Wednesday, August 14, 2013

War on Drugs--War on Black & Brown People?

Daily Discussion Blog Post: Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department will change the enforcement policies of the federal drug laws.  Low-level non-violent drug offenders will likely not be charged with offenses that carry a mandatory minimum sentence in federal prisons.  The War on Drugs (even at the federal level) dramatically impacted Blacks and Hispanics through a massive incarceration campaign.  Is this Attorney General Holder's way of trying to right the "wrongs" of the last 30+ years?  What do you think?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Stop and Frisk: Crime Reduction or Fear Enhancer?

Stop and Frisk

Daily Discussion Blog Post: Yesterday, a federal court judge ruled that New York's "Stop and Frisk" policy violated the constitutional rights of racial/ethnic minorities. The judge ordered that the policy undergo federal monitoring. While Blacks and Hispanics make up approximately 50% of the city's population, they made up slightly more than 80% of those who were stopped and frisked. Did the judge overstep her boundaries or was justice achieved?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Dream Defenders Impacting Real Issues? Stand Your Ground, Racial Profiling, and School-to-Prison Pipeline

Dream defenders-Racial profiling

For almost four weeks, the Dream Defenders have been peacefully occupying the Florida Capitol.  They have the goal to affect change.  They are asking Governor Scott to call a special session of Florida legislature to address issues of “Stand Your Ground,” racial profiling, and the school-to-prison pipeline.  All of these issues are legitimate concerns, and many should support the Dream Defenders in their efforts because they should be OUR efforts.

For issues discussed in prior blog posts, Stand Your Ground (SYG) should be reviewed to see if it is being implemented and interpreted most effectively by jurisdictions in Florida.  Recently, I attended a forum at FAMU Law School, which focused on Florida’s SYG law.  Multiple state legislators were in attendance, including one of the original sponsors of the controversial legislation.  After a series of serious conversations during the event, the legislators appeared open to revisiting SYG.  However, who knows if that was real talk or political talk to appease the disappointed attendees!  Regardless, the Dream Defenders recognize that SYG creates circumstances where prejudices become “reasonable” and the subsequent fear might increase the likelihood of violence.  I would be happy to provide research that shows a fear of young minority males.

The Dream Defenders’ second issue is the racial profiling that occurs within this state.  While Governor Scott cannot fully eliminate the practice of racial profiling, he can provide leadership by asking the state legislature to review laws, policies, and practices that create an environment for this type of profiling to take place.  Florida is a fairly conservative state (in terms of state laws), where it is tough on offenders who use guns, sex offenders, and drug offenders.  However, the state appears to be more liberal in terms offenses that derive from racial profiling.  These types of (in)actions demonstrate the priorities of the state.

The Dream Defenders’ final issue is the school-to-prison pipeline.  This is an unfortunate reality, not only in the state of Florida, but across the entire country.  In many of the public schools, especially those in socially/economically disadvantaged areas, there are several policies that increase the likelihood of kids going from school to “prison,” or some aspect of the juvenile/criminal justice system.  For instance, zero tolerance policies allow for no discretion in sanctions when policies are violated.  Therefore, context and understanding are irrelevant.  These policies result in kids being suspended or expelled, which increases the likelihood of criminal justice contact.  Other school districts have programs where school infractions are downloaded and sent to local policies stations, allowing youth to have a record with law enforcement.

While some may feel the Dream Defenders are being unrealistic in their requests to the Governor, the fact is that there is a reasonable, logical, and empirical foundation for each request.  SYG, racial profiling, and the school-to-prison pipeline are all relevant issues in the state of Florida and beyond.  The criminal justice system is drastically impacted by all of these issues.  When many people think of racial profiling, they think of Black and Brown people being profiled.  When many people think of the school-to-prison pipeline (regardless of whether they agree with the term), they think of Black and Brown people.  When people think of SYG, it now has the face of Trayvon Martin, given the shooting and subsequent not-guilty verdict.  Given that these issues have a Black or Brown “face,” does it make you wonder why they are not getting the state’s attention?

Monday, August 5, 2013

The "Black Criminal:" The Moral Panic Created by the Media


There is a growing myth that equates Black people (especially males) with criminal activity.  Again this is a myth which is often perpetuated by the media.  For instance, Fox News’ commentator Bill O’Reilly, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, and even some Black “leaders” often discuss Black people in such a way where it implies that they are engaging in significant amounts of crime.  This myth or moral panic is further exacerbated by terms such as “Black-on-Black” crime, where it implies that Blacks are simply killing and robbing one another.

