Racism in America: differences in sentencing guidelines based on ethnic origin

· Philosophy, Popular culture

Judge sentencing rulings:

Mohammed, five years in the state penitentiary.

Jermaine, twenty years.

Frank, 20 hours of community service. I’m sorry but the guidelines force me to do something. Are you ok?


A lot of people are aware of the fact that depending on your ethnic origin, the sentence you receive at a criminal trial is likely to be very different. However, although the above is a joke, it is more realistic than might be expected. If you are black, for example, you are more likely to NOT be given the benefit of the doubt, even in a country as developed as Canada.


A recent Guardian article released the following findings on the matter. The focus of the article begins with Trayvon Martin, the teenaged African American who was killed by a Latino. The popular wisdom in many circles was that if Martin had been white, the killer would immediately have been arrested. Or if the killer were black, alternatively, he would have been arrested immediately as well.


The article raises this issue, and then it admits that based on what has actually happened in the criminal justice system, this is often too true. It is no secret that the percentage of black men in the United States overall is swamped proportionally by the number of black men in American jail or prison. The crux of the matter is that when there is a chance for leniency, black people get it much more rarely than do whites.


What the article does not address, and what I find interesting, is that the killer’s Hispanic roots are not mentioned often. This adds a whole new layer to the problem, in my opinion. There is evidence, as the article indicates, to show that Hispanics are also a victim of too-harsh sentencing guidelines and racism, just as African Americans are. However, the issue of a Hispanic person killing a black man has largely been ignored.


One of the practical realities of this racist sentencing is that young black people will feel as though there is no chance for them. This will encourage them to turn to crime because it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Black people don’t want to commit crimes any more than white or any other race of people do. But consider this: If everyone in your peer group, or the majority in your peer group have already been in jail (for small offenses), then some of the stigma is removed and it seems less of a unique issue. If none of your friends have ever been in jail, it is less likely you will be because of the social consequences. We need to stop a cycle where it is commonplace for young black men to be perceived as threats strictly by virtue of their ethnic origin. A black man should be able to wear a hoodie without being gunned down.


If this keeps up (and human nature being what it is, it no doubt will) then the same self-fulfilling prophecy might happen with young Muslim men. The same racism is often directed at this ethnic group. The more Muslims who end up in jail for offenses that would not result in the same punishment for their white counterparts, the more likely it is that the issue will spiral out of control, and even more jails and prisons will be filled with ethnic minorities who often should not even be there. We need to arrest the problem, rather than the minorities.


Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/apr/04/incarcerated-with-extreme-prejudice

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