Over Criminalization of Black Lives Matter: Impact of Political Policies
Black Lives Matter: The Over-Criminalization of Black Individuals
In recent years there has been a lot of scrutiny about the injustices that exist in the justice system; one of the major injustices is the over-criminalization of black men and women. Black men are six times more likely to get incarcerated in federal and state prisons and local jails than white men. This statistic had increased since 1960, when black men were five times as likely as whites to be incarcerated. In 1972 the United States had a prison population of 300,00. Today, we have a prison population of 2.3 million. President Barrack Obama said in one of his speeches, “So, let’s look at the statistics. The United States is home to 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners.” The likelihood of a black man getting locked up during his lifetime is 1 in 3. The lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for a white man is 1 in 17. Why are black men getting incarcerated at an alarmingly high rate over white men? The Nixon and Reagan era was the start of mass incarceration for poor people of color.
Nixon’s Appeal and the “War on Drugs”
“America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.” – Richard Nixon. During the presidential race, Richard Nixon used his “get tough on crime” to help persuade poor working-class whites to join the Republican party. Nixon was able to speak to the poor white working class by speaking in subtle, non-racist terms. He would use the rise in the crime rate, law and order, and other subtle racist hints to appeal to whites.
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The Expansion and Implications of Nixon’s Initiatives
In June 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs. A rise in recreational drug use in the 1960s led President Nixon to focus on targeting substance abuse. President Nixon increased federal funding for drug-control agencies and proposed strict measures as part of the War on Drugs initiative. Nixon started mandatory prison sentencing for drug crimes. He also created the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention (SAODAP). Then in 1973, Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA is responsible for tackling drug use and smuggling into the United States. In the beginning, the DEA was given a budget of $74 million and 1,470 special agents. Now the DEA has a budget of $2.03 billion and over 5,000 special agents.
The Ehrlichman Revelation and the Impact on Incarceration Rates
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. Do you understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.” – John Ehrlichman, Nixon Advisor.
Nixon`s war on drugs did work on incarcerating blacks. During the nearly 50-year period between 1925 and the early 1970s, the male incarceration rate was remarkably stable at about 200 men per 100,000 population. By 1986 a decade after the War on Drugs started locking up drug users and dealers in cages, the male incarceration rate doubled to about 400 per 100,000 population. Then after another decade, the male incarceration rate doubled again to more than 800. It hit its peak in 2008, reaching 956 men per 100,00 population were getting locked up. The War on Drugs had a significantly much greater negative effect on blacks and Hispanics than whites. The War on Drugs had a more devastating and disproportionate adverse effect on America`s most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations.
President Nixon was the first one to start the term “A War on Drugs,” but President Ronald Reagan turned that rhetorical war into a literal one. Ronald Reagan started the modern war on drugs in 1982. The popular opinion polls of the day show that drugs were not an issue for most people in the United States at the time. President Reagan was determined to convince everyone the War on Drugs should be put on his agenda. Reagan even used his wife to help support his War on Drugs by having her start the “Just Say No” campaign. Most people supported the War on Drugs by supporting the “just say no “campaign. The “Just Say No” campaign was not about locking people up. It was about educating people and talking about prevention.
In the mid-1980s, they already started to embark on a war on drugs, then all of a sudden, a new drug came along, crack cocaine. This drug could be marketed in small doses, relatively inexpensively. Crack cocaine started taking over communities, particularly African American communities. In almost record time, Congress established a mandatory sentencing penalty for crack that was harsher than those for powder cocaine. You would get the same amount of time in prison for 100 ounces of powdered cocaine that you would get for 1 ounce of crack cocaine. Even though crack cocaine and powder cocaine are the same drug, the only difference is how you take it; the mandatory sentences are longer for crack cocaine.
And even though white people used and sold crack more than black, somehow, it was black people who went to prison. The people who were usually getting these longer sentences for possession of crack cocaine were black or Hispanic, or Latino. If you were black with crack cocaine, you were going to prison for basically the rest of your life, but if you were white, you just got a slap on the wrist. The media ignored the actual problems to this day, and crack is still talked about as a black problem. The black communities would get raided by police while the big-time bankers openly used coke with impunity.
