Racially disparate treatment has permeated the United States criminal justice system throughout history. During the Jim Crow era, Blacks were legally barred from voter rolls in several southern states and were therefore barred from serving on juries. In this era of racial strife, the police, prosecution, defense attorneys, judges, and jurors were almost always white. Cross-racial mis-identifications, forced confessions, all-white juries, and blatant racism led to the wrongful convictions of countless innocent black people, The Innocence Project iterated. Fast forward to the 21st Century — the age of DNA, CSI, and video-tapped evidence — and we don’t see much of a minimal shift in the way lady justice arrests, prosecutes and/or incarcerates her defendants of color.
The Washington Post reported that police in Charlottesville, Virginia, has an arrest warrant out for an African-American man who was beaten during a violent white supremacist in rally in the city in August.
Twenty-year-old DeAndre Harris is now wanted by police. He appeared in a widely circulated video on social media being beaten with sticks by a group of men during the August 12 “Unite the Right” rally that left counter-protester Heather Heyer dead and dozens injured after they were rammed by a car. This is the same incident that President Trump very unpresidentially exclaimed, “You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now,” regarding counter-protesters exercising their freedom of assembly and right to protest. Keep in mind, Trump hung his hat on the trivial fact that the counter-protesters “did not have a permit” to march against.
In a twist of irony to some and coming as absolutely no surprise to others, Harris is accused of attacking one of the men who viciously gave him a beat-down like it was nobody’s business.
What may present as appalling for those never affected by an arrest, but is commonly understood for others directly impacted, there is an inadequate standard of “investigation” applied to “crimes” involving African American men. There is arguably, even more, less integrity regarding the typical media outlets who adjudicate pronouncements of “guilt” in their coverage of these individuals, as poignantly submitted in a 2014 HuffPost article: When The Media Treats White Suspects And Killers Better Than Black Victims. Conspiracy thinking? Not at all. Let me lay some sobering statistics on you.
- While black people represent 13% of the US population, they represent a whopping 47% of the 1,900 exonerations in the National Registry of Exonerations.
- African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites.
- The imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women.
- Nationwide, African American children represent 32% of children who are arrested, 42% of children who are detained, and 52% of children whose cases are judicially waived to criminal court.
- Though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the US population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015.
- If African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%.
For DeAndre Harris, who suffered a spinal injury and a head laceration that required 10 stitches, to somehow go from being the victim to the investigated is typical of the inherent biases and stereotypes that are within the DNA of our criminal justice system. When Black men find themselves having the slightest incidental contact with the law, such as reporting their cars stolen, being robbed, assaulted or the like, they may hazardously find themselves as a subject of suspicion rather than a citizen with a complaint.
The audacity that a jurisdiction could even posture to entertain and give audience to Harris’s aggressor, reverse the situation and levy felonious charges against Harris, is indicative of the fact that the weight of a White accuser is heavier than a Black victim, no matter how apparent the victimization is! Even in cases where the accuser is of the same race, Black men usually find themselves on the arresting end of an offense that may be baseless in nature, simply because investigators profile them as having a propensity to commit a crime.
“Virtually every objective investigation of a US law enforcement agency finds that the police, as policy, treat African Americans with contempt,” former career prosecutor and Black man Paul Butler expressed. He continued, “Every black man in America faces a symbolic chokehold every time he leaves his home. The sight of an unknown black man scares people, and the law responds with a set of harsh practices of surveillance, control, and punishment designed to put down the threat.”
In the civil rights epistle penned from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King dissertated, “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
We the people have both a civic and moral responsibility to hold our police, district attorneys, legislatures, and judges to executing their oaths with fairness and equity, without an application that involves race, creed, ethnicity or gender. For today in failing to do so, the direct arrest of DeAndre Harris in Charlottesville becomes the indirect prosecution tomorrow in our family or from our community. Yes...even ourselves.