Thursday, July 18, 2013

Does Black Justice Exist In The Criminal Justice System?

"The popular narrative that emphasizes the death of slavery and Jim Crow and celebrates the nation's "triumph over race" with the election of Barack Obama is dangerously misguided. The colorblind public consensus that prevails in America today-i.e., the widespread belief that race no longer matters- has blinded us to the realities of race in our society and facilitated the emergence of a new caste system. " ~ Alexander, Michelle "The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness [The New Press, NY 2012}Pg. 12

Although I have tried to refrain from an indepth commentary, and don't plan on spending a lot of time on the subject, because there is far too much work to do within the church when addressing mindsets and stereotypes of victimization and abuse, I couldn't really go without at least addressing some of the issues surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman and Mr. Zimmerman's subsequent not guilty verdict. 
In all that has been said and done over the last year or so and through the verdict of this trial, we have heard some pretty polarizing statements and sentiments on both sides of the issue. We have seen people say that Trayvon should have simply gone home, or that George should not have stalked, yet alone, killed Trayvon (a sentiment to which I agree) and it seems that admonitions on at least what should have happened run along racial and ethnic lines.

In my mind this only further solidifies the understanding that America is divided into casts or sects and that

there are at least two philosophical views of America within the USA. There is an America whose systems and laws are fashioned for the people, and there is an America whose systems and laws are USED against certain of her own people. Although both of these Americas exist together; they even entertain one another, they do not exist in union with one another no matter how much they may appear to do so. Then there is an underlying mistrust, distrust and broken union among many of America's citizens that live in her everyday. This has caused much recent and modern controversy as we all remember the sentiments of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright who instead of saying "God bless America" said, "...God dxxx America, for what she has done..."
Rev. Jeremiah Wright

Can these things simply be written off as mainstream White dominated media wish to do with such sentiments? Can they or should they be simply be disavowed for political and mass social appeal? Are we experiencing a reemergence of ultra-classism, sectarianism and creedalism? Can we as a people stand it, and how should we address it? 

In this article I would like to look a a few pieces to the current puzzle in America. I don't think it is a debate in any other civilized nation that there is something wrong when an adult (or anyone else for that matter) stalks another person who is doing nothing wrong, and ultimately confronts and kills them, that an offence has occurred. But somehow part of America feels that the opinion in favor of death for the Black youth is somehow justified and understandable to whatever degree....      

The Emergence of The "Caste"

Pictured is me and my 16 year old son Jeauvon Burnett, and myself. Like Tracy Martin said of his son Trayvon, he, (along with his sister, my daughter and their mother, my wife) are also my best friends. There would be a great hole in my heart and life if he weren't here, especially if he were taken from me under similar circumstances under which Zimmerman took Trayvon. 

My opinion is clear; you have no right to label my son, as teachers over the years found out from me and his mother. He does not fit nor does he deserve your stereotypes. You have no right to classify him or label him without knowing him, and until you take the time to know him, I have very little or no respect for your negative opinions and stereotypes of him. 

Mistakes have been made

One such mistake in this was made on the last day of school. An uninformed school security guard had the nerve to tell him (my son) that he would end up like "the rest of them"...To him "the rest of them" when it pertains to Black kids, was a negative, leading to jail, crime and a life in the criminal system outcome. This was this guards mistake, of which I am sure he will never forget. I quickly found the security guard, and in front of his peers along with my son, told him that the best he could do is do his job as a security officer and leave the behavioral modifications and expectations of our children to professionals such as myself. I invited him to watch my son from a distance because my son, under my direction was a part of the solution and not the problem and that whatever expectation that he had (without no basis other than race) was wasted effort and energy on his behalf. Needless to say, he didn't want to hear it, but because I help pay his salary through taxes, he was made to listen.   

