On Monday a grand jury chose not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, on a street in Ferguson, Missouri, in August. Innumerable people were immediately outraged, erupting in fury. The criminal justice system must be reformed to promote civil rights for African Americans.
News headlines frequently report on police officials killing unarmed blacks who only seemed dangerous enough to die. Last year two New York City police officers fatally shot 16-year-old Kimani Gray four times in the front and side of his body and three times in the back as he left a friend's birthday party in Brooklyn. The only publicly identified eyewitness maintained he was empty-handed when he was gunned down. In 1999 four off-duty officers approached Amadou Diallo, a West African immigrant with no criminal record, on the stoop of his New York City building, striking him 19 times as he tried to escape. They said they thought the 23-year-old had a gun. It was a wallet. In both cases, all officers were acquitted of second-degree-murder charges and continue to "serve and protect."
The American legal justice system rules unfairly. In a 2012 case that captured the attention of a nation, vigilante killer George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges following the shooting death of 17-year-old, unarmed Trayvon Martin. In contrast, African American Marissa Alexander, 33, fired a warning shot at her abusive husband during a confrontation at her Florida home in June, injuring no one, but a judge denied Alexander the same "stand your ground" rule that had been applied to Zimmerman, and she served hard time in jail. And in contrast to the tragic case of Michael Brown are the cases of 63-year-old Joseph Houseman and 19-year-old Sarah Culhane, who are both white. In May an intoxicated Houseman toted an AK-47 through the streets of Kalamazoo, Michigan, before challenging cops on the scene. Though Houseman told police officers, "Why don't you f**king shoot me?" police officers remained calm. The cops engaged Houseman in peaceful conversation before parting ways and "shaking hands." Then, in September, Culhane plowed her BMW into three cars, left the scene of the accidents and kicked a police officer in the head before police apprehended her. Both Houseman and Culhane are alive today.
Police officers unfairly prejudge African Americans as threatening and hostile, and federal laws punish them more harshly. "It's an oppressive organization now controlled by the one percent of corporate America. Corporate America is using police forces as their mercenaries," said former Philadelphia police officer Ray Lewis in an Al Jazeera interview. Likewise, in 2011 there were more African Americans in prison or "under the watch" of the justice system than were enslaved in the United States in 1850. Young black men are 21 times more likely than their white peers to be killed by police. African-American men in Wisconsin are incarcerated at a rate that's nearly twice the national average. Every year since 2003, blacks have consistently accounted for over 50 percent of all stop-and-frisk selectees, despite constituting a much smaller percentage of the New York City population. Crack cocaine and powder cocaine are pharmacologically identical drugs, but blacks are more likely to use crack and whites more likely to use powder. While both groups use the respective forms of the drug at similar rates, someone would need to possess nearly 18 times more powder cocaine than crack to get a five-year mandatory-minimum sentence. Though the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced this sentencing disparity from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1, that ratio is still not 1-to-1.
African Americans will continue to be oppressed and eliminated until the government takes action. Prior to the 1960s and during the colonial and slave eras, racism and ethnic discrimination manifested in the form of lynchings and "separate but equal" laws -- just to name a few things. Then, in 1964, legislators passed the Civil Rights Act. Ever since then, discrimination based on race and color has been outlawed, and unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and in facilities that serve the general public have ended. Still, SWAT raids are much more common in black neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods, drug sentences for black men are 10 percent longer than drug sentences for white men for the same crimes, and black people are still much more likely to be arrested, incarcerated and executed than any other race. It is time for a change.
The criminal justice system must be reformed and pressured to serve and protect African Americans just the same as it serves and protects any other race of people. Protest and rally for awareness and for change. Lobby for police officers to wear cameras and be held accountable for unjust actions. Sign petitions for the passage of acts to preserve civil rights. Keep fighting for equality.
May God bless America.