Let’s examine the “truth” of these issues.  In terms of crime, there are multiple ways one can look at it.  To begin, one can look at arrests.  As mentioned above, if one believes the media portrayal, it would lead you to believe Blacks were involved in so much crime.  According to the FBI (which collects data on all crime reported to law enforcement agencies in the United States), in 2011, Blacks made up 38% of the arrests for violent crime, while Whites made up 59% of the violent crime arrests.  While there are many problems with how the FBI measures race, the point is that it is clear that Blacks are not arrested for a majority of violent crimes.  In fact, of ALL crimes in the United States, Blacks make up majority of the arrests for only three offenses: homicide (49.7% Black; 48% White), robbery (55.6% Black; 43% White), and gambling (66.9% Black; 29.8% White).  As can be seen, the homicide arrest percentages are almost equivalent.  In all other offenses (other than these three), violent and nonviolent, Whites are arrested at a greater percentage of Blacks.  The question, then, is on what foundation are these claims of the Black criminal being advanced?

If you examine incarceration rates, Blacks make up 38% of those in state/federal prison (34% White) and there are slightly more Blacks in county jails than Whites.  Incarceration is not a good indication of crime because not all criminals are actually incarcerated; they can be sentenced to probation.  In other words, when commentators are looking at the amount of crime committed, they appear (maybe!) to be examining arrests.  I have provided a link at the bottom of this post to the FBI website, where you can see the racial breakdown of the arrests.

I make the argument that agendas are being advanced in the current media environment.  The main agenda is to create a moral panic of Blacks, where it is portraying this group as crime prone and dangerous.  “Black-on-Black” crime is a ridiculous term.  Bill O’Reilly mentioned that 91% Black homicide victims were killed by Black offenders in 2011.  This does imply a “Black-on-Black” crime issue.  However, he failed to mention that 83% of White victims were killed by White offenders….and we don’t go around talking about “White-on-White” crime.  Again, the former term is used as a way to enhance the negative views of Blacks.  Simply speaking, crime is committed in neighborhoods in which people reside….meaning Blacks are more likely to victimize Blacks and Whites are more likely to victimize Whites.  There is nothing more to this Black-on-Black crime phenomenon.

Bluntly speaking, the facts do not support any of these claims.  While Blacks do make a up a disproportionate percentage of arrests (percentage of arrests is greater than Blacks’ percentage of the U.S. population), the fact is that Blacks do NOT make up a larger percentage of arrests for almost all categories of criminal offenses.  Although we cannot stop people from making up lies or giving partial “truths,” we have to educate ourselves with knowledge.

Now that we know the truth about the facts, the question is that why does the media continue to portray Blacks in this way…..why create this false moral panic?  Why make it seem as though Blacks engage in a majority of crime when it is a blatant lie?

Bill O’Reilly’s segment on “Black-on-Black” crime and violent crime in the media

Uniform Crime Reports (FBI) for 2011, showing the racial breakdown of arrests

Bureau of Justice Statistics (race and state/federal prison incarcerated population)

Bureau of Justice Statistics (race and jail population)

FBI (Race of victims/Race of offenders for homicides)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Don Lemon and Bill O'Reilly "Agree" on What Blacks Need to Do?!?!


A few days ago, there was some agreement between CNN’s Don Lemon, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, and conservative Crystal Wright.  In a nutshell, Don Lemon mentioned that there are a host of issues taking place in the Black community and there are five things they should do: 

  • ·         Stop wearing their pants off their butts

  • ·         Stop using the "N" word

  • ·         Stop throwing down trash in the neighborhood

  • ·         Get an education

  • ·         Stop having babies, just because it’s possible to have them

While these issues are very legitimate, Don, Bill, and Crystal all miss a few underlying issues.  Blacks are disproportionately over-represented in lower class neighborhoods.  Therefore, the schools have a greater probability of being highly understaffed with fewer resources, resulting in further school quality decline.  It’s very easy to tell kids to “get an education” when many of the kids are not receiving quality early childhood education, which is compounded when they reach later grades.  These are issues that are not usually felt in the more middle-to-upper class neighborhoods because those schools have exceedingly better resources.

Of course, I don’t want to pretend as though there is no personal responsibility in this.  Some Blacks are making the intentional decision to forgo an education for an undesirable lifestyle.  However, this is not the issue for the majority of inner-city impoverished Blacks.  Clearly there are issues with the educational system if this is a fairly consistent issue in most inner-cities.

