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Criminal Justice is Failing America’s Minorities

Guest Writer

Nicholas Piwonka '19

· Nicholas Piwonka

Donald Trump appeals to white voters; that much is readily known. However, it is less evident that the views directly affiliated with his campaign, in addition to being overtly racist, follow the same logic as the tactics from the Nixon, Reagan, and Bush administrations, Reconstruction, and the infamous War on Drugs. Numerous examples in the last hundred years of American history highlight that race-based segregation has been deployed as a political tactic in order to foment hostility and exert control over the masses. When the black population enjoyed increased access to jobs and other forms of economic participation in the 70’s and 80’s, white dissidents reacted, materializing unpleasantness between the races once again. Shortly thereafter, Nixon’s War on Drugs had the thinly veiled objective of incarcerating blacks and ultimately separating them mentally and physically from the rest of the population. The black prison population skyrocketed, communities were destroyed, and the modicum of progress was driven back. Trump’s rhetoric on crime and incarceration, similar to Bush and Reagan, also pushes to separate groups of people into imagined communities for the purpose of control. If the white and black population remains disconnected, the authority to govern transforms into the authority of total power.

As far back as the 1940’s, targeted policing surrounding vagrancy and other petty crimes disproportionately affected the black population. In 2016, we have judicial and criminal justice systems which still incarcerate blacks at a higher rate than whites, incarcerate blacks for a longer time than whites, and unfortunately have a tendency to kill blacks at a higher rate than whites. The Trump campaign says we need more “accountability for crime”, or in other words, “more accountability for black crime”. When one juxtaposes the Trump campaign’s extremist platform with Nixon and Reagan’s War on Drugs, the parallels come into focus: all of these plans are specific policies designed to inhibit the movements and freedoms of minority actors. In the first presidential debate, Mr. Trump alluded to bringing back “Stop and Frisk”, a policy recently deemed unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court. This policy, notably put into practice in New York City, has been found to unfairly target young minority men. When Trump introduces these policies under the guise of appealing to all voters, he is talking exclusively to white voters, as most African-American communities already understand how racially charged these policies are. Most know at least one of the statistics associated with this trend, whether it be that black people and white people smoke marijuana at similar rates yet black people are 3.7 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, or that black Americans are two and a half times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers (ACLU). While these statistics are alarming, not much is being done. Black people are still arrested, convicted, and incarcerated at higher rates than whites. The current system doesn’t allow for anything deemed as drastic change.

The American judicial and legislative system has an intrinsic flaw—criminal justice seems to be more concerned with unfairly punishing the overwhelmingly young black men who commit crimes, and not addressing the root causes of their misbehavior, or the equality of the law dealt to them. Contrastingly, the superlative nature of black success allows us to enjoy the talents, music, abilities, and leadership of a small portion of African-Americans while most feign interest at the rest, and realistically ignore the majority. Until there are laws protecting non-violent drug offenders from ten-year sentences (repealing mandatory minimums), until there is legislation dictating the rights of felons, and until America views blacks as equal, these issues will persist. The civil rights activist and scholar Michelle Alexander argues that racism is highly adaptable, meaning that institutions such as slavery may appear to die, but really just are reborn according to the new conditions of the period (mass incarceration, civil asset forfeiture etc.). By the calculated separation of black and white, the Trump campaign and millions of Americans deem the black population less worthy, and thereby continue a racial bribe where poor whites look down upon minorities with the illusory consolation that they are not at the bottom. Numerous examples in history have pointed to the deliberate planning and conscious perpetration of the racial hierarchy in the United States. The white elite has done an astonishing job of convincing poor and working class whites that racial minorities are to blame for their struggles, and not the systematic targeting of the poor—regardless of race—in the legal, economic, judicial, and educational systems. There is no feasible reason that a billionaire should have the same economic interests as someone who makes $10k a year. That is, unless they share a social determinant, an arena that race commonly fills. Trump campaigns in poor black neighborhoods not because he has any chance of garnering votes, but to show moderate white voters that his overt racism should not be worried about. Although this is not strictly an anti-Trump piece, he encapsulates everything wrong with the intersection of criminal justice policy and the politicians who debate it. Change the nature of race, and maybe we will one day see the complete and final end of the racial caste system.

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