The Whole Damn System is Guilty as Hell

Lately I’ve been thinking about the phrase ‘the whole damn system is guilty as hell’ and just how true it really is, especially in regards to the criminal justice system. There’s so much in our society (including ourselves) that is corrupted by racism and misogyny and classism and bias – to the point where I really wonder if we can truly call it the justice system.

From the beginning – racial profiling and the school to prison pipeline are just some of the things that are at the beginning of people interacting with the justice system and how the entire system is guilty. Driving or walking around can be dangerous for some people because of their race, gender, etc because of the biases that exist against them.

  • Driving while black – driving a car while being a black person has its risks simply because of the racial profiling that happens all the time. The New York Times did an analysis of thousands and thousands of traffic stops and years of data from the North Carolina city of Greensboro and found a wide racial difference. Plus, people of color are more likely to be searched during traffic stops. This has actually become such a problem that an app has been developed to provide information and tools to those who may be targeted for traffic stops.
  • Walking while trans – similarly there’s another concept that came after the arrest of Monica Jones, a trans women convicted of “manifesting prostitution” in Phoenix a few years back. But in reality, Jones was guilty of nothing other than existing and walking around as a trans woman. The arrest and conviction was based on the assumption that not only was Jones a sex worker but that sex workers need to be saved.
  • The Stop and Frisk Program – this NYPD program is filled with racial discrimination and bias. More than 85% of the people stopped were black and latin@ people despite making up about 50% of the population.

To the arrest – there is a difference in arrest rates between people of color and white people but there’s even more of a difference in the arrests of black people versus people who aren’t black. And black people are more likely to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession than white people – despite the fact that both groups use the drug at similar rates.

On a related note, the Black Lives Matter movement and related protests have really brought to light the brutality that exists in many interactions and arrests that cops all over the country have. There have been too many cases and too many hashtags of the police acting on their biases and the racist assumption that people of color are guilty until proven innocent. The “white gaze” quite literally kills.

  • Freddie Gray was arrested and died because of injuries he sustained after a ride in a police van. There are many that suspect that Gray was in fact a victim of a horrific tactic called the “nickel ride”, which is what really cause his life threatening injuries. John Vibes wrote about these rides, saying in particular that: “police were using this tactic as a witness-free way to punish unruly, uncooperative, or arrogant suspects – without ever laying a hand on them. For rogue police, it was a literal way to deliver ‘street justice.'”
  • During the summer of 2014, Eric Garner was killed in an illegal choke hold at the hands of a NYPD officer for essentially being a black man and questioning why he was being harassed by officers.

To sentencing – this is yet another aspect because marginalized people (especially people of color) are more likely to serve time in prisons and jails and make up a disproportionate amount of the total prison population.

  • The prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes.
  • Male jurors are also more likely to find fat women guilty.
  • A Pennsylvania judge was convicted of taking $1 million in bribes from developers of juvenile detention centers to send youth to those same centers.

To release – establishing life after a prison sentence can be really difficult because there are many ways in which the system works against people coming out of prison – something that Carmen Rios writes about in a piece on women of color and the prison industrial complex.

  • For example, legislation has prevented people with felony drug convictions from accessing federal assistance like SNAP, making it hard for some people trying to rebuild their lives who might need a little extra help.