From a sociological standpoint, the word "caste" can be defined in the following manner:
An endogamous and hereditary social group limited to persons of the same rank, occupation, economic position, etc., and having mores distinguishing it from other such groups. Or any rigid system of social distinctions.
America doesn't like to think of itself in casts or classes, but we are all aware that casts and classes exist. There are the "haves" and the "have-nots". There are the "ins" and those without. It is also clear that America is viewed by her citizens in many different ways. First there is the America of the media. This America is open and socially accepting of almost anything. It is the America that elected a Black President some 49 years after Blacks were given civil rights. In this America, there is no or very little inequity and what inequities there are are quickly corrected with hard work, effort, reason and balance. This America, controlled by law and the rule of law, only needs slight adjustment because everyone wants the best for everyone else and because of this there are no real limits to anything or anyone's success. 

The second America is more of an experiential America. It is perceived not through idealism, but by experience on the ground. This America is cold unless one has his/her own. It is distant and sometimes impossible to navigate. It is an America in which efforts, no matter how earnest, are not rewarded with the same vigor of which they are made if the "right person" is not making the effort. It is an America that rewards "middle class" success with greater burdens, and is ever increasing the distance between the poor and the rich. 

It is an America in which "justice" by process of law, creates a completely different underclass of individual who is entitled to only live in America devoid of rights and personal freedoms. It is an America that is constantly aware of issues such as color of skin, providing and taking away benefits based on the same. This America has a promise of "opportunity" and "moral equality", but delivery of that promise must be fought for because it is not simply given on its own merit.  

Too much of a percentage of those who were previously denied rights to the first vision of America have experienced the second reality of America as outlined above. Out of that another "caste" that has been created in the process. This "caste" has striking similarities. They are almost always poor, and by far and large they are minority and more specifically Black and most specifically Black males. They are the new expendables. Whether that be for certain opportunity such as jobs, or for certain other things such as personal freedoms. This caste is ever and increasingly a means to social and political ends and if we are not careful, soon to be a insignificant and put away part of society in general. 

Legal System & Criminal Activity? 

I think one of the primary things to note is that justice doesn't seem to be equal in America for all individuals which is a fact that far too many Black Americans are already aware of. One of the most startling facts is found in the punishment for illegal drug use and sales. It seems that both Blacks and Whites sell and use illegal drugs at similar rates. However, the fact remains that Blacks are jailed at over 4 times the rate than their White counterparts for the same offences.
As proof, can anyone tell me how many years in prison did "Oxycontin pill poppin' White" Rush Limbaugh get for his illegal drug use? What about his suppliers? Where are they now and why was there not a ring of people paraded in the news that facilitated this crime and criminal activity? Believe me, we know the doctor that killed Michael Jackson, but what do we know of this Limbaugh drug ring? Now, imagine that Rush is a Black man espousing a different or a variation on his set of values...Does anyone think that he would be free or continue to be a radio personality with the largest contract in broadcasting?

It seems that there are always exceptions to the rules and laws within the courts when it comes to the perception of the actions of Black litigants in general. The "anger" of Blacks is always considered "out of control". how many people have ever been in a discussion in certain situations and heard some say "security"? As if the police or threat of the police is kryptonite to Black people????? The inquiries of Blacks are usually considered "disruptive" and their assertiveness as "cocky". Then don't dare be a Black employee with an opinion, you may then be construed as "insubordinate". PLEASE!!!!! 

The "system" and adherence to it is simply no more than a way to capture, gather, classify and subjugate whole communities through a system of laws and legal opinion. Ever since the 'war on drugs' which was really a war on the Black community, the legal 'system" has been used to track, limit and prohibit certain segments of society, that segment being by far, Blacks and Black males in particularly.  Society suffers today due to failed policies in dealing with Black males and the Black community in particular. In 30 years the prison population increased from 300,000 to over 2 million. The majority of that increase have been Black males. once cannot take that many men out of the community without it having a devastating effect on those who remain within the community including the children in particularly.  

Is There Black Justice In Criminal Justice?
Recent conversation, especially from conservative White America, has centered around "respect" for the rule of law. Many are convinced of the first vision of America outlined in this article, and are calling for civility in all matters and a dumbing down of anyone who disagrees with the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case in which George Zimmerman was found not guilty. In other words, simply "shut-up"!