Over the next year, the United States’ spending on drug law enforcement tripled from 1981. It looked like a tornado went through black communities cutting off men from their families as they disappeared into prisons for long periods of time. These types of disparities in the Reagan era quickly exploded into the era of mass incarceration. President Reagan ultimately took the problem of economic inequality of hyper segregation in American cities and the drug abuse problem and criminalized all of that in the form of the war on drugs. Looking back on how crack cocaine and powder cocaine were treated, most people believe that they should have treated the drugs the same. Treating crack cocaine more harshly, even though it was the same drug as powder cocaine, put an enormous burden on the black community, but it also fundamentally violated a sense of core fairness.
When crack cocaine hit in the early 1980s, there were a lot of politicians who thought this was a real threat and wanted to crack down on it. Mayor Rengel was one of the guys who were pushing for stronger sentencing. At the time, it seemed like a good effective idea, but looking back, it did not work out as effectively as they thought it would. The rhetorical war was announced as part of a political strategy by President Richard Nixon, which then turned into a literal war by President Ronald Reagan. Then it began to turn into something that began to feel like nearly genocidal in many poorer communities of color. President Nixon`s Southern strategy was implemented right after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1891 soon-to-be President Reagan`s campaign strategist, Lee Atwater, explained what the Southern Strategy was.
“You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968, you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So, you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Nixon played on the fears of crime and law and order to win the election. President Reagan promised tax cuts to the rich and to throw all the crack cocaine users in jail for long amounts of time to keep the streets safe. Both of which devastated communities of color but were very effective in getting the southern votes. You cannot understand American political culture without race at the center of it. In many ways, the so-called “war on drugs: was a war on communities of color; black and Latino communities had devastating impacts.
We have more African Americans under criminal supervision than all the slaves back in the 1850s. The Prison industrial complex is modern-day slavery because it relies historically on the inheritances of slavery. Once you have been convicted of a crime, you basically lose all your rights as a citizen and, in essence, become a slave of the state. Since the beginning of the United States’ history, blacks have been repeatedly controlled by systems of social and racial control. Social and racial control never dies. They are reborn in a new form to the needs and constraints of the time.
Once slavery ended, a new system was born, and it was “convict leasing,” which was a new form of slavery. Once convict leasing was done, a new system was born, which was the Jim Crow system. The Jim Crow system regulated blacks to a permanent second-class status. Decades later, after the Jim Crow system collapsed again, a new system was born in America, the system of mass incarceration. Mass incarceration strips millions of poor people, most poor people of color, of the very rights they won in the civil rights movement.
There are thousands of people sitting in jail right at this very moment only because they are too poor to get out. The criminal system treats you better if you`re rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent. Most American think the criminal system is about judges and juries because of all the courtroom dramas they’ve seen when, in reality, that is not the case at all. They cannot have everyone go to trial. If they did, the whole system would shut down. What normally happens is the prosecutors pressure them into taking a deal by saying you can take this deal, and we will give you the minimum amount of time, or You can take your chance and go to court, and we will give you 30 years.
Most people from poverty do not make it to trial. 97% of the people in jail right now have taken the plea deal. Plea bargaining is one of the worst violations of human rights that can happen within the justice system. People are pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit because the mandatory minimums for the crime are so unbearable. What people do not realize is that if you exercise your right and if you are convicted, you will get punished 10x worse than if you just took the deal.
An example of a poor black man fighting back at the justice system and exercising his right to a trial is the story of Kalief Browder. Kalief Browder was accused of a petty crime that he did not even commit. He was accused of stealing a backpack. Kalief realized that if he pleaded guilty to this crime, it would completely change his life in the worst way possible. He would have a felon on his record for the rest of his life. Kalief`s older brother had a record, and he saw how he struggled to get a decent-paying job and how hard it was to restart his life. He refused to ruin his clean record for a crime he did not commit, so taking the plea deal was never in the picture. His mom was too poor to afford bail, so he sat in Rikers Island as a 16-year-old awaiting his trial. If he had taken his plea deal, he would have only been in jail for one year, but he ended up being at Rikers Island for three years.
