Racial Disparities In the Justice System

While Racial Disparities In Court Need Constant Discussion, Let's Talk About How It's A Problem

Implicit bias—and even conscious bias—are a big problem.

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Phil Dixon Jr., an indigent defense educator, specializes in evidence, criminal procedure, and constitutionality for juveniles. When I spoke to him for a class assignment, he discussed his advocacy work for people who can't afford regular lawyers and shared anecdotes of his experiences with disproportionate minority contact.

As an indigent defense educator, he teaches lawyers who represent defendants who can't afford a higher quality lawyer; these defendants are often of color. He talked about how he believes these defendants deserve the same rights as someone who doesn't have the money to afford a more prestigious lawyer. "In theory, that person is entitled to the same level of representation," he said, and I agreed.

He trains these lawyers to see working with these defendants as a privilege and to do a great job despite the fact that they're paid less, especially now that the $75 an hour these lawyers were paid has lowered to $55 over time, and therefore typically causes lesser quality work.

Dixon often feels frustrated toward cases in which a judge's implicit bias hurts an individual who comes from a less privileged home. He's seen cases where two children will commit similar crimes, but the one who is dressed nicer, knows the right things to say, and uses manners gets an entirely different disposition — the juvenile word for sentence — than one who comes from an unsupportive, poor home with no way of transportation.

A study in 2013 showed that federal prosecutors are more likely to charge black people than white people, even if they have similar situations and even if the white person committed a crime carrying a higher minimum sentence.

Dixon believes that many judges strive to treat all people fairly, but can make snap decisions or racist assumptions even when they don't realize that their thought comes from bias.

He's also seen cases in which the deck is stacked against someone because a judge will find a child responsible solely because he or she believes the child needs services for being at the courthouse in the first place; the judge may believe that giving children services for being in the courtroom is his or her responsibility.

Dixon also feels frustrated with the arbitrariness of certain factors. For example, he explained that some judges have heard so many sob stories that they become immune. Some lawyers may not research what's best for everyone in the family as well as they should. Luck of the draw with lawyers and judges is also a factor. Some judges have nuanced and narrow ways of seeing the world, depending on where they came from and their previous career work.

In many ways, the justice system needs work and is far from perfect, and it's easy to feel like there's little we can do to change it. However, addressing our own instances of implicit bias — our unconscious attitudes or stereotypes about a person of a certain demographic, that have real-world implications — by taking this quiz, by being intentional in our words and reflective of our opinions, and by educating ourselves through resources such as these — we are making a crucial difference.

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4 Holidays Black People Don't 'Really' Celebrate

At least not for the same reasons white people do.

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Let's be honest, most holidays, specifically the federal ones, historically exclude black people, not that many of them considered Black people to be people at the time they were conceived in the first place.

1. Independence Day.

Chris Rock Tweet

On July 14th, 1776 The Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. Yippie! Except, slaves were still slaves. Everything the colonists wanted for themselves, they denied to the African's they had stolen and were torturing. Not only were we not considered to be people, but no constitutional rights included us, and until we have a new constitution, I will continue to argue that they still don't. While white colonists were happy to be free from Great Britain, slaves weren't free from their horrors until June 19th, 1865, Juneteenth.

Black people today don't really celebrate the 4th of July as becoming independent from Great Britain. In fact, we aren't really celebrating anything. We are just glad to have a day off and finally enjoy those fireworks...

2. Columbus Day.

Christopher Columbus

Most Black people in America see Columbus Day as nothing more than a "banks are closed" day. There's really nothing to celebrate. Columbus didn't discover America, as you can't really discover somewhere people already know about and live, nor was he the first outsider to travel there, as Africans routinely sailed to the Americas to trade gold and other things. The colonizer also thought he was in India, but I guess we can still give him an E for effort.

Columbus' "discovery" also made way for the mass genocide of indigenous tribes, and black people take absolutely zero part in that.

In fact, we'd be down to re-name Columbus Day as "Indigenous Peoples Day," as well as take the day off to BBQ and drink beer.

3. Veterans Day.

Black Military Veterans

The treatment of Black people in America has always been less than stellar, and that also goes for the treatment of Black military veterans as well.

We can go back to the Red Summer, or WWII and come up with hundreds of instances where Americans were all gung-ho for all but black troops, but we can also go back to just a few days ago...

Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr., an Army veteran was shot and killed in an Alabama mall after police assumed he was a shooter. Not a single "respect our troops"-er came to his defense. In fact, the narrative decided that because he was a black man, he had no business carrying a concealed weapon in an open carry state next to dozens of white men who also had concealed weapons.

Or what about Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., a former marine, who was called a "nigger" by police before they broke down his door, then tased and shot him to death after responding to his faulty "medical alert" bracelet.

My point, too many Americans only have respect for the veterans and active troops when they are white. Plain and simple, why should black America pay tribute to a cohort many are excluded from?

