In the book “The New Jim Crow” author Michelle Alexander talks about numerous issues of racial inequality in our criminal justice system. Alexander’s book is something every person who even has an interest in the criminal justice field should read, as it really looks beyond the color of a person’s skin. Alexander points out the vast majority of the problems our criminal justice system faces in racial inequality and discrimination. These problems have really formed our country to what it is to this day. Most people feel that society as a whole is past discrimination and that it is no longer a problem anymore.
In reality, it is still a major problem in many aspects of our criminal justice system as well as the everyday lives of Americans. In all honesty I was one of them, but “The New Jim Crow” really opened my eyes on the discrimination that occurs within minorities in the United States. Reflecting back on this issue I had realized that I have witnessed this first hand with one of my close friends who is an African American male. I will get into more detail about this later on in my paper, but for now I am going to address some of the issues of racial inequality in the criminal justice system that Alexander mentioned.
First of all going back to the late 1800’s with slavery in the United States. This time period really set the tone for discrimination in the future of our country. At this point in time African American’s were much like Peasants back in pre-colonial times. This led to slaves literally walking off their plantations and causing chaos among plantation owners. This not only caused problems for plantation owners, but it also caused problems for the economy in the United States. After this was done black codes were created due to the African Americans unwillingness to work.
Ultimately these codes were reversed due to several pieces of civil rights legislation that started the Reconstruction Era. During this era African Americans who were former slaves were allowed their first opportunity to learn how to read and write. Another form of racial inequality was during the Reconstruction Era. There were more laws set in place that were mainly enforced against African Americans. These laws were set in place to protect against things such as mischief and insulting gestures.
This was possible in my opinion due to the federal government not aking an effort at the time to enforce civil rights legislation. Along with this death rates were extremely high due to private contractors did not care about the well being of the slaves. Like I said previously all these things set the tone for the future of our country. Looking forward to the 1950’s to the 1960’s crime rates were dramatically rising with many people believing that the Civil Rights Movement was the main cause of the raise in crime. Another reason that Alexander stated cause this boost in crime was the “baby boom” generation entering their early twenties.
With the rise of the young men it created the rise in crime. With that being said many people felt that the Civil Rights Movement was the main cause of this sudden outbreak in crime. Another event that did not help the cause of African Americans in the 1960’s was the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. This led to an outrage in the African American Community in which it gave white Americans more reason’s to think that African Americans were harmful to society. One issue of racial inequality that Alexander mentioned was how the courts place higher standards on African Americans than they do on white Americans.
Along with that Alexander Talked about how white Americans are still more likely to do drugs than African Americans are. Even in “ghetto” neighborhoods African Americans are less like to sell and use drugs than white Americans are. Along with that though, African Americans are sent to prison on drug charges at a rate of twenty to almost sixty times greater than a white. Alexander also talked about a survey in the 1980’s that found out that ninety percent of white believed that black and whit children should attend the same schools, and that seventy-one percent disagreed that whites have a right to keep blacks out of white neighborhoods.
Also eighty percent of the people that took the survey said that they would support an African American candidate for president, and sixty-six percent said that they opposed laws prohibiting intermarriage. After reading this it really kind of troubled me because I feel that segregation was still a little bit of a problem in the early 1980’s. In my opinion the problem with surveys are that a lot of the time people do not tell the truth and I feel like that is the case in this survey. I feel that those numbers would probably be around the same if not a little better today than it was back then.
One reason I feel this way is partially to how my grandparents act towards African Americans. My grandpa who was born in Eastern Tennessee has never really been a big supporter of African Americans due to how he was raised by his dad who was actually a preacher. Also I feel that the results that the survey got would depend on what kind of area the survey was taken in. In a town like the one that I grew up in I feel that the results would definitely be lower especially since it is not a very diverse town.
Now back to the story where I had witnessed discrimination in the criminal justice system. When I was in high school me and some friends one of which was a African American male was driving home from the bowling alley at around Eleven ‘O Clock in the evening got pulled over on our way back to my house. When the officer came up to the car he asked me for my driver’s license like you would expect the officer to do. The officer caught my friends and I off guard when he asked my African American friend for his license, but not anyone else in the car.
