This unit, designed for grades 9-12 in social studies, law, sociology or Black history, will explore the ever persistent significance of race in the criminal justice system by encouraging honest debate among students. All students generally, and Black students in particular, must come to the understanding that the racial prejudices of the larger society are also present in the criminal justice system. Attempts by anyone, especially teachers, to simply wish away these prejudices, or to gloss over them is as great a disservice to intellectual discourse as is the attempt by many to avoid any discussion of the subject at all.
One area of concern, for Black students particularly, will be how to handle the painful emotions that greater insight into the issue at hand may cause. A responsible educator can only suggest that students use this information/discourse in such a way as to bring about a more just and fair world for all people by doing the following: 1) Consciously avoiding any and all negative interaction with the criminal justice system; 2) Challenging those with power to at all times practice fairness and ensure justice for all people irrespective of their race, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc.; and 3) Becoming involved in productive and positive political and social movements. In short, this unit will encourage social activism because change is brought about through movement and not stagnation. If real change is to come, then students must come to the realization that people change the times and not vice-versa. No institution made by human beings is immutable; commentary to the contrary flies in the face of all known historical records. Things can be fair and just, if human beings desire them to be. The burning question is—Do enough human beings want fairness and justice for all people?
Finally, while the picture that this unit will draw may be considered pessimistic by some, it is appropriate here to suggest that real solutions to pressing social, political and legal problems can only come about through honest and open dialogue, even if this dialogue runs counter to one’s previously held beliefs concerning the democratic virtues often espoused, but consistently seldom practiced where Black people are concerned, by American leaders. It is always better to tell the sad truth than it is to repeat or invent a merry lie so that the sensibilities or emotions of some people are not in some way damaged.