The Moral Failing of a Nation
We face a crossroads of unimaginable proportions, a divide so large that failing to cross it leaves the balance of an entire race in the limbo. The issue of race and to a degree social status and equality have always vexed us since the beginning of this nation’s inception. We started as a greatly hypocritical nation, expressing many liberties and freedoms for some while brutally repressing others. Over time we founded something different from those which had come before us, a democracy (albeit unperfected) founded on the ideals of a host of new freedoms not given before to the common man. Overtime, we slowly corrected the errors of the original wrongs which our nation had perpetrated against many of its citizens: slaves, women, and children. But even in those beginning corrections, we did a disservice to those very citizens whose very dignity had been affronted. Although we had begun to right many of the wrongs which those citizens faced we stopped short of what was needed and today we now face an even greater problem. For purposes of clarity and topic, I will focus only on the issue of race relations in America in regards to Blacks (African-Americans) and White Americans. The Black American is still largely the “other” in American society, even considering the great strides which we as a nation have taken towards racial equality. But don’t let the façade fool you altogether. We have only traded one evil for another. And unless we correct that evil once and for all, we risk repeating a failed attempt at racial subjugation. Slavery ended some time ago but its underlying political motivation never ended with the institution. Instead, over the years those same people who had been empowered under the old guard introduced a new system which could on the surface appear color blind while really being anything but. A new justice and law enforcement disguise sprang up. Round up the blacks under the guise of law and order and instead of using them as labor forces (although many are used still as labor forces), lock them away and make the chances of rehabilitation into society near impossible. And for decades this ploy has worked. “A ploy?” you might say. “All of those currently in prison deserve to be there.” But below the surface lies a truly, ugly evil.
Currently, the United States leads every developed nation in the world in regards to prison population. While only accounting for 5 percent of the world’s population, America accounts for more than 25 percent of the world’s prison population. If you include numbers of those on probation or parole, the number of Americans under law enforcement supervision jumps to an astounding 7.2 million Americans. THAT IS ROUGHLY 1 IN EVERY 32 AMERICANS! Either the world’s most “civilized” nation actually is a land of bandits and criminals or a greater problem lies at hand. So let’s look at the facts because this is where the illusion of justice falls flat. According to the latest US Census Bureau Black Americans make up approximately 13.6 percent of the US population. Take a guess at the make-up of Black Americans in the US prison population? 40 percent! So are blacks more inclined towards crime? More attracted to a lifestyle of crime and poverty? The clear answer is no. The less obvious answer is that this make-up of the prison population (and much of the institutional racism that seeps through all of America) is all too intentional.
The vast majority of criminals now serving time are behind bars for drug related offenses. Non-violent, low level drug related offenses. Crimes that statistically speaking, your white next door neighbor is also probably committing. Think your average, white middle or upper class college student who happens to also be the main supplier of ecstasy pills and weed on a college campus. So why is it that one gets off while the other sits behind bars and then languishes in a justice system designed to do anything but provide justice? The answers are actually well known and well documented. A quick history lesson: In 1952 Congress passed a law called the Boggs Act. It prescribed mandatory minimum sentences between two to five years for marijuana possession among other fines/penalties. In 1970 Congress then repealed mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana. Along comes 1986 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act again creates different mandatory minimum sentences for possession of various types of drugs. At its heart, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act was meant for “eradicating…halting international drug traffic, to improve enforcement of federal drug laws…” It should be of note that the mandatory minimum sentence for possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine was 5 years with no parole (a drug type typically used by inner-city black drug users). The same law ascribed possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine (typical user: upper-middle class, rich white people) to reach the same mandatory minimum sentence. That is a 100:1 sentencing disparity for what amounts to the difference between choosing Coke or Pepsi as your drink of choice. The laws and the select application of them through and through are not meant for law enforcement crack downs on legitimate commercial drug rings but as a façade to imprison the black population of America.
This abandonment of the humanity of the black population has led to a reckless abandonment of principled discourse and action within the United States towards combating racism in America. All too often the narrative is changed to demonize the “other” while finding excuses to not really look at the underlying problems. We (both Black & White) have become all too comfortable to sit about and allow the status quo to persist. Because we have moved away from the outright hatred and racial tensions of the 1950s and 1960s we believe that we have somehow evolved beyond our human capacity for hatred, fear, and misunderstanding. I would beg to differ. We have only changed our prejudices and misunderstanding to evolve with the societal norm that persists today. We create apps to avoid “sketchy areas” (yes, an app was recently created which allows users to avoid “sketchy” areas of varying locales), we see in unarmed black teens weapons which are not there, guilt where only innocence lives. We must be willing and open to have discussions which at times will be painful and hard to hear but necessary if we are to evolve beyond the prevailing system. There are other things that must change as well. A very real start to dismantling the current “justice system” and having a system which truly prescribes true justice is by undoing mandatory minimum sentences. Utah federal judge, Paul Cassell, who in 2007 chaired the criminal law committee of the Judicial Conference, noted in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee of a sentence in which he had to give a longer sentence to a first time drug offender over that of a murderer he had also sentenced. He described the difference in sentencing between the two crimes as “bizarre”. To say the fucking least.
There are many other ways in which we must consciously and subconsciously combat racism both within ourselves and the larger community if we are to ever stop witnessing the prevailing headlines of the day in which our brothers, sisters, and loved ones are demonized simply for being black. For now I will end here but there is much more that will be said and must be said so that hopefully we can begin to truly heal ourselves and our nation.