War on Crime; War on Black and Brown
The United States is the third most populated nation in the world. It is first in incarceration rates.
The United States’ black and brown population is only 32% of the nation’s entire population. Yet this country’s prison system is 56% black and brown.
The United State’s drug use has increased across racial and cultural lines evenly over the past decades. However, law enforcement agencies arrest black and brown residents 6 times more that it arrests white residents.
In 1992, President Ronald Reagan pounced on the campaign scene with his ”War on Drugs” Campaign. Thereafter, both Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton heralded this campaign slogan. And in 2016, President Trump ran a campaign endorsing and promising to increase the policy of “stop and frisk,” which gives law enforcement unfettered ability to search anyone it deems suspicious.
Fast forward to 2017: Less than three months ago, this nation’s top lawyer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, announced a sweeping missive: To seek the most severe charges and the harshest penalties in criminal cases under the new administration. The new rules didn’t end there. The Sessions’ Memorandum expressly renounced any and all the policies of President Obama to reduce the federal prison populations.
Last week during an interview, Sessions announced proudly during a Fox News segment, “We’re stepping up the prosecution across the country, based upon the direct executive order [the President] gave to us, to prosecute particularly the gangs and the violence.”
For those who dare to think critically, the link between race and this country’s penchant to incarcerate those of a different hue from the majority population is inescapable. It is undeniable: Crime is automatically associated in the minds of most Americans with black and brown. Incarceration is the means by which this nation politely separates us from them. Incarceration is the mask, and behind it lies expressions of racism.
To reach such a jarring conclusion, one needs to only consider the disparate treatment in sentencing between the white defendant and the black and brown defendant that is played out everyday in courtrooms around the country. Take these two scenarios that are summaries of real criminal cases:
A defendant in possession of a significant amount of heroin receives drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration when she is white and is deemed to be an empathetic drug user in need of help; however, when the black and brown defendant is brought before the court, with similar amount of heroin, the automatic assumption is such a defendant is the incorrigible network supplier of drugs and therefore a stiffer punishment is necessary.
A high school prank breaking windows in a suburban community is resolved with community service; however, the inner city black and brown youth faces a felony burglary attempt conviction.
Both cases are real cases, and similar cases occur in sentencing courtrooms throughout this nation daily. Stated in the most elementary form, we criminalize behavior disproportionately based on race. And this nation’s refusal to accept that fact is abysmally pathetic.
To begin to search for answers to mass incarceration, we must first have the courage to address race in America. Until we are bold enough to acknowledge that incarceration is how we find solace in protecting ourselves from them, we will continue to lead the world in locking away that portion of our citizenry.
Second, take a dogged stand against disparate treatment in every form. Yesterday’s racial placards carried by Klan members are today’s political platforms. Instead of taking a stand, we find ourselves caught up in the emotional rhetoric spouted from both sides of the political token and do nothing else.
We are defined by our actions. Incarceration has become the moral barometer by which we decide who we want to reject.