“Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread, and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is so normal.” – Shirley Chisholm
Slavery was abolished about 155 years ago, yet black people in America have yet to see justice and continue to be oppressed. The constant oppression, whether that be from discrimination, racial profiling, or even losing your life from what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop still goes on. It is a constant battle between black people and the country that is supposed to be the land of the free. The United States of America is supposed to be the land of the free, but the American legal system makes sure that black people are never truly free and can never truly feel safe.
The criminal legal system in America has been in place longer than you think. The same legal system that was used after the civil war is the same one existing now and, according to the NACDL, they are both doing the same thing–oppressing black people.
Incarceration has been weaponized against black people for some time now and is used in ways that you will only see being used against black people. It has been like this for so long that people have become blinded to the struggle that black people go through. For example, there is the disparity in drug sentencing, how black communities are over policed, and even the disparity in sentencing. According to The Sentencing Project, 2018 48% of the approximately 206,000 individuals serving life and ‘virtual life’ sentences are African American and 56.4% of those serving life without parole sentences are black. Keeping that information in mind NACDL states that,
- Black men comprise about 13% of the general population, but about 35% of those incarcerated.
- Black women comprise 44% of incarcerated women, but only make up about 13% of the female U.S. population.
We are at a point in time where there is no trust between the black community and the police; there is what seems like an irreparable rift between the two that is solely built upon fear.
The people who are supposed to protect and serve have proven time and time again that they do not care about the lives of black people and will continue to put them in danger because they know the system will bail them out. A prime example of this was what took place in March 2020. Breanna Taylor was an EMT who was killed inside of her own home by officers in plain clothes carrying out a botched raid. This only resulted in one charge even though a woman was murdered. The only charge was for wanton endangerment because a few bullets went into the neighboring house. You can find more information on the case on the full police report. This is a prime an example of how the rift between black people and police is built upon fear. Black people are not safe in their own homes and the people hurting them are never held accountable for their despicable actions against the black community.
And so, with things like that constantly happening with no justice, there was a tipping point that was reached. That point was reached last summer. 2020 summer was filled with demonstrations that took the form of peaceful protests or riots. But as another black life taken by a police officer in May 2020, the protests switched to riots that were fueled with rage. Constantly having to explain that Black Lives Matter is something no one thought would be a possibility, but here we are even in 2021 still explaining.
Now to get people held accountable for their actions committed against black people, there needs to be riots and sometimes even violence. Now with that being true, all these are connected to how the legal system treats black people.
Since 2001 it has been determined that African Americans adults are 5.9 times more likely to be incarcerated than white people. Also 1 out 3 black boys are expected to go to prison during their lifetime. Then in 2016 African Americans made up 27% of people arrested in the U.S. and the black youth made up 35% of juvenile arrests even though they make up 15% of all U.S. children, all according to that same study done by the Sentencing Project.
Most people who are used to what goes on in America will just assume it is just one race committing crimes, but a deeper look will tell you that it is more than that. Things like over policing and poverty play a big factor on how black people get stuck in the legal system. Over policing is a big problem because constant contact with law enforcement only increases the already likely chance for them to get arrested and convicted. And the poverty part is subsequently connected to the over policing, since poverty is a common thing amongst minority neighborhoods, and they are more likely to be arrested for drugs considering more than one in four people arrested for drug violations are black. Moreover, black people are also more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession even though the usage rate is the same among other races.
There are so many things that can put a black person in the oppressing cycle that is the American legal system. Once they are in, it affects so many parts of their lives that they eventually end up back in the system, stuck under the thumb of the oppressive American legal system.
Fighting for change in America for black people can become tiresome as it has been what feels like an endless fight. This legal system which has been in place since the Jim Crow days is built to keep black people in shackles whether that be the mental ones or the physical ones.
Something must give because times are changing, and more and more people are starting to notice how truly wicked it can get for a black person in America. The sooner more people see that, the faster we can start to enact some change in this country.