The problem is that the "rule of law" has operated differently based on the color of the individuals to whom the law applies. This was evident in the not guilty verdict. The "rule of law" stated that the Black man's (Trayvon) only right was to go home and get away from the White man (or so it was perceived) stalking him. As soon as Trayvon turned to confront his stalker with aggression, which is something that almost anyone in the same situations would have done, he was now in the experience of the second America as outlined above. He was on the wrong side of American idealism, not so much because of his actions, but because of the color of skin that he possessed when his actions took place...American justice lost its "blindness" when Trayvon struck back.

Then there is the flat out imbalance of the current application of "criminal justice". For example, although George Zimmerman was interpreted by a primarily White, female jury to be in defense of his life (after stalking, chasing and even hunting down Trayvon Martin with a gun) and said to have understandable reasons to be "in fear of his life" (Juror 37B), it is interesting to note that the same "consideration" (that a person was in fear for their life) wasn't given to Marissa Alexander, A Black women, in the same state, who was in fear of her life at the threats of an abusive, ex-husband. Michelle who fired a warning shot in the air from a gun that she also legally owned, which killed no one, RECEIVED 20 YEARS IN PRISON for the discharge of the weapon, a supposed violation of "the law"

The bottom line claim: what she did, even in defense of her life and a documented pattern and record of threats, was illegal and therefore punishable by law...Tell me that in all of Florida history, a White woman has never defended herself in a similar manner? Certainly one has never and not gone to prison because of it.

If that is not enough, how about the case of then 69 year old Trevor Dooley who was convicted and found guilty of manslaughter under Florida law, when the jury stated that "stand your ground" did not apply to him. Did I mention that he killed a White man? Everyone agrees that it never should have happened, but "criminal justice' didn't seem to work as we find that it did in the Zimmerman case. That article can be found HERE.  

More and more we are reminded that "criminal justice" is nothing more than a myth. It is an ideal. A notion that is overloaded with a disproportionate number of Blacks. However, it is a nightmarish reality for most of those who are caught in its grips and once a person is caught, they will do good to ever get away.

The Tale Of 2 Perceptions

Recently Sean Hannity "moderated" a discussion of a panel of  news legal analysts and guests to discuss the verdict and reaffirm his satisfaction in the Martin/Zimmerman case. Although the panel was all over the board,  Jehmu Green (who has been under fire to quit and resign) brought up the fact that the current criminal justice system is bias against Black individuals based on the Black incarceration rate. This was fought with much resistance as it commonly is, by others stating that the reason that incarceration rates were so high was because of behavioral and moral issues. But the facts speak for themselves and the question remains, why are Blacks incarcerated at rates over 4 times higher than whites, although the actual crime committed by both Blacks and Whites are relatively similar? No one in their right mind could argue that race is not a factor in both public perception of individual behavior and outcome of criminal cases. These facts are such a given to attorney Mark Geragos that he said on a CNN panel discussion that 90% of the outcome of criminal cases in the criminal justice system was based on race; that being that Blacks by far and often received the worst end of the deal.

As we witness situations in which American rights are eroded or even denied based on color, as we have seen, we begin to wonder is there such a thing as "criminal justice" especially for Blacks in America. Fortunately, those questions have been addressed and are continuing to be addressed by leading author and activist Michelle Alexander in her NY Times Bestselling book referenced above "The New Jim Crow, Mass incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness". Michelle looks at a full perspective of exactly what this system is and what it has done to our communities. When coupled with the understanding of stereotypes and what those stereotypes have done to American culture, the book is a fascinating read and in tune with exactly what we see in our streets and courts everyday.

This is not a new topic or subject and one worth noting because it is real and an area undeserved by current civil rights efforts because reversing the tide will take considerable effort and advocacy both in legislative processes, courts and more poignantly at street level.