The Tragic Story of Kalief Browder
Browder spent nearly two years in solitary confinement to keep him protected from the inmates and correction officers who would continually beat up the 16-year-old. Browder eventually got broken down and started giving up hope about getting released from Rikers Island; he even started considering taking the plea deal, so he could get out of prison faster. He was released when the prosecutors were found to be lacking any evidence against Kalief, and the case’s main witness left the United States without communication with the prosecutors in years. The court basically punished Browder for having the bravery to not take the plea deal and want to go to trial. In that time, in those three years, Kalief Browder was sitting in jail waiting for his trial and not being charged for anything; his when mental health started to deteriorate, and he started getting into fights. Two years after his release from prison, Browder committed suicide.
The Prison Industrial Complex and the Cycle of Incarceration
The Prison Industrial Complex is a beast, and it eats up black and Latino people for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Jail dehumanizes and sensory deprives people; humans are not meant to be locked up in cages. The conditions people live through, you would not even think to keep your pets in those kinds of conditions that we keep people in. The way prisons and jails are set up not only do they deprive you of your liberty, but they punish you too. Once somebody is locked up, they`re basically gone. Everyone stops caring and thinking about them. That is one of the problems with the prison system.
They`re basically all in the dark, and no one knows what happens within them. In many ways, it is much easier to send people to jail than society is able to forget about them. We have too many laws that are locking up too many people up for too many things and giving them sentences that are too harsh. We are putting them in prison for long periods of time, doing none to very little rehabilitation, so when they re-enter society, they get shunned, and then they go back into the prison system, and it is a never-ending cycle. Why is it easier for inmates to go back into the prison system than to be able to restart their life?
The Lasting Mark of a Felony: A New Form of Discrimination
A question that appears on job applications is, “Have you been convicted of a felony.” When you have a felon on your record, you basically become a slave. You lose all your rights. In some cases, you cannot get student loans; you cannot get many business licenses, food stamps, private rentals in regard to housing, or life insurance. Felon is the scarlet letter that follows you around for the rest of your life in this country. Once you do commit a crime and do time, you should be able to move past it, but in the US, you can never move past your past. In many ways, the old Jim Crow laws are legal again once you’ve been branded a felon. It seems in America, we have not ended racism but just redesigned it.
If we leave it up to our politicians, they might tamper with the system because we are at the point in history where it is politically right to make a change within the justice system. They are not going to change the prison system like we need to see to get the United States out of this mess. They are most definitely not going to go backward and fix the mess they made because they are not ready to make that change. As a country, we have never been able to own up to the fact that we have steamrolled through entire generations and communities with things like slavery and Jim Crow laws and all the other systems of oppression we have created to keep black people at a disadvantage and led us to where we are today.
The black lives matter movement is really about everybody’s life mattering, including the people who enter the criminal justice system. It’s not just about black lives. It’s about changing the way this country understands human dignity. The black lives matter movement highlights the idea of whose life we recognize as valuable. The movement is about rehumanizing everyone as people, not just blacks but all of us. We ended the KKK, but when you see black kids still getting locked up and shot down, you realize the image of a black man has not changed. Society still views blacks as dangerous criminals; society still does not value the life of a black man. People of color are still getting locked up and shot down by police while the white man can walk away unharmed and get a prison sentence not as harsh as a black man would, even when they commit such horrific crimes as mass murder.
When slavery ended, they called it Jubilee; blacks thought it was done. Then you had 100 years of Jim Crow and lynching and terror. Then Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came, and we got bills passed to vote, and then they broke out, then handcuffs. Now they label you a felon, and you cannot vote or even get a decent-paying job. The system of mass incarceration has grown and has an appetite that is eating up people of color communities. People always say I do not understand how people could have lived through slavery and been okay with that. How can people go to a lynching and participate in segregation? How can people stand by while others are getting mistreated for only one reason the color of their skin? Well, the crazy thing is we are living during a time when blacks are being mistreated within the prison system, and most people are turning their backs on it and tolerating it.
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