Disproportional Representations of Minorities in the Criminal Justice System

BBC News’ story, “Virginia governor calls for inquiry into student arrest” covers the story about a violent arrest of a black US student, Martese Johnson. What was meant to be a fun night out turned into a mother’s worst nightmare. With the intent of having a good night on the town, Mr. Johnson got wrapped up with the partying environment and in turn, became too drunk. This alerted the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agents, and as they stated, “uniformed ABC Agents observed and approached an unidentified individual after he was refused entry into a licensed establishment” (BBC News, 2015). A result of Mr. Johnson’s behavior, the ABC Agents charged Mr. Johnson with obstruction of justice without force, and public swearing or intoxication. It is not to say that the ABC agents did not have the right to investigate Mr. Johnson’s state as they reported Mr. Johnson “was very agitated and belligerent” (BBC News, 2015). As the law states, public intoxication charges can be given to a person who is visibly drunk or under the influence of drugs in public (FindLaw, 2015). The ABC agents did not leave Mr. Johnson with just these allegations, but they also felt the need to aggressively attack Mr. Johnson’s face, leaving him covered in blood. Bryan Beaubran, another University of Virginia (UVA) student who photographed the arrest stated that, “Police acted with unnecessary force,” and that, “[Martese] didn’t need to be tackled. He wasn’t being aggressive at all.” The ABC did have the right to arrest Mr. Johnson if they felt that he was publicly intoxicated but by unnecessarily attacking him for no reason, they abused their authority. This reoccurring theme of police officers, or people with authority taking advantage of their power can be seen throughout our society. They use their power to oppress and discriminate against minorities. This reoccurring theme can be stopped in our society if we acknowledge and bring to the forefront these injustices.

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The debate on race and crime in the United states have been a controversial subject and has hotly been focusing on the disproportional representations of minorities in the criminal justice system (Rehavi and Starr, 201). In fact, federal prosecutors are twice as likely to push for mandatory minimum sentences of black and Hispanic defendants. This leads to longer sentences for the defendants and inequalities in imprisonment rates for federal offenses (ibid). Furthermore, in 2008, the offending rate for blacks was seven times higher than for whites and the victimization rate was six times higher (Worall, 2014). In 2013, the FBI has black criminals carrying out 38 percent of murders, compared to 31.1 percent for whites, the offender’s race was “unknown” in 29.1 percent of cases (ibid). Additionally, over the last three years of data (211-2013), 38.5 percent of people arrested for murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault were black (ibid). All of these statistics raises the question of why black people are over represented in America’s crime statistic? The answer of high black arrest rates could possibly be that there is an element of racism in the police force.

On a wider spectrum, it can be blamed on historic white racism, or colonialism. As learned in tutorial, in Canada’s history when Europeans came to Canada and ruled over large Indigenous populations the idea of the “white heterosexual males” was seen to be the highest of power or in other words their society overruled by white supremacy (Matani, Week 20, 2015). This idea of a “perfect man” has lingered in our society today and has become a social construct. In turn, this can explain the stigma around how our patriarchal society believes other races are seen to have less power than those in authority (white males). This leads to discrimination and oppression of races other than white. With high amounts of oppression instilled into a minority group it may be hard for that particular group to thrive in society. Some criminologists believe people confuse race with poverty or inequality as black people tend to offend more because they are more disadvantaged, living in poorer urban areas, with less access to public services and so on (Worrall, 2014).

Furthermore, in our era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt (Alexander, 2010). However, society has found a way to discriminate against these minorities in a legal way. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans e.g. slavery (ibid). Once you are labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination- employment, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service are suddenly legal (ibid). Therefore it is not legal to discriminate against black people in general, but once they are deemed a criminal, society has the right to discriminate against them, and in turn white people remain in power and receive white privilege.

In social media and all over the world there are many current events of how white male authorities used discrimination against black people to remain in authority and hold power over them. One story that was analyzed on the Moodle of GNDS-125 course was the death of Michael Brown. He was an unarmed 18-year-old black male who was killed by a white police officer named Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri (Jones, 2014). Another story analyzed in lecture GNDS- 125 was the story of a homeless man who was killed by US police during an altercation in central Los Angeles (Tolmie, March 2, 2015). There is a video that shows a violent struggle between a black man and several officers in the city’s Skid Row area. The struggle ultimately left the black homeless man dead (BBC News, 2015). There has been much controversy around these cases and has resulted in various protests with vigorous debates about the law enforcement’s relationships with minorities. These stories bring to mind the ongoing discrimination and stereotyping people have against minorities. For example a police officer would more likely monitor a black person walking along the street than a white person. This is just one story of how white privileged males are using their power to take advantage and discriminate against black males.

Reflecting on the Johnson article, it is seen that a reader can examine the voices of everyone accept the victim, Mr. Johnson. ABC agents voiced their opinion on the situation saying, “Mr. Johnson was very agitated and belligerent” giving them a right to arrest him and attack him violently (BBC News, 2015). The article also states, “ABCS agents focus on alcohol-related violations but are considered state-wide police officers with authority to arrest” (ibid). From this statement, it can be seen that the author is backing up the actions of the ABC agents, saying that they had a right to arrest Mr. Johnson, as it was they’re duty. Bryan Beaubrun a bystander, got his say in this article stating, “[Mr. Johnson} didn’t need to be tackled. He wasn’t being aggressive at all”(ibid). Furthermore even the Democratic governor’s office had a published opinion on this case stating, “Governor McAuliffe is concerned by the reports of this incident and has asked the secretary of public safety to initiate an independent Virginia State Police Investigation into the use of force” (ibid). One statement that the article shows Mr. Johnson saying is from a protest on the UVA campus to demand justice for him. He states, “I beg for you guys to please respect everyone here, we really are a community” (ibid). This statement is hours after the incident and has nothing to do with the incident itself. The reporter is trying to tell the story from different perspectives but we seem to hear more on the side of the white male ABC agents, not from Mr. Johnson himself, or what Mr. Johnson thought of the incident. Without the voice of Mr. Johnson the article seems to focus more on the justified actions of the white ABC officers, which again discriminates against this particular minority.

