Is America’s Legal System Failing People of Color?


If you talk with many American fathers and mothers of color, you discover that they are afraid for the lives of their children, especially young males.  As more and more young African American males die at the hands of police, parents scramble to find ways to save their lives.  From actors to teachers, rich to poor, and politicians to plumbers, parents of color teach children how to answer questions demanded by policemen, particularly white policemen, keep hands visible and do not make sudden “moves” when pulled over.  These are stressful times for both parents and children.  Why has America retrogressed in its treatment for all of its citizens?  Why have so many unarmed black males been killed by police officers?  Well…there are those who argue that it hasn’t retrogressed… it’s just the status quo.   Let’s take a look!

 

From 2011 to 2019, fifty-four unarmed, black males have been shot to death by police.  Many, with officers not having to shoulder any responsibility for doing so.  Statistics reveal that racial minorities made up about 37.4 percent of the general population in the United States, but they made up 62.7 percent of unarmed people killed by police.  Are minorities more violent than whites? 

 

Data that supports a positive “yes” is inconclusive.  Studies reveal poverty in disadvantaged neighborhoods plays a role in the amount of crime displayed, and since more blacks tend to live in those areas, more crimes are committed.  Other   studies reveal:  Many crimes are reported without race being identified, so the number of whites committing crimes could be under-reported, and finally, blacks tend to be arrested or suspected of commission of crimes more than whites because racism has been cited as a contributing factor.  Why?  Ingrained attitudes that blacks are more violent than whites contribute to “trigger-fingered” police officers who fear for their lives.  The idea is “kill them before they kill me” and ask questions later.  Also, studies reveal that until policemen in many cities were required to wear cameras, stories of criminal activity by blacks were often built on lies and fabrication.

Another ingredient that increases prison time for blacks compared to whites, is the quality of legal defense used in cases.  Whites tend to hire more competent lawyers, while many blacks or other minorities use attorneys provided by the system, thereby getting attorneys that are either incompetent, or overburdened with cases and unable to prepare adequate defense.  Money does buy freedom in America…unfortunately.

 

White collar crimes, which tend to be committed primarily by white Americans, receive far less prison time than crimes committed by people of color.  Many judges who mete out sentences, tend to view white color crimes with less negative impact on society than those committed by people of color.  Some even denigrate the legal system for imposing what they view as “too harsh” sentences on white criminals, but not on black criminals committing the same or less harsh crimes.  When did breaking the law for one, become less than breaking the law for another?

Whatever the reasons, many believe America’s legal system is failing people of color.  Also… deeply embedded in societal norms, is the ‘slave mentality…’ that says: “whites are superior to blacks,” or “it is not as bad if a white person does it, as it is if a black person does it.”  America must continue to grow into the attitude that crime is crime, no matter who commits it.

 

 

Then…there’s the Stand Your Ground Law that originated in Texas, but has spread rapidly throughout America.  Take a look at the essence of that law:

“A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

 Let’s look at the impact that law has had on people of color:

  • Research shows that whites kill blacks, homicides are listed as justifiable 11 times more frequently than when blacks kill whites.
  • A study in Florida revealed that defendants who invoke SYGL in fatal altercations and whose victims are minorities are convicted half as often than those whose victims are white.
  • Sentences are unequally handed out among the races, with minorities receiving longer prison time that whites invoking SYGL.
  • There is a 45 per cent increase in firearm homicides among white residents compared to a 23 per cent increase among black residents.

 

Is America’s legal system failing people of color? Research answers that question with a resounding Yes!