Being of Color in America Sentencing and Police Brutality

A simple traffic stop can turn deadly in the matter of minutes when you’re a man of color. Officers are there to serve and protect but if you’re a man of color it might often feel like you’re the one needing to be protected from an officer that has gained a talent for racial profiling. Our society in an unconscious way has been made to feel that somehow people of color are naturally more dangerous and commit more, often worse crimes than whites.

African Americans and Hispanics only make up 32% of the US population. They are the most frequently incarcerated group and face more cases of police brutality, often ending in murder. In 2015 these two groups made up 56% of the total US incarcerated population. Both black and Hispanic men and women are incarcerated at a more rapid rate than whites while receiving longer sentences for the same crimes committed. A study showed that black women’s sentences double those of white women who were guilty of the same crime.

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(NAACP 2018) Why is it that society has this attitude towards people of color and jail sentences are harsher on them than their fellow white citizens who commit the same crime? Why are our men of color dying at the hands of officers? Prior studies done show that black citizens are 3 to 4 times more likely to experience non-lethal force by police than white citizens and 24% more likely to have a gun drawn and pointed at them. (pg 51).

Eric Gardner was one of the 1st cases in recent years to trigger a wave of modern-day police brutality force ending in death.

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Eric, a man who stand over 6 feet tall was selling untaxed cigarettes in a corner of Staten Island, NY where he lost his life after pleading with the officers to let him breathe. “I can’t breathe” were the words he repeated to the officers while on a choke hold before losing his life. (Baker, Goodman, Mueller) Gardner was a fallen victim of police brutality. It could have been easily prevented by handling the situation in a different matter. Perhaps if he weren’t a big man of color, he wouldn’t have been a threat.

John Paul Wilson, PhD from Montclair State University said: “Unarmed black men are disproportionately more likely to be shot and killed by police, and often these killings are accompanied by explanations that cite the physical size of the person shot,” “Our research suggests that these descriptions may reflect stereotypes of black males that do not seem to comport with reality.” Dr. Wilson and his team conducted a survey of more than 950 people where he showed photos of the faces of black and white men and asked them to judge them by height, weight and strength. Although participants could only see the person’s face, they concluded that black men were bigger and stronger than white men although both black and white subjects were the same size. These let to prove Wilson’s theory that people tend to see black men as more of a threat than the white men. The study also concluded that the darker the skin of the individual was and the more stereotypical black facial features he had, the more he was associated with being larger.

In his research, Dr. Wilson concluded that the false labeling of a black men’s larger size contributed to an officer’s decision to shoot the individual since he was seeming as a bigger threat. This misconception of black men that society has made, puts the life of men of color in heightened dangers when confronting a police officer.

2012-2016 data reports that black males receive on average 19.1 percent longer sentences than while males who committed the same crime. This study found that judges tend to give shorter sentencing to white males than they do black males without advice from the prosecutor. 21.2 percent of black males were less likely to receive a reduce sentence from a judge without request from a prosecutor. While with the request from the prosecutor to reduce the sentence given, black men still receive a sentence 16.8 percent longer. America has a history of seeing black men inferior to white men. From the time of slavery to present day, American has blanketed its white citizens, leaving their minorities unprotected. Perhaps America’s culture still looks at black men to be less than white men, therefore making them pay longer, harsher sentences for the same crimes a white man commits.

A conflict theory would be that police need to protect themselves and others against all situations that could put their lives, or the lives of others is danger. By thinking this way and at times making decisions out of fear, they endanger the life of the party or parties involve. This can be very dangerous, harmful and even deadly to the individual involved in a police altercation. It is in human nature to defend yourself when one feels threatened, especially when you feel like you have done nothing wrong. We give officers the power to rule over us and they at times forget that they we are just trying to keep ourselves safe, free of harassment.

It seems like today the country is very divided for various reasons. Many people have never faced an unfair police altercation. Many people who are not people of color have never felt what it feels like to be looked down upon or be profiled by authority because of the color or their skin. These people who have never experienced such things cannot allow their sociological imagination to see what the minority is facing; to get into their shoes for a day and see the hardships and unjust treatments they face simply by being of color and walking around a predominantly white neighborhood or fancy store. When we don’t allow ourselves to see life in another perspective, the people suffering don’t receive the sympathy and justice they deserve. Many people fail to see police racially profiling. Many fail to responsibly admit that police are not always right in the way they handle situations and abuse their power of authority. If we can’t get in each other’s shoes, we will remain divided and minorities, especially black men will keep falling to their death under the care of police officers.

Another example of unfair sentencing is Bill Cosby. I am not here to argue whether he did commit the crimes of sexual abuse he was accused of or not. The purpose of this paragraph is to compare how society handled the accusations held against Cosby, a black man versus the same accusations held against Brett Kavanaugh, a white man. Both men were accused of sexually harassing and assaulting women back in their earlier years of their lives. Bill Cosby received very little support from the media and the public while a great deal of people stood behind Kavanaugh, calling his accuser a liar. Bill Cosby was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to prison. His whole life and extensive career ruined within months while Kavanaugh rose to be a supreme court judge. This is another case of racial profiling, intentionally or not. We cannot give two men accused of the same crimes, completely different sentences. Why is it that one man’s career was ruined while the other rose to the top? Both should have paid for their crimes equally. Think back of earlier on the paper on how society sees a black man.

In conclusion, both minority men and women receive longer and harsher sentencing than their white counterparts for the same crimes committed. They are more often victims of unjust and unnecessary police force and brutality. Often ending in the premature loss of life of an innocent until proven guilty individual. We are a country that prides itself in many things, one of them being their justice system where everyone has the right to an equal and fair trial. Our most vulnerable citizens often fall through the cracks of the justice system, being sentenced to years, even life in prison for the same crimes committed by white men. Some might not even make it to trial at all because they die during the arrest. Our society needs to get into the shoes of those who are falling victims. See the struggles and lack of justice people of color face simply because of the color of their skin and what stereotypes society believes those darker characteristics make the individuals fall on. Power is not something that should be abused. One’s race cannot be the factor that sets the tone of your experience with law enforcement. A simple traffic stop should not turn deadly because the person is a person of color and are perceived to be bigger and more dangerous.

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Being of Color in America Sentencing and Police Brutality. (2022, Jan 10). Retrieved from

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