America’s real ‘prisoner’s dilemma’

By George Ploss

So when I drive past the police, I turn my radio down, roll up the windows, sometimes I may even turn my hat forward. I’ve been searched and handcuffed by mistake and the majority of my black friends have had some type of altercation with police. Was it because they were black?

Although it seems and feels like I’m fishing for an excuse, it doesn’t change the fact that African-American men are, to say the least, overrepresented in the prisons across America.

We represent only 13 percent of the national population but we also make up 30 percent of those arrested, 41 percent of those in jail and 49 percent of those in prison, according to Human Rights Watch. HRW also reports that one in three black men between the ages of 20 and 29 were either in jail or prison and 13 percent of the adult black male population has lost the right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement laws.

Do African-Americans have an inept ability to be law-abiding citizens? According the national averages compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice, I am 8.2 times more likely to get arrested than a white citizen.

Here in Illinois, the incarceration rate for black men is thirteen percent. This rate has increased exponentially in the last three decades.

According to the New York State Assembly’s committee on Ways and Means, the state’s prison population more than tripled from 20,000 in 1980 to 62,000 in 1992 as a direct result of the implementation of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. In the 1975 case of People v. Broadie the judge (whose name strangely doesn’t appear in the final opinion) fully articulated the rationale behind these laws when he stated “It was thought that rehabilitative efforts had failed; that the epidemic of drug abuse could be quelled only by the threat of inflexible, and therefore certain, exceptionally severe punishment.”

The impact of these laws was that 85 percent of those indicted for drug felonies were black and Latino/a and represent 85 percent of the state’s prison population, where as they are only account for 23 percent of the state’s general population according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

This epidemic of “Justice” is destroying the African-American community. The black male is being systematically removed from society.

The black male incarceration rate is the most blatant sign that institutional racism still exists in this country and its effervescent with growth. It’s not the fact that laws specifically target street crime, which is gruesome in nature and does not deserve leniency from absolute justice, it’s the fact that our justice system is a reflection of how the broader society views Africa-America as a hub of violence.

However, if the same amount of resources that are put into law enforcement were put into understanding why the pit of poverty for black people seems everlasting and results in the constant breeding of violence, the crime rate may very well drop. This is similar to the idea that building a wall on the Mexican/US border isn’t necessarily the solution to illegal immigration, but rather the solution may lie in rebuilding the Mexican economy. Shouldn’t we be trying to find a cure for this illness rather than merely treating the symptoms?

The lax response of government officials during Hurricane Katrina created a vacuum of crime and desperation. Violent crime was already running rampant in New Orleans, but with the chaos, confusion and lack of government intervention and readiness, the majority of those suffering and those committing violent crimes were black.

In no way am I excusing these horrendous actions, I am simply looking at the higher-ups. It wasn’t the government’s fault that Katrina hit New Orleans, but it was their fault for disregarding its citizens. And as a result, law and order fled, along with the millions of citizens who called The Big Easy their home. Violent crime went up, as did the arrests rate of black men.

My point is this, government inefficiency directly contributed to violent crime in the aftermath of Katrina. Those who committed those crimes were punished to the fullest extent of the law, but what about those who were the catalyst?

This is an ongoing example of white-collar crime and how it trickles down into street crime. For the most part, white people who are in positions of power commit white-collar crime and street crime is committed by black people who aren’t in those positions.

Who gets arrested more? Who doesn’t have the means to afford quality legal counsel? Who gets away with breaking the law more? Is there really justice on both sides of the racial divide? One Love.