Until I read Alexander’s book I never really thought about the situation since I was so young, but now I understand the magnitude of it all and how ridiculous it is that something like that happened and me not even realize it. Also I have been pulled over seven times by the police and this incident is the only time an officer has asked to see any identification of any of the passengers that I had with me. The next thing that I will talk about is how racism in criminal justice grew out of earlier historical periods. Earlier I mention how in the 1800’s there was a Reconstruction Era.
The first Reconstruction Era was brief According to Alexander it stretched from 1863to when the Northern states freed the slaves in 1877. With this reconstruction it gave African Americans their first opportunity to read and write, but it also forced the government to help support the African Americans by providing things like food, clothing, and fuel. This period also gave the African Americans their first opportunity to vote although they had to be protected by federal troops from organizations like the Ku Klux Klan.
At the end of the first Reconstruction Era the Civil Rights Movement that is also known as the Second Reconstruction started. During the Civil Rights Movement African Americans played a bigger part in the United States government due to African Americans gaining political power as well as the growing population of the NAACP. With the rise of the NAACP the Ku Klux Klan also grew as a terrorists program killing many officers of the NAACP. Along with Dr. Martin Luther King Junior who had probably the biggest impact on the Civil Rights Movement, President Kennedy presented a strong civil rights bill to the United States Congress.
Although he was not able to see this through due to his assassination, his successor President Johnson made sure that this bill went through. This gave most African Americans a chance to go to schools with white students as well as giving them a chance to drinking from water fountains that they were banned from drinking out of before this bill. Recently I watched an ESPN 30 for 30 film about the University of Mississippi otherwise known “Ole Miss”. A young African American, by the name of James Meredith, attending the university outraged the state of Mississippi.
President Kennedy sent troops down to Oxford, Mississippi on the campus of Ole Miss to help protect Meredith and other students from being injured due to riots. Even with the troops, the riots were too much to handle which ultimately led to several students getting killed and many others injured. Before this film I had never heard of the tragedy that occurred within the university. Perhaps this twisted event was swept beneath the rug as if it never even occurred. Maybe it’s the fact that society is too embarrassed to own up to the sickening deeds done onto our own kind?
Now how does our criminal justice system, which is based on equality for all develop such discriminatory practices? It is not necessarily the system as a whole, but the actions of so many individuals who believe that discrimination is perfectly acceptable. Some regions of our beautiful country continue to believe that live a discriminating lifestyle and pass these beliefs onto their children. Mississippi is a prime example of location still considered to be very discriminatory. The university itself proudly flies the rebel flag to the tune of “Dixie” unaware of the pain and suffering associated to both.
What is a caste? A caste is a way of diving a society into classes based on race, wealth, religion, and social status. With the most common example of caste is race and wealth. With that be said though Whit Americans are not the only one’s who can discriminate. African Americans or really anyone can discriminate against anyone person, race or social status. The criminal justice system is a caste system, because those at the bottom of the system can commit the same crime as a wealthy citizen and have more of a punishment than someone who can afford better lawyers and are well known.
Also the discrimination between whites and minorities is probably the main reason why the criminal justice system is a caste system. Alexander talks a lot about this in chapter three of “The New Jim Crow”. Alexander talked about how long it could take public defenders to get to a case due to the overload of cases that he or she would be assigned to. One example of this is the O. J. Simpson murder case. There was so much evidence and motive for O. J. to commit the crime yet he was still found not guilty of the murder. Does discrimination end when people are released from prison?
Absolutely not! After being released from prison, convicts will face more discrimination than before they were ever charged with whatever crime they have committed. The people who are released from prison will always have to face the fact that they will have the label of being convicted felon for the rest of their lives. After being convicted they typically do not have the same job opportunities as someone that has never been convicted, as well as not ever being allowed to get food stamps of public housing if they needed it.
Basically, convicted felons might as well have a stamp on their forehead saying, “I am a convicted felon”. In conclusion, I feel that Alexander raises many good points on discrimination and racial inequality. Anyone entering the criminal justice field really needs to read this book and reflect on what needs to change to make our system an equality based system like it is supposed to be. I know it has me thinking about what needs to be done. I feel that is the only way we can make our criminal justice system a well-rounded system.
Courtney from Study Moose
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