Failed Social Justice, Again
March 7, 2017 • 279 views
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President Trump recently signed three executive orders in conjunction with Senator Jeff Sessions’ appointment as Attorney General. The orders were bereft of much detail; however, they all centered around the notion that, “many communities across the nation are suffering from high rates of crime,” and the President intends to begin reducing crime.
These orders, the materialization of Trump’s campaign promises and inauguration rhetoric against the “American carnage” of city-wide crime, base themselves on foundations of falsehoods, ones we have seemingly numbed ourselves to in the past months.
Trump’s claim that “the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years,” still largely unfounded, along with his newest orders put forth are egregious, however they are not too unfamiliar.
At the beginning of the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan launched his crusade known as the War on Drugs, and began targeting black communities at a disproportionately higher rate than white ones, despite the similar rates at which people of all colors were buying and selling drugs.
Thus began a prolonged and unfinished period of mass incarceration, in which black men were admitted to prison at rates as high as 20 to 50 times greater than white men for comparable drug charges.
As director Ava Duvernay and Michelle Alexander noted in their acclaimed pieces, the film 13th and book The New Jim Crow, respectively, several of the laws perpetuated by the Reagan administration and further presidents, such as mandatory sentencing and the “three strikes” rule, were unfairly targeted black communities.
Police squads would perform military-like mass arrests, leading to cataclysmic results in black and brown communities across the country. Eventually, the United States incarceration rate would become the highest in the world, and 1 in every 3 black men would find themselves imprisoned.
This segment of our history is largely left unnoticed, as much of the oppression of propagated against the black community is seen as having been signed away with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, after these black and brown men enter prison, they are released into a world that delegitimizes their right to exist by disenfranchising them, legalizing discrimination against them, and relegating them to second class citizen status.
With movements such as Black Lives Matter and directors and writers such as Ms. Duvernay and Ms. Alexander having shed light on this continuing period of our history, it was beginning to look like perhaps this system of mass incarceration (which was essentially a rebirth of Jim Crow, according to Alexander), could be coming to its long-awaited end.
That was, until Donald Trump’s election.
The executive orders signed by Trump are proof that the president intends to preserve and continue to make laws that are redolent of those earlier laws that consistently targeted black people (his appointment of Jeff Sessions, with accusations of racism marring his record, makes the future less promising).
Much like Reagan, Mr. Trump will forge a battle against a nonexistent enemy and continue to intensely subjugate black and brown citizens to the system of oppression this country was founded on. Ms. Alexander notes in her book, sociologists have pointed out that in the past that the lack of correlation between crime and punishment is barely new, and that punishment is utilized as a tool of social control.
It seems odd, then, that protests have not arisen so swiftly and that the public is not nearly as reviled as it was by the travel ban put forth by the president. This is not to dilute the necessity of protests against the president’s orders; however, ignoring these orders, which the ACLU claims is “to investigate and stop national trends that don’t exist,” will ensure the perpetuation of a system of mass incarceration.
This must galvanize the public, especially whites who eagerly fought during the protests following the president’s first weeks. In the past, the public ignored mass incarceration, continuing the post-Jim Crow trend of imposing on black people the expectation of social mobility, a mythical prospect with laws continuously posed against blacks.
Even organizations such as the ACLU and the NAACP, as Alexander points out in her book, have overlooked the criminal justice structure as “another system infected with racism,” but no more than any other government program.
However, this system of imprisonment that targets black and brown people at such a high rate is more than infected; it has corroded the ideas and values of a criminal justice system.
Under President Obama, the prospect of reforms seemed realistic and hopeful, especially as he began pardoning those with sentences that resulted from incisive drug laws dedicated to persecute minorities. However, under President Trump and his faithful attorney general, some of this hope is beginning to die.
For white people, this gives us another test; will we continue to play witness as the government unfairly and disproportionately targets black communities, tearing apart families and leaving people of color, namely black men, defenseless against disenfranchisement and legalized discrimination?
Or will we utilize the law, as has been seen with the Muslim Ban, against the administration to dismantle an explicitly racist system once and for all?
The time to stand next to our black brothers and sisters has been long awaited, and if we continue our failure to do so, history will remember.