Racial Disparities & Democratization
The racial disparities in the criminal justice system seem to be covert, but with research can easily be seen over time. Criminalizing one group of Americans is extremely dangerous and poses a detrimental threat to the effectiveness of our democracy. Yet, white-collar crimes carry a significantly less sentence than the crimes minorities are frequently sentenced for. In turn, this sentencing practice contributes to the disproportionate racial population in prisons with whites, blacks, and minorities in general. This fact should raise concern about the mass injustice in our prison systems, which then leads to unbalanced democratic voice.
Michelle Alexander’s, ” The War on Drugs and the New Jim Crow”, discusses how the historical election of the first black President Barack Obama gave the notion that American racial relations had smoothed over, consequently making us all “equal”. President Obama’s victory ascending him to the highest position in the U.S. is used as a rebuttal to any argument that race and class play a significant role in one’s prosperity in America. Yet, in contrast, America’s newfound “colorblindness” is just a façade, as the unjust prison industrial complex has become the modern day Jim Crow. Under the guise of the “War on Drugs”, and the disdain from voters on being “soft on crime”, African Americans have found themselves victims of unjust long term sentences automatically deeming them “second class citizens”. Dehumanizing their targets attaching them to violence and danger made it easier to be tough on crime and introduce mandatory minimum sentences, when in fact a majority of these crimes are nonviolent. Taking away the rights of particular citizens, erodes their democracy.
To begin with, “THE ROLE OF RACE AND ETHNICITY IN PAROLE DECISIONS” by Beth M. Huebener and Timothy S. Bynum, the notion whether racial bias by correctional officers is the reason that there are a greater amount of African Americans imprisoned versus Caucasians or the crimes they choose to cAommit is explored. Their findings showed that there was a negative correlation to the severity of the crimes committed by people of color in comparison to the unjust lengthy sentence they are given to serve, as well as a substantial negative bias from correctional officers towards them while incarcerated. Of course we should take crime seriously and give adequate punishments, but this has not been done proportionally. As noticed by President Obama, too many men and women are serving long-term sentences over what can be considered, minor drug infractions. The continuation of the tragedy that was the “War on Drugs”, has systematically oppressed and dehumanized a certain group of people. In an attempt to combat this injustice, President Obama shortened the sentences of hundreds of inmates who he believed deserved a quicker start at a second chance at maintaining a crime free life. Many have criticized his decision, complaining that it will only increase the rate of crime by having a reduced sentence. At the same time, mandatory minimums without proper rehabilitation has not been of any help in restoring these broken communities either.
Furthermore, according to certain state laws which at first glance is a fair consequence. However, the rate at which minorities are logged into the system is at an exponential rate. Understanding why a certain group of individuals has acquired so many felonies based on sentencing disparities is a different story. The discrimination is carried from their sentencing to their paroles. For one, too many minorities have fallen victim to pleaing out, which later on just causes them more legal trouble. Many do not have the proper guidance or legal aid to know when to fight, so they end up admitting to charges they may not have even committed. For example, the horrific story of Kalief Browder, who took his own life after spending three miserable years in Rikers Island for a crime he never committed. Although, in America we are taught no matter what, we are innocent until proven guilty, many minorities have accumulated a lack of trust in the system. This scare tactic needs to be eradicated, because it forces defendants to make decisions purely out of fear. Consequently, many minorities once in the system are lost and forgotten about, and if they ever do make it out they are classified as second-class citizens.
Understandably, the justice system most definitely needs a considerable amount of reform, which is why adjustments like the “Fair Sentencing Act” have been made. This Act reduced the sentencing of crack to cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1, which was extremely necessary as African Americans were endlessly falling victim to unjust mandatory minimum sentences. These sentences not only effect minorities physically, but emotionally and make it even harder to reacclimatize to their communities. More importantly the possibility of losing your rights should be a deterrence to not commit crimes, but at the same time should not completely unbalance a society. We still have a long way to go, but the more cynicism is removed, trust is gained, and reform continues we can expect to hear everyone’s voice.
ACLU. “Fair Sentencing Act.” Www.aclu.org/, www.aclu.org/issues/criminal-law-reform/drug-law-reform/fair-sentencing-acthttp://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2008.00130.x/abstract.
Alexander, Michelle. “The War on Drugs and the New Jim Crow.” Georgia State Online Courses, gastate.view.usg.edu/d2l/le/content/1585805/fullscreen/25815682/View.
Gonnerman, Jennifer. “Kalief Browder, 1993–2015.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 3 Oct. 2017, www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/kalief-browder-1993-2015.
HUEBNER, BETH M., and TIMOTHY S. BYNUM. “THE ROLE OF RACE AND ETHNICITY IN PAROLE DECISIONS.” Criminology, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 3 Dec. 2008, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2008.00130.x/abstract.
I commend your choice of political issue depicting social reality which shows power relations between people of different colors. This article shows the prevalence of racial disparities in the criminal justice system in America where the blacks outnumber the whites, and where the former receive more severe punishment and longer sentence in contrast to the latter. Color should never be used as basis in carrying out justice. The mass injustice in the prison systems create unbalance democratic voice. The greater the number of blacks inside, the lesser their participation and representation in the outside world. even the accused have rights, one of which is the presumption of innocence. What is disheartening is, we are prejudicial to color or race. In the article of Butler (1993), Rodney King embodied an African American who was brutally beaten even without doing anything because of the possibility that he could pose as a source of danger.
With Obama’s rise to the presidency, it brought hope to the blacks that they could be of equal to the whites. Yet, the African Americans remained victims of unjust long sentences. With the Fair Sentencing Act in America, it provided the African Americans justifiable and commensurate punishment.
If I may compare the US and the Philippines, the disparity in America’s war on drugs is on race while in the Philippines, it is class. The small time pushers are jailed while the bigtime druglords roam around. The poor drug dependent is arrested while the rich is not. The two sides of the world shows inequality and injustice.
Instead of retribution, there should be rehabilitation, restorative justice and respect for human rights.