8 December 2017
Destined for imprisonment
The only thing Marvin Anderson wanted in life
was to live out his dream as a firefighter. That never happened for him because
he was convicted (wrongfully) of sodomy, abduction, and theft when he was 18
years old. He was sentenced to prison for 210 years by a Virginia judge. He
stayed there, an innocent kid, for 15 years and then lived life on parole for
another 5 years until DNA testing resulted in his exoneration. This boy is not
alone. Hundreds of black men have been sentenced to prison and then let out for
things they never did. A combined university study reports that
black people are much more likely to be wrongfully convicted than white people.
It also showed that blacks are imprisoned for longer periods of time before
being exonerated for their so-called crimes. Not only this, black people
represent 47 percent of exonerations on in the registry, while only making up
13 percent of the US population. In addition to that, studies show innocent
black people have been 12 times as likely to be convicted for drug crimes than
white people, even though both races have similar rates of illegal drug use. Obviously black people have a higher incarceration rate today
than anyone else, which is significant in today’s world off mass incarceration.
It is as if people of color are pre-determined to go to jail at some point in
their lives, destined for imprisonment. Mass incarceration in representing the
new caste system, not only because black people are spending undeserved time in
jail, but because they are doing in far more than other races, making them a
Black people were similarly segregated after the civil
war in America. Laws referred to as Jim Crow Laws were created to control black
people and ensure white dominance even after the illegalization of slavery. One
result of the Jim Crow laws was forced segregation in public schools. Not
only did they keep African Americans from riding in the same section of public
buses as white people, they also kept many from moving out of segregated
neighborhoods, and often made it difficult for them to vote as well. Jim
Crow laws were declared illegal by the US Supreme Court when they voted against
the school system in Brown v. Board of Education, and later laws like the Civil
Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. Although there really weren’t Jim Crow
laws in Northern or Western states like there was in the South, institutional
racism existed outside the South. It still does.
discrimination parallels the times of both the Jim Crow laws and todays Mass Incarceration.
In her book The New Jim Crow, Michelle
Alexander compares the two saying, “Felony is the new ‘N-word.
They don’t have to call you a nigger anymore. They just say you’re a
felon…today’s lynching is a felony charge…A felony is a modern way of saying,
‘I’m going to hang you up and burn you.’ Once you get that F, you’re on fire.”
(Alexander 164) Alexander implies that felony’s and black race go hand in hand
today. You don’t have to call anyone a ‘nigger’ only a felon, and it translates
the same message. This also proves that black and imprisonment are thought of
as two sides of the same coin. People expect crime and imprisonment from black
people. DyVernay also parallels Jim Crow laws with Mass Incarceration in her
film 13th when it says, “People say
all the time, ‘well, I
don’t understand how people could have tolerated slavery?’ ‘How could they have
made peace with that?’ ‘How could people have gone to a lynching and
participated in that?’ ‘That’s so crazy, if I was living at that time I would
never have tolerated anything like that.’ And the truth is we are living in
this time, and we are tolerating it.” (DuVernay) In her movie DuVernay shows
that Incarceration and Jim Crow laws are
just evidence of dominance over black communities; Just privileged parties
exacting power over the oppressed race. It is an enlightening
movie that makes people thing I about modern black racism. People today know
about slavery, but never relate to it. There are always thoughts about how our
predecessors could have lived with the moral tragedies of their time. How did
they not feel nauseated and panicked when they woke up every morning about
everything happening around them? Apparently the same way people wake up in
2018 and don’t even think about the fact that 2.3 million people living in
cages, a third of them black.
Alexander shows how
once you’re branded as a felon, all the “old forms of discrimination –
employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote,
denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public
benefits, and exclusion from jury service – are suddenly legal. As a criminal,”
Alexander observes, “you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect,
than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow” (Alexander 141) Basically a loophole in discrimination is being
used, where the moment a colored person gets a record it is Jim Crow all over
again, resulting in discrimination against black felons and a stereotype. Black
people are continuing to receive the same discrimination as they were
previously and consequently being branded as criminals from birth because of stereotypes.
is a new caste system being represented by mass incarceration in America today as
black people are almost destined for imprisonment simply based on their color. Thinking
about how this has been true in the past, and how it is still true, provides no
comfort. America is supposed to be a free country. And blacks are Americans
too. There is still an issue in racial inequality today! What does it mean for
our society that after all this time racism is still such a problem that we
have prisons full of black men? Our culture is not progressing. Our country is continuing
to be racially unequal and it is hurting innocent people. Why are black people
being convicted because they are black? How do we stop this? We should at least
make an effort as a justice system to be more objective and respectful. And
people should know about this. Classes like Global Citizenship and Diversity
should be more common, creating awareness about things like this everywhere.
Americans are not even comfortable talking about race, maybe if they people
where more educated on the subject instead of throwing it under the rug there
would be more work to correct it. One thing is certain, our criminal system is
corrupted by discrimination. Black people are not destined to go to jail, it is
just not reasonable. Black children should not have less parental figures just because
their parents are being falsely accused of crimes they never committed. This
needs to stop. There should be no caste system in a free world.
Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim Crow: Mass
incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York: New Press.
Bononcini, Daniel. “What was life like in the southern states of
the 1930s?” Prezi.com, 16 Feb. 2015, prezi.com/nhitqyezpgae/what-was-life-like-in-the-southern-states-of-the-1930s/.
DuVernay, Ava, director.
13th. Netflix, 2016.
Vega, Tanzina. “Study:
Black people more likely to be wrongfully convicted.” CNN, Cable News
Network, 7 Mar. 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/03/07/politics/blacks-wrongful-convictions-study/index.html.