamela Alexander. Thirty-five years ago, Alexander was named the Minneapolis district’s first ever black judge.
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