Monday, July 04, 2016

Jamilah King: 7 Ways Black People Still Aren't Free in America

This essay was originally published on

"What to the slave is the 4th of July?"

That's the question Frederick Douglass asked during a speech in Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852. That speech, titled "The Meaning of July 4th to the Negro," is among Douglass' most famous public addresses in part because it focuses on the irony of a country celebrating its freedom while holding millions of people in bondage.

But there's another reason why Douglass' words still resonate 150 years later. It's that his fundamental question still remains. How are black people in America, still mired in institutional racism created by slavery and white supremacy, supposed to celebrate their country?

By no stretch of the imagination are black people still slaves in America. But the institutions created by slavery, namely white supremacy, still dictate black lives daily. Nowhere is this reality as stark today than in our criminal justice system.

Black people are imprisoned in exceptionally high numbers.

African-Americans make up one million of America's 2.3 million prisoners, according to the NAACP. They're incarcerated at a rate that's six times higher than that of whites. And those numbers have exploded since the 1970s, when America's War on Drugs exploded the country's overall prison population.

Black people are more likely to be arrested for nonviolent offenses.

As more and more people were sent to prison for drug-related crimes, black people fared worse than other groups. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, black people are 3.2% more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than their white peers, even though blacks and whites use the drug at similar rates.

Black people are more likely to be sentenced to death for crimes against white people.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 80% of people who have been executed have been put to death for crimes against white people — even though blacks and whites are likely to be murder victims at roughly equal rates, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Black people are less likely to be judged by a jury of their peers in criminal trials.

Studies have found that racism is common in jury selection. The practice is so common that the Supreme Court ruled in May that a black man named Timothy Foster on death row in Georgia could be granted a new trial because he was convicted by an all-white jury. "Even after the undeniable evidence of discrimination was presented in this case, the Georgia courts ignored it and upheld Foster's conviction and death sentence," said Foster's lawyer, Stephen Bright after the Supreme Court's ruling.

Black children are more likely to be disciplined in school than their white peers.

The pipeline to prison starts early. Black children are more likely to be disciplined and suspended from school than their white peers starting as early as pre-school. That's the beginning of what experts call the school-to-prison pipeline, which slowly puts kids on the path to incarceration.

Each day, 500,000 people fill America's jails awaiting trial because they are too poor to afford bail. Most of them are black.

Americans are technically innocent until proven guilty, but hundreds of thousands of people sit in prison every day because they're too poor to afford bail. In 2013, a study from the Vera Institute found that 50% of people awaiting trial couldn't afford bail of $2,500 or less.

Even black men who do not have criminal records are less likely to be hired for jobs than white men who've been convicted of felonies.

While a criminal record can prevent a person from any race from having a fair shot at getting a job, one study found that even when a black man doesn't have a criminal record, he's less likely to be considered for certain positions than white men with felony convictions.

For black America, freedom isn't a guarantee of American citizenship.
NOTE: Jamilah King is a senior staff writer at Mic, where she focuses on race, gender and sexuality. She was formerly senior editor at Colorlines, an award-winning daily news site dedicated to racial justice. Prior to Colorlines, Jamilah was associate editor of WireTap, an online political magazine for young adults. She's also a current board member of Women, Action and the Media (WAM!). Her work has appeared on Salon, MSNBC, the American Prospect, Al Jazeera, The Advocate, and in the California Sunday Magazine.


Anonymous said...

Kind sir/ma'am, please tell me what exactly happened with John Swoveland, Jr., the white toddler whose short life was ended by black radicalists inspired by pages like yours. Please regale to me the tales of how he opressed you and other black people, just like the millions of white people living in Africa deserve to be treated with systemic racism and lynchings just because white people invaded Africa centuries ago. These are the rates of arrests, and while the rates of arrests are much higher for black people, it is probably because the rates of arrests represent accurate statistics of crime based on demographics. There is no secret society of white people that bribe the cops. There is no deals Trump made to arrest all black people. You're interpreting fact the wrong way. Stop.

changeseeker said...

John Swoveland, Jr., was killed by a stray bullet. It was a tragic occurrence. But this article (re-posted, but not written by me) is not about one incident. It is about a broken system. I do believe that if the broken system and White Supremacy in general, are erased from our culture, there will eventually be fewer unnecessary tragedies because the root causes of the violence will be addressed.