Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Criminal Justice System Legalizes Discrimination

For over 3 decades the criminal justice system has legalized and practiced blatant discrimination in the form of mass incarcerations aimed at Black communities, and society has applauded their efforts. Not since the days of slavery has America seen such a mass incarceration of a people. In 1982 the “War on Drugs” was declared by President Ronald Reagan. Americans initially expected to see arrest after arrest of large drug cartels and importers, this was not the case. What did follow, for more than three decades, was an incredible amount of arrests of Blacks by local law enforcement for petty drug offenses. According to federal records, there were no Blacks arrested for the transport and wholesale sale of narcotics. In fact only 33% of those arrested for ANY drug related offenses were Black, yet 73% of those serving time for those same offenses were Black. According to a 1998, University of Georgia study, Blacks receive sentences and average of 6 months longer than non-Blacks for the same crimes. According to Federal statistics, due to crack's prevalence in predominantly Black neighborhoods the sentencing for “crack” convictions are 3 times as long as the sentencing for “cocaine” convictions. For those that don't know, (cocaine+baking soda+ heat=crack), it's the same substance. For the last 30 years Blacks have been incarcerated at a rate that would make Jim Crow himself proud.

After the arrest comes the arraignment. Courts across the country are backlogged with cases of Blacks arrested for otherwise, “ticketable” offenses. During this period, the Blacks accused usually cannot afford competent representation, in these cases a public defender is appointed. Public defenders, present the defendant with the possibility of an exorbitant amount of time that the defendant may be sentenced to if a loss in trial is sustained. Therefore, in lieu of spending a great deal of time in prison, the defendant will plea bargain by pleading guilty to a crime to receive a lighter sentence, thus giving up any rights to appeal. The innocence or guilt of the defendant is never a factor in these situations. Local governments and law enforcement agencies directly gain from these incarcerations. Predominantly white communities, where prisons are built, count these inmates as citizens thereby reaping the benefits of these mass incarcerations through federal funding, just as the communities from which these men come lose funding, the men become disenfranchised and families destroyed.

The legal discrimination doesn't stop there. These same individuals are expected to make a way for themselves though they are no longer eligible for basic human rights. Housing and employment possibilities are all but diminished. These ex-offenders are not placed in a precarious position. This person, arrested and convicted for a punitive,non-violent offense that he should have been ticketed for, (if he is guilty of a crime at all) is now labeled a felon. This label permits every form of discrimination imaginable. Doors that were opened through the civil rights movement are closed, legally. The ineligibilities that come with this label is innumerable. Next the essence of manhood is proverbially stripped from this individual through his inability to handle his responsibilities, thereby making the next step practically inevitable, the re-offense which starts the cycle again.

Due to this, "War on Drugs" there are currently more Blacks under correctional control than there were enslaved 170 years ago. Surely one cannot truly believe that African-Americans are on a 30 year crime spree. To eliminate this mass incarceration, society will have to first acknowledge its existence and we as a people must lead by example and not continue to ostracize these members of our community. Through future blogs, ways to break this cycle will be covered, not by way of hair-brained schemes or by becoming radical militants, but by utilizing sound business practices combined with the act of thinking outside of “the box”.Through determination and hard work, ex-offender's can and will realize economic recovery and financial independence and no longer be seen as “casualties of war”. 

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