Recently, Washington Post opinion writer, George Will, wrote a column about how racism is not a determining factor in who goes to prison in the United States. This particularly irked me.
Will's piece "More prisoners, Less Crime"completely misinforms the public and purposely gives life to a pernicious theory that institutional racism does not taint the criminal justice system. What especially pisses (hat-tip to the late George Carlin) me off is how a respected journalist like Will cited politically-tinged statistics and manipulated the data to fit his worldview. He takes statistical information from a right-wing organization and manipulates it to fit his own preconceived notion that being black or Latino has nothing to do with winding up behind bars. In trying to prove his point, he cited Manhattan Institute fellow, Heather MacDonald and her article, "Is the Criminal-Justice System Racist?"
This article posits that the high percentage of blacks and Latinos behind bars reflects crime rates, not bigotry. Well, I am sure that neither he nor she ever sat in a prison yard and witnessed first-hand the sea of black and brown faces locked up behind prison walls. I have. Will even denounces our future president Barack Obama's past comments that "more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities and we have a system that locks away too many young, first-time, nonviolent offenders for the better part of their lives." He then tries to negate this reality by citing more of MacDonald's argument.
George can cite all the nonsense he wants from skewed statistics in an attempt to negate the well-known fact that racism in the criminal justice system does indeed exist. African Americans and Latinos go to jail at an alarmingly disproportionate rate compared to whites. There is no denying this. This is especially true in regards to drug arrests.
The knee-jerk conclusion by some is that more black and brown people are in prison because the commit the majority of the crimes. But a closer inspection paints a vastly different picture.
According to numerous studies, including one from the Human Rights Watch African Americans are incarcerated for drug offenses at 12 times the rates of white people despite similar rates of drug use. In New York, 91 percent of those incarcerated under the Rockefeller Drug Laws are black or Latino.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Sentencing Commission addressed the racial impact of crack cocaine laws when they both made historic decisions to correct the racial disparities in drug sentencing.
Whether through targeted policing or ingrained racism in the judicial system which railroads defendants of color on a daily basis, institutional racism lives and thrives in the criminal justice system. It is a well-documented fact that routinely is ignored by Will and his ilk.
The longer "respected intellectuals" like George Will ignore the reality of institutional racism, the longer it will take for the problem to be addressed and resolved.