I agree with Don, Bill, and Crystal about wearing pants correctly, stop using the "N" word, no longer destroying the neighborhood with trash, and not having babies for the heck of it.  As mentioned earlier, there is personal accountability in many of these issues.  However, there is also a structural issue that extends to a system that is not designed for certain people to succeed.  When was the last time you heard elected officials discuss the poor?  You hear “middle-class,” “entrepreneurs,” “wealthy,” and those types of terms.  You don’t hear anything about attempting to focus on problems felt by those living in poverty, where Don’s 5 points are disproportionately more likely to occur.

For instance, we have a welfare system that is designed to perpetuate the cycle of poverty, an educational system that systematically provides lower quality education to those in poverty, a lack of access to quality jobs to those in poverty, a revolving door to incarceration, etc.  All of these factors are inter-related to Don Lemon’s 5 points.  While I see the point that the three people mentioned were attempting to make, they ignore the structural societal issues that make it difficult to address multiple issues.  The three of them take a very simplistic view to a complicated problem. 

These problems were couched in a conversation of “Black-on-Black” crime, which is a foolish term.  As a point of reference, most crime is intra-racial.  In other words, people are more likely to commit offenses against others of the same race.  Crime is usually committed in the areas in which people live, and given that many of our neighborhoods are dominated by a particular race, crime is mostly intra-racial.  Therefore, “White-on-White” crime is an issue… “Hispanic-on-Hispanic” crime is an issue.  Are you seeing the logic of the foolishness here?

Our “educated” talking heads and political pundits need to look deeper with their positions.  The surface-level thinking is presenting an image that contributes to the negative portrayal of underprivileged groups, especially Blacks and Hispanics/Latinos.  Before assigning individual blame, doesn’t it make sense for our society to remove the structural inequalities that are allowing these individual “choices” to take place?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Trayvon Martin-Jordan Davis: What Does it Say about Black Males?

What do Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis have in common?  Both were young Black males who were fatally shot.  Although George Zimmerman was found not guilty by a jury of his “peers,” it is clear that the encounter occurred because of Zimmerman’s racial profiling.  As for Jordan Davis, he was shot and killed by Michael Dunn because Dunn felt “threatened” that the Black males in the car were going to kill him.  How many more times must unarmed young Black males die because of a perceived threat by someone with a gun?  Obviously, this is only two cases of many in the state (and nation for that matter), but it does provide a foundation for a discussion.

We live in a society that fears young Black males, and it is causing this group to have unnatural consequences.  For instance, Trayvon and Jordan both had untimely ends, leaving behind grieving parents, family, and friends.  Other Blacks recognize the negative view of them and must often speak, talk, walk, and dress in “code,” in order appear less “threatening” by others.  Where is the action?  Where is the anger?

People of all races and ethnicities rallied around the Trayvon Martin case.  In fact, Trayvon’s killing and all the case’s circumstances resulted in a movement to address racial profiling and injustice within the criminal justice system.  The not guilty verdict fueled the efforts of protestors and further motivated their calls to action.  Will the same happen for Jordan Davis?

Although Dunn is awaiting trial for Jordan’s killing, the underlying issue that led to the deaths of these two males have not been addressed by any legislator, executive, or criminal judge.  Again, Trayvon and Jordan died because they were viewed as threatening and dangerous.  Black males are systematically punished more harshly than Whites, even after ruling out offense seriousness and prior criminal record.  Therefore, this group appears to be viewed more threatening and dangerous when sentenced by criminal judges. As mentioned earlier, Black often “change” certain parts of themselves at work, in order to avoid being viewed as threatening and dangerous.  Do you see a theme?

Although it is very difficult to change people’s attitudes, the focus must remain on laws and policies that systematically attribute negative characteristics to Blacks.  Although the news and other media have almost stopped covering the movements that spurred from the Trayvon Martin shooting and subsequent verdict in Florida’s criminal court, the movement must continue and people must be steadfast.  As long as people, of all races, remain quiet, passive, and inconsistent in the movement, Blacks will continue being viewed as the criminal, dangerous, lazy, and threatening group.  Some may say, “Who cares how Blacks are viewed?”  Even some Blacks may have this view.  A response can be summed up by saying…. “Trayvon Martin,” “Jordan Davis,” “lack of resources,” “lack of jobs,” and “more punitive criminal punishments than other racial/ethnic groups.”  I care….do you?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Re-n*ggerizing of the Black Professional Class

While giving an interview, Dr. Cornel West made an interesting observation when discussing President Obama.  He said that there is a “re-n*ggerizing” of the Black professional class (about 27 minutes into the interview).  In other words, the professional class of Black folks refuse to say anything negative about the President or his criminal agenda, in order to prevent the President from looking bad to others and “taming” the anger toward the President among lower class Blacks.  Through these actions (or lack thereof), true progress and equality among Blacks are further worsened.  Let’s explore this, in terms of “justice.”

