The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, while tragic, were markers of larger problems in America. Their murders were signals of a contorted reality shedding light to the economic pillars that so much of white privilege has grounded itself upon. America’s dirty little secret is that across this nation, millions of black families are forced into a social and economic underclass to root so much of white privilege. A socioeconomic web largely created by a legal system criminalizing so many daily actions in black life.
Through the recent police shootings and resulting deaths, we have seen how traffic warrants find their start in the most common of acts in places like Ferguson and can ultimately lead to incarceration. Literally anything from driving to the store to parking in your own driveway too long can lead one into a cycle of contacts with the police and courts. When we stop and digest the reality that Philando Castile, a relatively young man, was pulled over by the police nearly 52 times in his driving history in and around Minneapolis for a multitude of minor issues, we start to grasp that these traffic stops serve a similar function to colored only signs in the 1960’s. They are often performed by the police at the request of the local community, serving the function of letting blacks know indirectly that this part of town is not for your kind. Even the President recognized this sad truth. Just yesterday, President Obama during his memorial remarks in Dallas for the slain officers said, “And then we tell the police ‘you’re a social worker, you’re the parent, you’re the teacher, you’re the drug counselor.’ We tell them to keep those neighborhoods in check at all costs, and do so without causing any political blowback or inconvenience. Don’t make a mistake that might disturb our own peace of mind. And then we feign surprise when, periodically, the tensions boil over.”
This all is connected to a larger problem of mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on black America. To understand our nation’s problem, we must get honest and grasp the fact that young black males are incarcerated at a rate of nearly 10,000 per 100,000, and largely sent to for profit private prisons to serve those sentences. According to the New York Times in the piece “1.5 million missing black men:” “For every 100 black women not in jail, there are only 83 black men. The remaining men – 1.5 million of them – are, in a sense, missing… They are missing, largely because of early deaths or because they are behind bars.” This all occurring while white men are only incarcerated at a rate of about 1,000 per 100,000, and white women are incarcerated at the unbelievably low rate of around 130 per 100,000. All of this difference exist despite the fact that the actual rates of criminality between these different groups are not nearly that large.