Flawed justice system hinders African Americans

_Editor’s note: This is Part Two in a three-part series on the decline in violence. Next week, Michael will expand on one particular flaw of the American justice system, the prison-industrial complex._

The most consistent trend of violence reduction that researcher Steven Pinker discovered during the writing of his latest book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” is when a state has a monopoly on the use of force in order to protect its citizens.

To help explain how the law is used to deter violence, Pinker invokes Hobbes’ Leviathan theory, which can be summed up in a triangle of players: Every violent act consists of an aggressor, a victim and a bystander, with the bystander being the law or other government authority. What Pinker is arguing is that the existence of this third party — a blind, omnipresent mediator of justice — is why people do not commit more crimes. If people fear the punitive consequences of certain actions, they are far less likely to commit them.

In the statistics of violent crime in the United States, there is a striking and recurrent theme: a racial disparity that reveals blacks commit a significantly higher rate of violent crimes. According to the FBI’s 2010 Uniform Crime Report, blacks are 16 times more likely to commit a murder than white Americans.

So why do blacks proportionally commit more violent crimes than whites? One rationale for this complex question is the fundamental difference in the way blacks and whites are treated by our legal system. Many books could be filled to outline causes of this, the most important being the residential and economic segregation that was legal and enforced until the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

But the racial divide in legal treatment is still very prevalent today, specifically the “stop and frisk” policy of the New York Police Department and the application of war on drugs, in general.

So if the law does not guarantee color-blind justice, who then to turn to? “The code of the streets” is how Pinker defines it, and its rules are followed by the gangs, drug dealers and Don Corleones of the world, which operate outside of the judicial system, usually out of necessity. It is certainly the less ideal alternative to the formal legal system because the likelihood that you will die violently is much higher (hence the higher black crime rates).

If you listen to hip-hop music, you will catch glimpses of the violent lifestyle that the code of the streets ensures. Jay-Z articulates how racism prevents his fair treatment under the law, but he also discusses the inherent dangers of the code of the streets:

“I sold drugs for a living; that’s a given. Why is it? Why don’t you try visiting the neighborhoods I live in. My mind’s been through hell, my neighborhood is crime central, where cops lock you up more than try to defend you. So I push it to the limit when I’m needing the wealth, but all I see is life cycles just repeating themselves.”

The law reduces violence, but when the law favors one group over another, one could expect violence to persist in the disfavored group.

Black males commit more violent crimes than whites because the U.S. judicial system, instead of protecting all its citizens, operates toward the interests of specific groups, namely white Americans. I am not denying that blacks have committed crimes nor that black criminals should be morally absolved. I believe that, since a code of the streets still exists right here in the United States, we must work to reduce the violence it causes. To do this, we must shed light upon the deplorable injustices of our justice system.

_Michael is a senior in LAS._