Transatlantic Slave Trade: Five hundred years later, Blacks and the justice system

Man in prison
Man in prison

(NNPA) – Most violence occurs between victims and offenders of the same race, regardless of race, according to an evidence brief from the Vera Institute of Justice, titled An Unjust Burden: The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System, and a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The rate of both Black-on-Black and White-on-White nonfatal violence declined 79 percent between 1993 and 2015. The number of homicides involving both a Black victim and Black perpetrator fell from 7,361 in 1991 to 2,570 in 2016.

The issue isn’t the crime, it’s the selective, disproportionately harsher punishment and sentencing of African Americans.

“Some of the laws, such as those disenfranchising convicted felons, have their origin, if not in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, then in the era that saw the emergence of the KKK and white supremacy. They were clearly intended to keep African Americans and likely, though to a lesser extent, poor Whites, from the ballot box,” said Roy L. Steinheimer Jr., a professor of Law at Washington and Lee University in Virginia.

Meanwhile, some of the newer laws that have negatively affected African Americans still appear to result from some underlying beliefs that go back to the times of slavery.

“Interestingly, that thinking has survived even during times of mass migration, which is presumably indicative of how deep-seated it is in American culture and law,” the professor continued.

The “broad scope of the criminal justice system reinforces the wealth disparity between White and Black by making those caught up in it ever poorer and serves to drive even some of the better off people caught up in it into poverty,” Steinheimer said.

“The economic impact resulting from slavery therefore gets magnified and reinforced by our criminal justice system, which increasingly stacks fines and fees,” he said.

In a dissertation for the Brookings Institute, Glenn C. Loury wrote that the dream that race might someday become an insignificant category in our civic life now seems naively utopian.

In cities across the country and in rural areas of the Old South, the situation of the Black underclass and increasingly of the Black lower income worker is bad and getting worse. Simply put, the playing field has never been level for Black Americans and that has only worsened the mental health of the community.

“No well-informed person denies this, though there is debate over what can and should be done about it,” Loury said.

“Nor do serious people deny that the crime, drug addiction, family breakdown, unemployment, poor school performance, welfare dependency, and general decay in these communities constitute a blight on our society virtually unrivaled in scale and severity by anything to be found elsewhere in the industrial West,” he said.

Hasan Jeffries, a James Madison Montpelier historian and history professor at Ohio State University who specializes in contemporary Black politics, further explained.

“Slavery is one of the foundational pillars of American society, propping up the nation starting in the earliest days of the Republic and touching the lives of everyone in America. And its legacy has been long lasting,” Jeffries said.

“The deeply rooted belief in white supremacy that justified slavery survived its abolition in 1865 and undergird the new systems of African American labor exploitation and social control, namely Jim Crow that sought to replace what had been lost as a result of emancipation.”

As a result, slavery has caused certain symptoms of dysfunction in the African community, which has been reinforced in each generation, according to historians at the African Holocaust Network.

The legacy of slavery has promoted and nursed the direct association between being African and being inferior. Being African and being unequal. Being African and being incapable and less worthy.

It also promotes ways of thinking that continue to impede growth and development, such as cultivating dependence and reactive behaviors – more content to be, at best, an observer complaining about the world instead of being a change agent in the world.

“The deterioration of the Black American family is staggering,” Stephens said.

“If you ask a young Black American what they want to be when they grow up, most will say they want to be a rapper/singer, football player, basketball player or baseball player, and that is if they can tell you what they would like to be at all,” she said.

“No one tells them that only 0.03 percent make it to pro basketball, 0.08 percent make it pro football, and 0.45 percent make it pro baseball.”

“We have a 40 percent dropout rate; for every 100,000 Black men in the U.S., 4,777 are in prison or jail; for every 100,000 Black American women, there are 743 in jail or prison, and 72 percent of Black American women and teens are unwed mothers.”

Historians at the James Madison Montpelier in Virginia said that it’s no accident that the U.S. Constitution opens with a message of inclusivity, establishing “justice” and ensuring “domestic tranquility” for the people.

However, it’s what that most famous preamble – and, indeed, the rest of the document – doesn’t address that’s more telling: The Constitution’s authors omit the vital distinction between their view of the differences between persons and property and, in doing so, ultimately protect one of history’s most oppressive institutions – slavery.

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