In order to understand the difficult plight of minorities who become victims of institutional racism in the criminal justice system an examination of the procedure must be understood.
The history of police in the minority community is one of horror. For many African American youth this is their first contact made with an agent representing our government. The arrest is typically made by the white arresting officer. Sociologist James Hlackwell has reviewed research suggesting that ‘three quarter of the white officers in certain mostly black precincts have antipathy to black residents. A recent study of 130 police brutality incidents reported across the nation found that black or Latinos were the victims in 97% of the assaults. And 93% of the officers were white. It is clear from this report and others that police brutality is not confined to Southern cities.‘
Historical unwarranted beatings of black men, such as the videotaped beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991, have directly or indirectly precipitated numerous riots in black communities from the 1930s to the l990s. Given the history of police harassment and brutality, it is likely that most black men—including middle-class black men—see white police officers as a source of possible danger if not injury.
The police are seen as foes rather than friends.This presents additional problems because if we are to believe that:
Every constitution must first gain authority, and then use authority . . . It must first win the loyalty and homage of mankind, and then employ that homage in the work of government. In societies with representative governments, the police must obtain and then utilize voluntary compliance with their authority.
The United States National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence concluded in 1969 that violent crime in the cities stems from the ghetto slum where most Negroes live. In the early l980s 44.1 percent of arrests for violent crimes and 29.9 percent of arrests for property crives were of blacks.
The National Commission also stated that police say disproportionately arrest blacks on suspicion and that their actions may lead to a higher reported black involvement in crime than is the true situation.
John J. DiLulio, Jr. (l994) reports that a l993 research summary published by the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention confirm there is ample evidence of racism against minority juveniles in the justice system. Beginning at the time of arrest and throughout the system to sentencing minorities are at the mercy of institutionalized racism.
The media has been very effective in portraying Afro-Americans as negative elements of society. Night after night while watching the evening news Americans see young, Afro-American males in particular, portrayed as criminals. As a result of the negative image given blacks by the media, blacks bear the stigmatization of being guilty before being proved innocent.
In the l990s institutional racism still continues to plague every facet of the criminal justice system. Recent escalation in the arrest of young minority males associated with the sale of illegal drugs continue to fuel the fire. This fact must be taught to students.
It is argued that blacks fare worse than whites at the hands of the police because they evidence little respect toward the police (Black, 1980, p 105). This lack of respect is due to a great degree to the disrespect the police have historically afforded blacks.
Millions of Americans viewed the horrific beating of Rodney King on national television. What Message did this give Afro-American youth? The trial, the verdict, the acceptance of this inhumane treatment by certain segments of our society all continue to fuel negative attitudes. What happened to Rodney King’s Constitution rights, what happened to his human rights?. And the most profound question to many is why did it take a riot for justice to occur? What good is ‘due process‘ when the end result will not net fair adjudication?
If people’s view of the police reflects their general attitude toward the government which police represent then upon examination of its treatment of minorities we must conclude that our government is racist.
What do we teach the children? How do we inspire hope in the face of institutional racism which touches every aspect of the child of color. Where do our Afro-American children go to escape? The neighborhoods they live in are controlled by racism.
The argument is made that African American youth are considered an endangered species. If African American youth are endangered the question arises who endangered them? Raymond A. Winsbush (1993) contends that African Americans have been endangered since they were first stolen from Africa nearly five centuries ago. Winbush quotes from Charles Darwin’s book
The Origin of Species by Means of Natural
selection the following:
‘If the differences among human beings is not due to biology but to our institutions then great is our sin.‘
Winbush interprets this to mean that there is a clear either /or choice concerning problems currently facing African American youth. African American youths are either genetically predisposed to commit crime, sell drugs, and have early pregnancies or there is something terribly wrong with the institutions through which they move from birth to adulthood. According to Winbush, great is the sin that allows a black child to be deprived of proper prenatal care in Washington, D.C., which currently experiences an infant mortality rate among its African American children slightly lower than that of Bangladesh., (Winbush, 1994} Winbush further supports Jonathan Kozal’s argument that, ‘there is something seriously wrong within institutions of a society that deprive African, Latino and Indian children the right to public education because of the shrinking tax bases in most large urban areas.‘
African American youth are in danger now more than ever because of a growing uneasiness among nonblack Americans that there are too many persons of color taking over the institutions that historically belong to white America . Winbush’s examination of the problem reveals that there is a growing hostility among whites toward African American youth which translates into their wholesale destruction, once they reach the public school system (Winbush, 1994)
Afro-American scholars theorize that when ecological organizations place animals on the endangered list, three criteria must be operational. First there must be limited numbers of the species left. Second the organization must identify the exact predator of the endangered species. Third, a plan must be devised that will increase the numbers so they will no longer be endangered. (Winbush, 1994)
The school is the ideal place to begin to increase the numbers of successful Afro-American youth. Schools along with government and business must create environments that will enhance the life of Afro-American youth in our society. But is that a realistic expectation from those who view African Americans with racist eyes? With everyone fighting for a share of the American pie, there is little support for changing old ingrained techniques for locking out certain segments of the population. This realization mandates that racism will continue. Since this is the dilemma faced by African Americans we must begin to teach African American youth how to survive the endangered species list.
If African Americans are going to survive in the Twenty-First Century three prerequisites must be met. African Americans must have a sense of who is being talked about, develop a sense of historical determination, know where African Americans are today and know what are the causes for their situation. (Washington, 1994)