By Rebecca S. Jones
HOUSTON –Paul Butler wrote a brief entitled, “Chokehold: Policing Black Men and Women in America” in which he states the following. “There has never, not for one minute in American history, been peace between Black people and the police. And nothing since slavery – not Jim Crow segregation, not lynching, not restrictive covenants in housing, not being shut out of New Deal programs like social security and the GI bill, not massive White resistance to school desegregation, not the ceaseless efforts to prevent Blacks from voting – nothing has sparked the level of outrage among African-Americans as when they have felt under violent attack by the police.”
Undoubtedly, very few African-Americans would dismiss Butler’s inference as fiction; because it is no secret that racial discrimination and disparity has long pervaded the nation’s criminal justice system. However, patriotic phrases such as “all men are created equal”, “innocent until proven guilty” and even “protect and serve”, has left Black America with a glimmer of hope that maybe one day those entitlements would apply to US.
For a people who literally built the country from scratch with their blood, sweat and tears; one would think that the entitlement to equal justice and rights would be a no-brainer. Instead, we find after allllllll WE have been through, the scales of justice remain unbalanced.
The Vera Institute of Justice published a brief, “An Unjust Burden” in May 2018 which highlighted several key facts relative to the subject. The national research organization found that while, African-American men account for only 13% of the general population, 35% of that tally are incarcerated; by the same token, African-American women represent 13% of the female population, but, are amongst 44% of incarcerated women.
It was also reported that, one in three Black men born today can expect to be incarcerated in their lifetime, compared to one in six Latino men and one in 17 White men. As it relates to African-American women, one in 18 Black women born in 2001 is likely to be incarcerated sometime in their life, compared to one in 45 Latina women and one in 111 White women.
Further, the Vera Institute of Justice documents that, Black people are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate which is over five times greater than our White counterparts. Lastly, according to the source, “a Police Accountability Task Force in Chicago found in 2016, that police searched Black and Latino drivers four times as often as White drivers. However, police found contraband on White drivers twice as often as Black and Latino drivers.”
Besides these alarming statistics, the African-American population remains disproportionately discriminated against in the criminal justice system opposed to the majority race. In many instances around the country, Blacks have received harsher sentences for minor offenses than Whites have for more serious infractions.
When asked to comment on the issue, Publisher Roy Douglas Malonson compared the wrongfully convicted case of Anthony Graves, to long-time Republican Party campaign consultant, Paul Manafort, a recent convict. Malonson summarized the topic with one simple phrase, “Criminal for US, Justice for THEM.”
Anthony Graves was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death row for the 1992 Somerville murder of Bobbie Davis, her daughter and four grandchildren. Graves was incarcerated for nearly two decades, when his co-defendant, Robert Earl Carter released an affidavit prior to his execution. Carter swore that he had lied, when he accused Graves of helping him with the murder. In addition to Carter’s sworn statement, the Burleson County District Attorney, Charles Sebesta who secured Graves’ conviction was, “disbarred for prosecutorial misconduct”. These two factors aided in the 2010 release of Graves, who at the time had spent majority of his adult life incarcerated.
Despite the obvious, some sociologists tend to attribute inequalities in the criminal justice system to other factors such as, “poverty” and a defendant’s previous criminal history. But, after reviewing a dozen mock-jury studies, Sheri Lynn Johnson, a Cornell University law professor concluded otherwise. She found through her study’s identical trials, which included both Black and White defendants that the, “race of the defendant significantly and directly affects the determination of guilt.”
According to the Constitutional Rights Project, “Professor Johnson also found that Black jurors behaved with the reverse bias – finding White defendants guilty more often than Blacks.” Consequently, “the race of the victim in these cases affected both groups; if the victim was Black, White jurors tended to find a White defendant less blameworthy. In the same way, if the victim was White, Black jurors found Black defendants less blameworthy.“
It is for reasons such as these that the “slap on the wrist” sentencing of Paul Manafort has incited outrage amongst minorities around the country. Just last month, the former attorney and American lobbyist was sentenced to 47-months for, “defrauding banks and the government and failing to pay taxes on millions of dollars in income earned from Ukrainian political consulting.”
Many people agree with the Acres Home Chamber for Business and Economic Development‘s, Outreach Coordinator, Anthony Stewart. Stewart argues that individuals who are fluent and exponents of the law should be held to a higher accountability rate in terms of convictions, than those who are ignorant to certain legalities of the law.
To add, CNN’s Faith Karimi cited the stance of Scott Hechinger, a New York public defender who when reflecting on Manafort’s sentencing, spoke of incidents where defendants received harsher convictions for less-serious offenses. Hechinger shared the case of one of his clients who was offered a “sentence of between 36 to 72 months for stealing $100 in quarters from a residential laundry room.” Additionally, he referenced Crystal Mason, who was sentenced to five years in prison for “illegally voting in the 2016 presidential election while on supervised release for a tax fraud conviction.” Notwithstanding the fact that Mason had no idea she was even committing an offense.