The government and society seem to be aware of how some white male officers abuse their power and authority in order to discriminate against other minorities. But it is time to fully acknowledged this injustice and take action. Our society should not be continuing to have debates about race and color of skin. We are all equal. There are laws where it is illegal to discriminate against minorities, but now is the time to disallow all citizens to discriminate. No more loopholes, no more injustices against minorities.

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Works cited

Worrall, Patrick. “FactCheck: Do Black Americans Commit More Crime?” The FactCheck Blog FactCheck Do Black Americans Commit More Crime Comments. 4 News, 27 Nov. 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2015. http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-black-americans-commit-crime/19439

Alexander, Michelle. “.” The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York City: New, 2010. 2. Print.

Introduction 

Jones, Denisha. “Badass Teachers Association.” : The Death of Michael Brown, Teachers, and Racism: 10 Things Every Badass Teacher Needs To Understand. BTA Blog, 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2015. <http://badassteachers.blogspot.ca/2014/08/the-death-of-michael-brown-teachers-and.html?spref=fb>.

Matani, Maria-Teresa. “Colinialism” Week 20, GNDS 125 Lecture. March 2 2015

Rehavi, Marit M., and Sonja B. Starr. “Racial Disparity in Federal Criminal Charging and Its Sentencing Consequences.” Social Science Research Network. Social Science Electronic Publishing, 2 June 2012. Web. 07 Apr. 2015. <http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1985377>.

Tolmie, Jamie. “BlackLivesMatter.” GNDS 125 Lecture. March 2 2015

“US Police Shoot Homeless Man Dead in Los Angeles.” BBC News. BBC News, 2 Mar. 2015. Web. 07 Apr. 2015. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-31688942>.

“Virginia Governor Calls for Inquiry into Student Arrest.” BBC News. BBC News, 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 03 Apr. 2015. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-31965856&gt;.

 

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3 thoughts on “Disproportional Representations of Minorities in the Criminal Justice System

  1. I really enjoyed your article. I completely agree that police officers, as well as other people in positions of power, have taken advantage of their power and used it to discriminate against ethnic minorities. This is in no way right, and should certainly be put to a stop. I thought it was quite interesting how you brought up that Mr. Johnson’s voice was not included in the article. I will admit that I did not really read it – I just briefly skimmed it- so I’m not sure whether he declined the opportunity to discuss or whether he was not given the chance. Regardless, without that it is difficult to fairly judge the situation without all sides of the story. However, it is also interesting that someone stated that he was not being aggressive at all. There have been too many cases where police have used unnecessary force in order to get their way when there were simpler, less violent alternatives. I find it difficult to see how intoxication could warrant the force that was used by the police. To discuss why it could be that black citizens are overrepresented in the criminal system, I believe it is because, as you mentioned, it is often stressed that black offenders should get a penalty, minimum or otherwise, while that is not always the case with white offenders. Black citizens are often treated brutally and unfairly, regardless as to whether they have committed a crime or not. There are numerous cases in which black boys who are suspected of having committed a crime are shot or treated brutally for no apparent reason other than their skin colour. Finally, the racism is apparent even within news stations. For instance, in cases of rapes or murders committed by young white felons, their potential, how fantastic they seemed or how nice they were, etc. are often discussed, and are used almost as a mechanism to lessen their crime. Young black felons, on the other hand, are made to seem harsh and even brutal, and rarely do their achievements or persona in life come up when news stations cover their cases. I really liked how you brought in colonialism as well, as I believe that that has certainly played a part as well.

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  2. Robbie!

    After reading your blog post, I’ve become quite aggravated (in a good way). Racism in crime is something I’ve never really made the time to research and understand, so many of your points shed light on statistics that I had never even come across before. Your post has left me shocked and uneasy, due to the exposure to information I have just experienced. It hurts me to make the connection from the statistics you’ve shared, to the many missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada right now. The mirroring of these two massive issues is shocking to say the least. Thank you for writing about this, and for sharing your insight with us. It is assignments like these that force us to push our boundaries of comfort and to confront large-scale oppressions in under 900 words..which is most definitely not an easy task. As always, you’ve proven it to look easier than it is. Thanks for being an important part in our important conversations this semester. Hope you have a great summer 🙂

    -Kate

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  3. You’ve really done a wonderful work on the final blog!
    I really agree that there are still many ways to discriminate against minorities in a legal way. Although there are many laws saying preventing people from discriminating black people, it’s such a superficial justice without eliminating the initial problems. It’s just like the topic we discussed last time – “doctor refuses to treat the lesbian couple’s baby”, there are many ways for people to discriminate LGBTQ people in a legal way, such as using religious belief as an execuse.
    I also agree that the victim’s own voice is missing in this news article. It’s really unfair to neglect his voices because he lost the chance to explain for himself and the readers then have no access to know if there is any misunderstanding in this event.
    I strongly support you be saying that it’s time to stop debating about race, instead, we should actually stop this kind of behavior by actions!
    It’s really nice to read all your blogs i]this semester! Hope you have a great summer!

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