While many Americans can say all day that calling attention to certain situations and demanding justice is "manipulation" of the system, the fact is that in American history, if calling attention to certain situations did not occur, Blacks would not have what rights we have in this country today. Rosa (Parks) wasn't the first nor was she the only Black woman that refused to move. Neither was Martin Luther King the only civil rights leader that took a stand. The key for freedom has always been in consistency and calling to order the things that are out of order and calling to accountability, those who feel that they are not accountable to anyone but those whom they wish to be accountable to.
Without strong leaders calling attention to racial and social injustices and inequities, the law would not have changed regarding the plight of Blacks and we would still and yet be at the beck and call of "massa" in many areas and places. Don't believe these manipulators that tell people especially Black people, to be silent or that all Black leaders are wrong. THEY are the ones deceived and sold into a system designed to serve their needs while the needs of others, especially and in some cases specifically Black individuals go unattended.

Although chains and whips are not the methods of modern enslavement, bias, unfair and unjust treatment within the criminal justice system itself is the new form of enslavement. This legal wrangling is far more encompassing and as equally disturbing to modern American communities and as the classes are divided into the wealthy and poor exclusively, we will see and even greater trouble at all levels.

Don't be confused...we have a moral undertaking at street level. A duty which the church must rise to address. Some of the trickery that our youth have been seduced into must cease. However, that is what truth and light does...drives away the darkness. At the same time however we must also engage the "system" and the culture of the system that we are in if we want to experience true and lasting change.

Question:Al Sharpton has called for a series of rallys in over 100 cities across America on Saturday July 20th. Will you participate in one? Do you think that will help begin conversation and the process of discussing the plight of Black people across the nation?       

1 comment:

  1. Now, I have the experience of what is happening currently in the streets and personal experience in these issues as this has happened to me as well.

    I have been the only Black employee in professional offices, a Black teen and one who has dealt with the stereotypical thoughts of Blacks and Black youth.

    At the same time, I have listened to White conservatism. I am a conservative Black. But when it comes to certain issues, White folk don't understand where Black folk are coming from. That's in part why it is so offensive to label the struggle for homosexual "rights" along the line of Black and civil rights. Those things do not match up. There is no comparison. There is a totally different point of reference.

    Anyone can change their sexuality. There is plenty of proof and all efforts to say it is not possible is offset by millions who have done so. But there is NO way to change our color, heritage or history. It is simply impossible to do so.

    I live in a Midwestern city where color is separated by the side of town one lives on and stereotypes abound. the corporate culture is not inclusive of Blacks and minorities and the business culture for Blacks is stagnate and limited. The crime industry however is booming, if you are in law enforcement. The primary target is the Black community.

    A "Don't Shoot" (James Kennedy) program was recently implemented by our city. For a long time I wondered why Kennedy stated in his material and book that law enforcement "shouldn't follow the drug trail" but "should follow the gun shots" in solving crime. Not until I came across information that Blacks and Whites use and sell drugs and nearly equal rates.

    See, that creates a dilemma...if the rate is the same then Blacks and Whites should be getting locked up equally...What we find is that Blacks are more likely to use guns in resolving drug related and territorial issues. Therefore following the "gun trail" assures that you will still be able to target Blacks, control the population all the while doing it for a "cause" that the whole community can relate to...that cause is "safety" and "security" against gun proliferation.

    Wake up and see it for what it is. not all White folk and not all White officials have ulterior motives. Many want sincerely to help. However, there are many more that only see the stereotype and only operate under those assumptions.

    If that weren't the case, my office would be one of the most funded inner-city office in our city. god through what we are doing is changing many aspects of life and living at a grass roots level through educational advocacy, cause advocacy, and hands on experiences. Just this year, we had an athlete through the track club that qualified and ran in the regional Jr. Olympics. He was a Black male youth. He was one of the top 9 in his event in the whole midwest USATF. There was not one non-minority contributor and the news did not say ONE word.

    You mean to tell me, with such negative images, the news snubbed a Black 18 year old doing such positive things? Yep. That's what I'm saying. Now, imagine he was a White kid....

    Sorry, you will have to convince me otherwise...


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