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My final assessment paper will be focused on racism within the criminal justice system as well as the police brutality that is geared towards blacks. It’s hard to believe we still live in a time where there is so much maltreatment against people of color, but study after study uncovers an inconceivable amount of data that reflects how blacks are put through the criminal justice system at a much higher rate than any other race. They are also more likely to experience police brutality in their lifetime.
Through the various articles, videos and PowerPoint slides in the class material, I was able to discover how prevalent the issues of stereotyping blacks by law enforcement and the subsequent murders that often occur are and what is being done to circumvent these issues (which is very little from a high level unfortunately). The justice system does not exhibit a system of true equality, but rather an organization that keeps blacks in an oppressed state where it is basically legal slavery.
Most people of color are aware that they are automatic targets for stereotyping and racism when they are in an area where a lot of whites are present. Whether it’s the heads hung low and no eye contact being made or a person moving to a different side of the street, the blatant racism in our society cannot be ignored. The police are no better than this and signs of racism and stereotyping are shown often in their interactions with the black population.
Michelle Alexander’s lecture put this in perspective so eloquently and precisely. She stated “what has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society, than the language we use to justify it” meaning that we can no longer discriminate against someone because of their race. The criminal justice system however, is able to keep blacks in bondage by a different means of slavery (legalized slavery). She spoke about some very disturbing statistics related to blacks and the criminal justice system. There are currently more black men incarcerated now than there were enslaved back in the days of slavery. How is this possible? There are a few reasons for this. First, blacks are targeted by police officers on a much larger scale than whites which leads to their arrests for both minor and major offenses. Second, a lot of black felons get caught up in the system at a young age which is reflected in a study conducted in 2010 which shows the percentage of youth in the prison system being extremely high. Once there is a felony record present, it is difficult to get back into regular society because they are tarnished at that point. Third, police presence is often higher in low-income areas which leads to more arrests connected to drug crimes. Rates of drug sales/use are the same for both blacks and whites, but whites are just not caught as often because they will go under the radar leaving blacks as the victims of targeting. Once a black person has gone to jail and served their time, the release process is no better than the way they were first placed in jail. Convicted felons are not able to find jobs or housing easily because of their records. This stays with them for many years after release which then leads them back down the same path that started the criminal activities for them in the first place. These issues put a lot of strain on the black community; there are many black people raising children on their own and barely able to provide for the household because one parent has been through the system. In fact, blacks have the highest percentage of single-parent households amongst all races. In addition, out of 2 million prisoners, 66% of them are black. We also see that “race is the most significant variable in whether or not a defendant is sentenced to death” which is heartbreaking since there are a lot of cases where the person is not even guilty, but they were simply on trial because of their race. Because of these issues, there is very little promise for a reformed lifestyle for many blacks being released from jail. The media exacerbates the problem by publicizing blacks in a negative manner most of the time. News outlets are even notified ahead of time if there is a scheduled arrest or a prisoner release from jail. It is less likely that you’ll see a black person on the news for something positive they have done for their community, but will more often see the crimes that have been committed. One additional point that should be noted is that of “racial hoaxing.” This is where a black person is falsely identified as the guilty party in a crime. There are countless stories about how black people are used as the scapegoats in witness statements, but one in particular stood out and was extremely troubling. The first was Susan Smith who in 1994 told police that she had been a victim of carjacking by a young black male who had kidnapped her two sons that were in the backseat. She later revealed that she had drowned her sons and had lied about a black male taking her car. This was perceived by the people of South Carolina as “typical” behavior of a black male because of the violent nature of the crime that was allegedly committed.
We will now explore the outcome of quite a few police stops with people of color. When you leave your home, it’s hard to believe that many people have to fear for their lives and not because of high crime rates, but rather the police brutality against blacks. It has long been an issue in the U.S., but the media coverage has been both a benefit and detriment to the various movements to end it. With the rise of cell phone recordings, police brutality is put on the forefront of news outlets from a witness point of view. When reviewing the actual statistics of police brutality against blacks, they are quite alarming. We will now go over a few for reference.
Blacks are 3 times more likely to be killed by police than white people. In 2017 there were 1,147 people killed at the hands of a police officer and 25% of those people were black. Less than 1 in 3 of the blacks killed by police in 2014 were suspected of a violent crime and allegedly armed. Lastly, 99% of the cases of police killings resulted in no conviction for the police officer involved. These figures are difficult to fathom, but they are very realistic and not much seems to be done to prevent the killing of blacks from continuing.
There are also situations where we see police violence against black women going unnoticed until it becomes a large-scale issue. There was a case in Oklahoma City where Officer Holtzclaw targeted women of color in lower income areas by stopping them for unjustified reasons so they could perform sexual favors for him. Eventually, these women came forward and the officer was prosecuted and received 263 years in prison. This type of situation happens more than we’d like to think, but unfortunately many women are too afraid to speak up because they do not believe anything will be done about it and also fear for their safety.
Solutions to excessive force and police brutality are present, but are not being utilized by many police departments. Use of force policies have been proven work because the officers are better educated on how to handle criminal situations that begin to escalate. There is always a better approach than murdering someone immediately when you believe there is a weapon present (which oftentimes, there is not).
There have been studies conducted on how Americans view the criminal justice system. Most whites have a “favorable impression” and believe they can count on the system to be fair and impartial, while blacks feel as though it is “unfair and racially biased.” While there is no way for blacks to prove that each case is racially driven, it is evident that most are focused on the alleged perpetrator being a person of color. We also see that there are some police officers who are fighting for better methods to be enforced within their precincts. While most would like to protect their own, others believe that as police officers they should be held to the oath they gave when joining the force of serving and protecting the community. If an officer speaks out against their fellow officer, they are seen as a “rat” which makes the good cops hesitant to say anything (even when they believe they should).
I have had multiple instances throughout life where police racism and brutality has affected people around me. The most recent situation has impacted my cousin’s life gravely. He was a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and has now been convicted of murder. Unfortunately, he had a previous criminal record which made him a prime target for pinning this crime on him. He is now facing a life sentence that will be almost impossible to appeal. Many Americans would like to believe that our “criminal justice system isn’t a system of racial control, it’s a system of crime control” but this is far from the truth.
We as a country need to be in a much better place educationally speaking so that we can enable law enforcement to perform their jobs properly so that every citizen can feel safe stepping out of their homes each day knowing they are being protected rather than being targeted.
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