A recurring theme in this week’s reading that I found particularly interesting is the idea of the difference between “abstract legal principles and actual practice” in America’s legal system (Alexander, 125). Alexander spends a great deal of time emphasizing the distance between written laws and the way that they are enforced, ultimately arguing that our legal system has inherent biases which greatly disadvantage those of African American decent. A key component in the perpetuation of incarceration of black people is the fact that police officers and prosecutors take advantage of the idea that the “exercise of their discretion is unchecked,” provided that they are not outwardly racist in their actions or in their justifications of actions (Alexander 119). The fact that studies have found that African Americans are more than 6 times as likely as whites to be sentenced to prison for a certain crime is a clear example of how our legal system has drastically strayed from the idea of racial equality and fairness for all (Alexander, 118). There seems to be no reasonable justification for giving two people different sentences for the same crime, yet we repeatedly see this happening, and the black “criminal” always receives the harsher punishment.
In “Evil in the City,” Elaine Brown offers the argument that the media plays a central role in perpetuating the racial stereotypes and discrimination that pervade American society. The stereotype of “the black boy as a social evil” is one that the media has historically disseminated, and it is through these biased depictions of the press that Americans are conditioned to accept the racism that our legal system supports (Brown 37). It seems that the media has helped to create a culture of accepted racism, which in turn has caused our legal justice system to become an arbitrary one; laws are no longer the ultimate guiding principle, rather, police/prosecutor discretion and personal beliefs have become the central deciders. Why have laws at all if prosecutors’ racial biases can trump anti-racism laws? One example of prosecutors’ racist views that I found particularly powerful was that prosecutors actually believe that whites and blacks have different reasons for committing crimes. Alexander explains that prosecutors believe that “blacks committed crimes because of internal personality flaws because of disrespect [and] whites did so because of external conditions such as family conflict” (Alexander, 118). Examples like this one highlight that our current system allows prosecutors to arbitrarily justify the actions of white criminals and not those of black criminals, even when it is clear that these two different groups have committed the same exact crime.
Given the racism of the media and additionally of our law enforcement officials, there now exists an explicit “racialized cultural script” which guides our society’s approach to crime, and as I have argued before, this “script” appears to be more potent than our own laws (Alexander 127). Given this reality, it seems that Americans have too much blind faith in our judicial system. We all consider the Supreme Court as the ultimate source of authority, and one whose deliberations are unquestionably moral, yet Alexander continually provides evidence suggesting that the Court “actually authoriz[es] race discrimination in policing” (123). Perhaps we need to re-consider our blind faith in institutions such as the Supreme Court, and in return, adopt a much more critically aware approach to racial issues in our country.