America's Apartheid: Legalized Discrimination through Mass Incarceration

In 2015, it is socially unacceptable to say, "I hate black people." The public crucifixions of social giants such as Donald Sterling, Paula Dean and most recently, Hulk Hogan prove this to be true.

It is O.K., on the other hand, to say "I hate criminals." As a matter of fact, we are encouraged to do so. As a society we are taught to scold, ostracize and dehumanize those shackled by our criminal justice system. We as a nation are taught to hate criminals. This is seen through the denial of ones child to play with the kid of a felon, or the public shame of speaking about a family member who has been captured by jailers,.

Today, sadly, the terms "black" and "criminal" have become synonymous. Two terms that can be used almost interchangeably when discussing individuals who are denied the rights of human decency.

Whether intentional or not, the American criminal justice system has been used to create a new racial caste system, a phrase used to describe a stigmatized racial group locked into an inferior position by law and custom.

As many of you may know, I am a 23-year-old black male living in Chicago. The Windy City is a metropolis considered to be one of our nation's most diverse cities. It has birthed black police chiefs, black mayors, and it is even home to our first black president. Despite the black accolades of this sumptuous city, as a young black male I can't escape the racial caste system that is designed to put me behind bars.

Let me show you what it would be like for someone with my demographics to grow up in Chicago, the heart of America's apartheid.

According to The Chicago Urban League, as a black male born in Chicago my chances of becoming a convicted felon at some point in my life is above 50%. This means that currently more than half of Chicago's adult black male population is either a felon or an ex-felon. Considering the south-side of Chicago is home to the overwhelming majority of black Chicagoans, my future would be subjected to failing school systems, poverty stricken neighborhoods and a criminal justice system that is awaiting my ordained arrival.

After being dragged through an underfunded school district, I am more likely to go to prison than to college. This should surprise no one considering that the Crime and Justice Index revealed that in 2001 there were 20,000 more black men in the Illinois state prison system than enrolled in the state's public universities.

My community is invaded with militarized police around the clock, SWAT cars becoming the most recognizable vehicle on my street. Strangers sporting white, black, and blue uniforms become the white washed faces that I am now accustomed to seeing barging through the front doors of my neighbors' homes. It is only a matter of time before the criminal justice system finally welcomes me as the newest member of its growing family.

According to the Report of the Illinois Study Commission, the greatest reason for the imprisonment of black Chicagoans is a class D felony (the lowest level felony) better known as a drug possession charge. If I were to go to jail for a class D felony there is little to no freedom upon my release.

In Chicago, similar to most American cities, ex-offenders are forbidden or parlously restricted from employment in a large number of professions due to rules and practices that discriminate against potential employees with felony records. I have also lost my right to seek public housing, to apply for other public assistance such as welfare, I can't serve on a jury of my peers and I have lost my right to vote. Now, I am officially labeled a second class citizen. Similar to my cotton-picking ancestors, I am also not deemed a full person.

"But Brandon, don't blacks commit crimes at a higher rate than white people? Isn't that the reason why there is more police force in black communities? Isn't that the reason why 90% of those sentenced to prison for a drug offense in Illinois are black?"

Data from "The Sentencing Project" shows that there is little to no difference in the rate of crimes committed between blacks and whites, especially on the basis of drugs and non-violent crimes.

This very fact is evidence of our nation's legalized discrimination through mass incarceration. Are you willing to argue the fact that white people do not use illegal drugs?

Why are cops not invading suburban homes confiscating housewives' "prescription" pills? Why are SWAT teams not bursting open the lockers of Chicago's top (predominantly white) high schools searching for "Pot" on a day to day basis? Why are the police not imprisoning, by the hundreds of thousands, "Pot smoking, weed selling frat boys"? Why does the media portray black drug users as "crackheads" but white drug users as "experimenting"?

As a black male in Chicago, I find it hard for one to argue that the criminal justice system has not been used unfairly and unjustly to discriminate against black people and to outcast them from society. We must admit that because of race we become complacent to what happens to "those people." We must not forget majority of white people who supported slavery and jim Crow were not evil; they were just blind.

It is all of our responsibility to make sure that our nation is based upon a structure that is just and fair to all instead of some. W.E.B. Du Bois said it best, "the burden belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs."