White privilege and racism in American ‘justice’ laid bare

Muslim Matters

White privilege and racism in American ‘justice’ laid bare

Khan_Sebastian Ledwick CROPPED

By Sameed Khan

TMO Contributing Writer

White privilege is a secret idea: a subtle, quiet thing that steals into many important aspects of our lives and the American situation. Whites routinely have an easier time finding jobs, are more likely to find adequate housing and are more likely to get accepted into institutions of higher education. However, the most stark contrast is when it comes to our criminal justice system—just look at the three examples below.

 

POSSESSION OF WEAPONS

Yuvette Henderson

Yuvette Henderson

Yuvette Henderson

Yuvette Henderson was gunned down by police in Emeryville, California, after leaving a Home Depot. Officers allege that she was armed and carrying a gun, shoplifted and was engaging in carjacking at the time. Witnesses claim differently, stating that she was simply “waving down a bus”. Whether she may or may not have been committing these crimes, the fact remains that Yuvette was gunned down by officers with a military-grade AR-15 automatic rifle. Police claim that she was armed, while multiple eyewitnesses have refuted this accusation.

Sebastian Ledwick

Sebastian Ledwick

Sebastian Ledwick

Two weeks before Yuvette’s tragic death, police officers were investigating a warehouse half a block away from the Home Depot where Yuvette was shot. They found Sebastian Ledwick there, or rather, he found them. Ledwick actually chased the cops and fired a handgun into the detectives’ car while the latter retreated. Eventually, they circled around and apprehended him—alive, even though he was armed and very dangerous.

 

STAND YOUR GROUND LAWS

Marissa Alexander

Marissa Alexander

Marissa Alexander

One highly controversial issue and pillar of white privilege is Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws—but who gets to use them? Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot when her abusive husband tried to assault her. Her legal defense cited the “Stand Your Ground” law, claiming that Marissa was obviously trying to defend herself—but it didn’t work.

George Zimmerman

George Zimmerman

George Zimmerman

George Zimmerman is infamous for the killing of Trayvon Martin, a case which has been historic in demonstrating the prevalence of racism in America. Zimmerman also relied on the “Stand Your Ground” law in defense of his killing of Martin—except it worked, thus proving that certain parts of our legal code are only reserved for use by white individuals.

 

POSSESSION OF DRUGS 

Telisha Watkins

 

Telisha Watkins

Telisha Watkins

Telisha is one of 46 inmates whose sentences Obama shortened. Her original sentence was 20 years, with 8 years of supervised release for simply the possession of cocaine and “cocaine base” (crack). Growing up in a poor community, Tanisha had problems with drugs beginning in her high school years.

Clifford Clark

Clifford Clark

Clifford Clark

Clifford Clark, from Montgomery, Alabama (a state with a long history of segregation and racism) was sentenced for the exact same crime as Telisha (possession of cocaine), but Mr. Clark was only sentenced to a mere 10 years.

***

White privilege is still alive and strong within this country, and the racism inherent within the criminal justice system is still a long way from its demise—just look at the stats:

  • According to the Department of Justice, 80 percent of cocaine users are white, and that “the typical cocaine user is a middle-class, white suburbanite.” But black people are 12.5 percent more likely to be pulled over for drug investigations.
  • Sentences for black criminals are 15 percent longer than they are for white criminals
  • Black people are 18 percent more likely to be in jail while they wait for trial.
  • In a North Carolina study, black jurors were twice as likely to be struck from juries when compared to white jurors.
  • In Iowa’s Sixth Judicial District, black people were 15 percent more likely to have their probation revoked.

What all this adds up to is an institution of racism that gives whites a different justice than it does blacks (white privilege). Even if segregation is dead by law, it still lives on in the biases of law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges and other officials at every stage of the criminal justice system. It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy—black people are targeted more because of a negative stereotype, resulting in more convictions and arrests. This shows in the statistics and further perpetuates the same stereotype, creating a vicious cycle that entrenches people of color within the tangles of an absurdly unjust “justice” system.

 

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