And aside from a very large and "white" military, such as ones like to conquer and colonialize, many Black American's also see the military as an extension of the police.

4. Thanksgiving.

The First Thanksgiving

For many Americans, Thanksgiving is a beloved holiday for spending time with loved ones while eating dried out turkey, arguing politics and thinking of something unique to be thankful for to say during the prayer.

But for some of us, Thanksgiving is a controversial holiday with racist and dark origins. Much like Columbus Day, Thanksgiving is seen as the celebration of the conquering of Indigenous people by colonists.

A lot of Thanksgiving narratives, particularly the ones taught to us in elementary school, paint the biased and watered down picture of the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrims "looking pasts their differences" in order to share and enjoy a meal with one another. As children, we are taught that the pilgrims were "thankful" for the Natives' hospitality and so they invited them to enjoy a three-day feast. Of course what this narrative leaves out are the diseases the pilgrims brought to North America. And if that didn't kill enough of the Natives, the rape, mass murder, and Trail of Tears that followed would.

Due to the actions of the colonists, centuries later Indigenous tribes make up about 2% of the U.S population, face racial discrimination, suffer largely from alcoholism and joblessness and still fight the federal and local governments for the land and access to clean water.

Something else left out from this narrative...black people.

Though it is common knowledge that Africans frequently sailed to and from the Americas before Christopher Columbus "discovered it," they have never been any noted in the story of the pilgrims. In fact, Africans aren't noted in "American History" at all before 1619 and the arrival of the first slave ship.

That being said, Thanksgiving is a little different for Black people living in America. While this history of the Indigenous people and the colonists in the Americas isn't really "our" history and "our" ancestors weren't the ones causing mass genocide, we find some solidarity in the similarities between the colonization of the Americas and the colonization of African nations and the Caribbean.

We aren't thankful for the colonization of a place that would later enslave our great-great grandparents, but we do like to eat and have a day off work.

Black people and white people don't have the same history, and it's not divisive or racist to say that, it's the truth. Black people don't typically have a history of trying to mass murder other races in order to steal their land, so not only is it a bit odd to watch other celebrates those "accomplishments," but it is also uneasy for some of us to partake in the festivities in which many of us were victims.

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Dear Beautiful Black Girl, Never Forget Your Worth

An ode to all the beautiful black girls.

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We live in a society where societal standards greatly define the way we view ourselves. Although in 2019 these standards are not clear cut, some things are not easy to change. Not to play the race card, but this is true for women of color, especially black girls.

As much as I'd like to address this to all women, I want to hit on something that I'm more familiar with: being a black girl. Black females have a whole package to deal with when it comes to beauty standards. The past suppression and oppression our ancestors went through years ago can still be felt in our views of beauty. It is rare to see young black girls be taught that their afros and nappy hair are beautiful. Instead, we are put under flat irons and dangerous chemicals that change our hair texture as soon as our hair becomes too "complicated" to deal with. The girls with darker skin are not praised, but rather lowered in comparison to their peers with fairer skin. A lot of the conditioning happens at a young age — at the age of 8, already you can feel like you're in the wrong skin.

As we grow up, there are more expectations that come here and there, a lot of very stereotypical and diminishing. "You're a black girl, you should know how to dance," "black girls don't have flat butts," "black girls know how to cook," "you must have an attitude since you're black" — I'm sure you get the idea. Let me say this: "black girls," as they all like to say, are not manufactured with presets. Stop looking for the same things in all of us. Black girls come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and talents. I understand that a lot of these come from cultural backgrounds, but you cannot bash a black girl because she does not fit the "ideal" description.

And there is more.

The guys that say, "I don't do black girls, they too ratchet/they got an attitude" — excuse me? Have you been with/spoken to all the black girls on this planet? Is this a category that you throw all ill-mouthed girls? Why such prejudice, especially coming from black men? Or they will chant that they interact with girls that are light-skinned, that is their conditioned self-speaking. The fact that these men have dark-skinned sisters and mothers and yet don't want to associate with girls that look the same confuses me. And who even asked you? There are 100 other ethnicities and races in the world, and we are the one you decide to spit on? Did we do something to you?

Black girls already have society looking at them sideways. First, for being a woman, and second, for being black, and black males add to this by rejecting and disrespecting us.

But we still we rise above it all.

Black girls of our generation are starting to realize the power that we hold, especially as we work hand in hand. Women like Oprah Winfrey, Lupita Nyong'o, Chinua Achebe, Michelle Obama — the list is too long — are changing the narrative of the "black girl" the world knows. The angry black woman has been replaced with the beautiful, educated, and successful melanin-filled woman.

Girls, embrace your hair, body, and skin tone, and don't let boys or society dictate what is acceptable or beautiful. The black girl magic is real, and it's coming at them strong.

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