By Judd Legum
George Zimmerman killed one boy, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Although a Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty, his attitude — that a young black male is an object suspicion and contempt — not only cost Martin his life but has infected the entire United States criminal justice system.
Law Professor Michelle Alexander makes the point powerfully:
It is the Zimmerman mindset that must be found guilty – far more than the man himself. It is a mindset that views black men and boys as nothing but a threat, good for nothing, up to no good no matter who they are or what they are doing. It is the Zimmerman mindset that has birthed a penal system unprecedented in world history, and relegated millions to a permanent undercaste.
The statistics back up Alexander’s point. Minorities, especially the six million young black men in America, get much worse outcomes from the criminal justice system for the same conduct:
1. A black male born in 2001 has a 32% chance of spending some portion of his life in prison. A white male born the same year has just a 6% chance. [Sentencing Project]
2. In major American cities, as many as 80% of young African-American men have criminal records. [Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow]
3. African-Americans who use drugs are more than four times as likely to be incarcerated than whites who use drugs. African Americans constitute 14% of the population and 14% of monthly drug users. But African-Americans respresent 34% of those arrested for a drug offense and 53% of those sentenced to prison for a drug offense. [American Bar Association]
4. In seven states, African Americans constitute 80% or more of all drug offenders sent to prison. [Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow]
5. Black students are three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers. One in five black boys recieve an out-of-school suspension. Education Secretary Arne Duncan who commissioned the study, said “The undeniable truth is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.” [New York Times]
6. Black youth who are referred to juvenile court are much more likely to be detained, referred to adult court or end up in adult prison than their white counterparts. Blacks represented 28% of juvenile arrests, 30% of referrals to juvenile court, 37% of the detained population, 35% of youth judicially waived to criminal court and 58% of youth admitted to state adult prison. [National Council on Crime And Deliquency]
7. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. [Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow]
In 2004, the Amerian Bar Association created a commission which produced recommendation to address “racial and ethnic bias in the criminal justice system.” Thus far, their recommendations have been largely ignored in much of the country.