**This post is part I of a three-part series addressing the historical contextualization of racism and subjugation in the United States, and the relation to the value of Black and Latino lives in the wake of the infuriating verdict in Jordan Davis’ tragic murder.**
To be clear, there is no other place on God’s green Earth that I would rather call home than the United States of America, and that is why I feel the need to ring the alarm on racism. We have fooled ourselves into believing that race does not matter, that we live in a post-racial America, and that every life has the same worth. All of these American assumptions are laudable and we must aspire to reach them every day, but the entrenchment and manufacturing of the idea that we live in this post-racial America makes living up to that post-racial ideal much more difficult. The facts suggest that race is accounted for but not spoken of, and the silence on racial bias exacerbates the racial disparity that permeates the justice system. For those who need historical sources and facts, I provide the following to illustrate that race matters:
• In the early 1900s Mexican immigrants to the United States were associated with the recreational use of marijuana. By the1930s, during the Great Depression, suspicion and fear of Mexican immigrants led to an all-out war on marijuana with 29 states outlawing the herb. Scientists and government research claimed that marijuana led to violence and rape, especially in “racially inferior” communities. (Click here for more information.)
• Until 1952 petitioners for naturalization had to prove that they were white to gain citizenship, meaning that our government, even at a time where nonwhites were considered Americans by birth, endorsed the idea that white was synonymous with being American. To be American is synonymous with constitutional rights, the presumption of innocence, equal protection under the law, and be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. These rights, these American values, are bestowed upon all Americans, but sadly people of color have historically received an abrogated set of these rights, and an undervaluation of their worth.
• In the 1980s, President Reagan instituted a War on Drugs that imposed mandatory minimum sentences on nonviolent drug offenders, quadrupling the American prison population from 500,000 to roughly 2.3 million people today. This mass incarceration period disproportionately imprisoned and criminalized black and Latino men, with these groups comprising 60% (39% black, 21% Latino) of the American prison population while being only 25% of America’s population. (See Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow).
• Black people and white people report similar rates of marijuana usage, yet black people are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses. (Click here for more information on this.)
• New York City’s Stop and Frisk policy allowed police officers to stop and search anyone they deemed suspicious; 87% of those stopped and frisked were black and Latino, who together make up just over 50% of the city’s population. The white people subject to stop and frisks were more likely to have contraband. Nearly 90% of all those stopped resulted in no charges. So either the police do a poor job of predicting criminality, or they use race as a proxy for criminality. ( Click here for more information on this.)
• Black and Latino men are disproportionately killed by law enforcement, accounting for 52% of those killed by law enforcement between 2003-2009. (See 2009 Bureau of Justice Statistics here.)
• A Scripps Howard News Service analysis of FBI files from 1980-2008 found that the murder of young minority men were the least likely to be cleared.
• In the 1990s, several highway and roadway studies indicated racial disparities in traffic stops.
o In Avon, Connecticut 30% of officers targeted black and Puerto Rican motorists and their sergeant promoted such targeting, stating that “the presence of
a large number of blacks and Hispanics in a vehicle would fall within the category of people not appearing to have business in Avon.”
o In New Jersey an interstate highway study found that while blacks made up 15% of speeding law violators, they accounted for 46.2% of the traffic stops
for speeding, and the more discretion officers had to make stops led to a higher percentage of black motorists being pulled over.
o In Maryland on interstate 95, a study found that 93.3% of drivers violated traffic laws, 74.7% white and 17.5% black, yet 80.3% of those stopped for
traffic violations were black, Latino or some other race and 19.7% of those stopped for traffic violations were white. Police found contraband on 24.4%
of black motorists and 24.8% of white motorists.
o In California, a study on the California Highway Patrol found that Latinos were three times as likely and black people were twice as likely to be pulled
over and searched by officers than white people. (See Tracey Maclin’s Race and the Fourth Amendment, 51 Vanderbilt Law Review 333, 345-352).
by E. Peter Alvarez (guest contributor)
E. Peter Alvarez is from Dorchester, Massachusetts. He graduated from Boston College in 2006 and joined Teach for America in Houston, Texas shortly thereafter. After his two year commitment at TFA Houston, Peter moved back to Boston and taught in the Boston Public Schools for three more years. In 2011 Peter went on to law school and is a 3rd year law student at Boston University School of Law. This past year, Peter wrote his law school certification paper on the Second Class Citizenship status that black and Latino men experience in the United States, particularly when dealing with unbridled police discretion.