The United States of America has a history of slavery, black codes, and Jim Crow.  The criminal justice system was used as a method of social control to further oppress Blacks.  In other words, Blacks were more likely to be arrested, jailed, denied due process rights, convicted, incarcerated, etc.  Several law enforcement officers, attorneys, and judges were overtly racist, which further perpetuated and deepened the distrust between Blacks and criminal justice practitioners.  If these problems are to be adequately addressed, are we losing potential progress through the re-n*ggerizing of the Black professional class?

Without discussing the truth (or not!) of Dr. West’s point, let’s further examine the role of Blacks (regardless of social class) in helping achieve justice in this country.  The “clients” and residents of the criminal justice system are disproportionately poor and minority.  Once convicted, regardless of the sentence, they are now convicted offenders.  Depending on the offense, it could eliminate the ability to receive financial aid for higher education.  We have a public school system that is systematically biased (e.g., school resources, funding, college prep classes, etc.) against poor people.  There is a blocking of legitimate job opportunities in lower class communities.  All of these issues increase the likelihood of criminal behavior, and once convicted, the probability of committing additional crime increases.  Unfortunately, when there is a disproportionate number of minorities living in lower class areas, minorities (especially Blacks) suffer serious social ills.

During all of the major movements in American history (e.g., Civil Rights Movement, Gay Rights Movement, Women’s movement, etc.), those who participated focused on the human/natural rights of everyone.  In other words, Whites were protesting with Blacks to help fight legal segregation.  Heterosexuals were protesting with gays to help fight legal definitions of marriage.  Black professionals must protest with lower class Blacks (along with other races/ethnicities!) to fight a criminal justice system and criminal laws that have been deeply discriminatory against Blacks since their beginning.  How much longer must we deal with a system that is openly racist!  This is a human/natural rights’ issue!  If the Black professional class is being re-n*ggerized (per Dr. West’s assessment), the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin should demonstrate that Black boys (regardless of social class) are susceptible to negative outcomes because of profiling and implicit/subtle racism.

Are the Black professionals being re-n*ggerized, in order to shield Obama, resulting in further injustice among other Blacks (especially those in lower social classes) in the criminal justice system?  This is an interesting and very appropriate, question.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Race and Justice, in Light of George Zimmerman Verdict

While the George Zimmerman not-guilty verdict has been viewed by many as an injustice, we cannot lose site of the underlying issue: discrimination within the criminal justice system.  While Trayvon Martin is one individual life, he has come to be the face and motivation for a movement that has impact far beyond this one case.  The criminal justice system, both historically and currently, is systematically biased against males, the young, and African-Americans.  The group most biased against, though, is the combination of those factors: young African-American males.  This group is more likely to be sentenced harshly, along with being viewed as the most "dangerous" and "blameworthy" of any other group.

What accounts for this view of our Black males?  Is it the disproportionate percentage of arrests by Blacks?  Is it the depiction of Black males in the media (e.g., movies, music videos, news, etc.)?  Is it the fairly large percentage of Blacks who are currently incarcerated in our nation's jails and prisons?  Is it simply racism, which may be passed down generationally among non-Blacks?  Is it the systematic bias against Blacks in our nation's schools, which leads to social ills?  While there are many more questions to be asked, the answer most likely falls within all of these issues.

George Zimmerman did profile Trayvon Martin, but we should not forget that Zimmerman does not hold a view that is significantly different from other people or entities: criminal laws, the criminal justice system, employment opportunities, educational system, some non-Blacks, and even some Blacks themselves.  It is in this venue that the movement in the aftermath of the verdict should be focused.  Trayvon "fit" the description of those viewed most dangerously in the United States.  There are many more Trayvon Martins in the United States, which transcends social class and neighborhoods.  How will Black life continue to be viewed and portrayed?  As long as there continues to be negative values attributed to African-Americans (especially the young males) and systematic discriminatory laws and practices, the current movement that has the face of Trayvon will be done in vain.