Saturday, April 04, 2009

Follow-up Fridays

Yeah, I know it's Saturday. And I know I said I don't post on the weekends cause that's my family time. But "follow-up Saturday" doesn't really have the same ring to it. I also had the opportunity to have some lovely family and friend time yesterday (Sushi! I swear I could eat that stuff everyday.) And I got some great comments this week, so here I am on a Saturday night getting my blog on.

This weeks comment for follow-up Friday comes from my friend anonymous. First, let me give a shout out to my friend Massimo for the comment that he left on Monday's post; I want you to know that I really appreciate the encouraging words. I also want to send a special message to my friend Marshall: I am still thinking long and hard about your question(s), and you'll have your very own post soon ;)

Okay, back to anonymous. Anonymous left this comment on my post about America's prison system:

"Even if whites and blacks use drugs at the same rate, drug charges are not all about use. "Drug charges" includes a wide range of violations, including distribution and manufacturing. Also when you refer to prison sentences, keep in mind that there are different mandatory minimums dependent on what type of drug is involved, how much of that drug is involved, and what you're doing with that drug. I'm not saying that blacks are necessarily more involved than whites in the drug crimes that carry mandatory prison sentences, only that there is more to take into consideration with these figures than your stated fact that both blacks and whites use drugs at the same rate. Of course though, I definitely do agree that there is a general bias against blacks in our justice system."

Anonymous makes some good points in this comment. The first one is that there are a wide variety of violations that fall under the realm of "drug charges." This is definitely true. The first thought that comes to my mind is another statistic that was in the article:

In 2007, four out of five arrests was for possession, and only one out of five was for distribution.

So most of the people we're talking about are users. And even if that weren't true, unless that other 20% is made up entirely of black people (which we know is not the case,) the disparities don't exist simply because black people are the dealers and white people are the users. Even if the 20% was all black people, it would not explain a 74% incarceration rate because 12% + 20% is only 32%. So even if every drug dealer was black, statistically black people should only make up around 32% of the people incarcerated.

Also when you refer to prison sentences, keep in mind that there are different mandatory minimums dependent on what type of drug is involved, how much of that drug is involved, and what you're doing with that drug.

All mandatory minimums involve prison time, there are no mandatory "community service" or "probation" minimums. There are also mandatory minimums for every major type of drug, so it doesn't matter what drugs they choose to deal. If a person's got too much of whatever drug they've got, they're taking a trip to the big house--period. (Sidenote: there used to be much more punitive sentences for crack vs. powder cocaine, but this just gives more support to my argument.) Also, keep in mind that even if mandatory minimums can somehow explain the disparity in being sentenced to prison, it doesn't explain why black people are three times more likely to be arrested and five times more likely to be convicted than their white counterparts.

Friends are honest with each other, right? In keeping with the "friend" part of this of this blog, I want to acknowledge that I am getting frustrated while typing this post. I didn't really intend for this blog to be a battle of the dueling statistics, which is why I didn't include the statistic about arrests for possession in my original post. That being said, I am confident that the assertions that I make in this blog can be backed up by statistics or scientific evidence or whatever people consider "legitimate proof" that something exists, because I know enough about these issues to know that the evidence is out there.

It is just frustrating for me to take the time to try and prove something that to me, seems so obvious. And not just obvious, but something that carries such huge consequences for some people's lives. But that's when I realize that I have to take a step back, take a deep breath, and realize that not everyone sees things the way that I see them, because we all look at the world based on our own experiences.

Ok, back to anonymous...

"I definitely do agree that there is a general bias against blacks in our justice system."

When I first read this part of the comment, I was really confused. I was like, "Why Anonymous, would you write all those lines challenging my assertions, only to conclude by saying you definitely do agree that racial bias exists in our justice system? If this isn't an example of racial bias in our justice system, what is?"

Every statistic that could be used to prove racial bias in the justice system has some potential counter arguments.

Black people convicted of murder are more likely to be sentenced to death than white people convicted of murder.

"Well, maybe the crimes the black murderers commit are more heinous as a whole."

A person that kills a white person is more likely to get the death penalty than a person that kills someone of color.

"Well, maybe the people of color were doing something bad when they got killed--like a drug deal or something."

One in three black men is in prison, parole or on probation.

"Well, maybe black people are just more violent? I know they scare me when I'm walking alone at night."

Yes, maybe, maybe, maybe.

The point that I am trying to make is this: When we hear unsettling information we have two choices: we can either accept it (and the unsettling feelings that come along with it,) or we can try to explain it away, which is really just a form of denial.

Let me give you an example from my own life. I was watching an episode of Oprah about the recession. On it, they had a woman who was well-educated, well-spoken, tons of experience in her field (I think it was HR,) and she said she was willing to take any job. Yet, she claimed that she had been searching for a job for a year.

I kid you not, as soon as I heard that I said, "No, that can't be true. She must not be really willing to take any job, she must not be looking that hard-- there's got to be more to this story." I just refused to believe that she was telling the truth.

Why? At least part of the reason why is because I am well-educated (just graduated in December,) well-spoken, and I also haven't had any luck in finding a job. And I'm not even willing to take any job, I want a job in my field that pays well! So if she's been looking for 12 months, what the heck does that mean for me?! And I don't even have that much experience! How am I going to pay my bills? AHHHH! I want to go cry now.

You see what I'm getting at? I could have just stopped at "she's lying" and been done with it. Instead, I chose to believe her and now I have to face some really harsh realities about what my job search may look like, and what that means for me and my family.

So my fair readers, you can read this blog and dismiss whatever is too disturbing to deal with, or try explain it all away--and keep living the happy-go-lucky status quo. Or maybe, just maybe--you can believe that the things written here do happen, and more importantly that they happen for some very gross reasons. And you can regognize that it is up to all of us to do something about them.


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