Sunday, March 25, 2012

Alexander Ch. 3, Brown &Abu-Jamal

            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. 


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  2. I would like to explore the ideas in Ally’s last paragraph about the “racialized cultural script” which our legal system operates under. Each piece that we read for class this week harped on the idea that black people were treated much more harshly in a court of law, especially when they had committed a crime against a white person. Alexander argues that the Supreme Court system has created this script. She has clear evidence through the case of McCleskey v. Kemp in which McCleskey found overwhelming evidence of racial bias in court rulings. Although the Supreme Court recognized that his research and statistics were correct, however, asked for evidence of racial bias in his specific case which is impossible to give until after the verdict.
    Whether racial bias be conscious or unconscious, it is reiterated not only in the legal system but also in media. I was appalled by the stories in “Evil in the City” about black boys not only serving longer jail time than white boys, but the way that the media portrayed the two groups so differently. When white boys commit murder it is because they are alienated, depressed, or unloved. When black boys commit murder it is because they are evil. The expectance and even worse, acceptance of horrible acts by black boys but not by white is proof of a level of racism which is nationally accepted.
    The jump which a lot of us seem to be having a hard time with is between this racism and the idea of genocide. Alexander, it turns out, is not the only one to argue that a genocide is in the making. Two pieces by Abu-Jamal used language that referenced this idea. In “Slavery Daze II” he compares the CIA’s infiltration of drugs into the inner city to the use of alcohol in Native American communities, a product of genocide. A second piece is entitled “Black march to death” which is an alliteration of the Holocaust, referencing death marches. The more we read outside of Alexander the more some of her drastic claims seem to become not only imaginable but reasonable.

  3. Working off of Ally’s post and Liza’s response, the readings for me sparked the idea of how the media plays off of these cultural “colorblind” scripts and how that in turn effects us as members of society. In the same way many of us would like to argue that we are not racist, it is often not the explicit biases that are a problem in society but rather the implicit biases. As Alexander brings up in chapter 3, “many people who think they are not biased prove when tested to have relatively high levels of bias (107).” This idea is expanded in regards to the McCleskey case as the prosecutors were required to offer a race-neutral explanation for the results that found 98.4 percent of those serving life sentences under the “two strikes and you’re out scheme” were black (114). Rather than find a race-neutral explanation, the attorney general filed a petition instead. It appears as though our inability to find a race-neutral explanation for many of our actions permeates much of society. The extent to which such implicit biases play out certainly provides a type of reasoning behind the caste system Alexander proposes as well as the mass amounts of blacks, in particular men, serving in prisons. Therefore it seems as though we need not address the explicit forms of racism as much, but rather address the ways in which implicit racism and biases play out to reinforce privilege for some, and for others leads to an almost inevitable life in prison as a result of the interaction of systems that incorporate implicit biases even when we believe they are equal. The questions that come to my mind from these readings are, how do these implicit biases play out in other sectors of society that tend to favor privileged whites, such as education? Furthermore my next thought more directly addresses the mass incarceration occurring in America, and Alexander’s argument, but look’s to include Brown’s article referencing “criminal” children and whom we perceive as evil and not. The increase in mass incarceration of Americans appears to be occurring at the same time as the failing of American pubic education, another colorblind institution. My thought is how does say the failing of American education in urban schools factor into the increase and mass incarceration of blacks in society for unjustified reasons? As Brown points out, black children are painted as evils, and on average serve more time under watch then young white children in the critical earlier years of their lives. It appears as though the systems perpetuate one another.

  4. Ally briefly mentioned the central role that the media plays in perpetuating the racial stereotypes and discrimination that pervade American society. She explains how this use of racial stereotyping and discrimination by the media allowed for the general public to accept this culture of racism. I found most intriguing the way in which the media went about perpetuating the racial stereotypes and discrimination. Like in the political sphere with the use of terminology such as “cracking down on crime” and “the war on drugs,” I assert that the language used by the media was not explicitly racist, and therefore was able to be so effective in this “age of colorblindness.” Like Alexander has articulated throughout the first three chapters of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” the underlying reason behind the success of the installation of the new racial caste system by “proponents of racial hierarchy” was the use of a new “race-neutral language” (Alexander, 40). In the same vein, Brown highlights the way in which the media uses two distinct sets of rhetoric to portray white criminals and black criminals in “Evil in the City.” First, Brown describes the way in which the media perpetuates the phenomenon of the “stereotyping of black kids, especially boys, as menaces to society” that was revived in the 1990s. The media consistently used phrases such as “superpredators” and “the birth of a new breed of young urban killers” to describe young black children accused of committing crimes (Brown, 35). Brown cites Julie Grace’s article on Yummy in “Time” as an example of the inherently negative language used to describe young black criminals, as she used phrases such as “runt” and “nappy” (Brown, 36). This differs greatly from the rhetoric used by the media to describe young white criminals. Brown explains that when describing the white counterparts of these black “superpredators,” the media used “fairly conservative language,” citing these young white criminals’ “vulnerability” and the fact that they were “possessed, misunderstood, alienated, isolated or lonely” (Brown, 39). I find the fact that the media tended to cite the inherent “evil” qualities of the young black criminals while simultaneously citing the environmental factors, such as being “possessed”, that influenced the actions of young white criminals, clearly demonstrates existence of racial discrimination in a simply new, manipulative and covert form (Brown, 38).