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Lee: Guilty until proven innocent

BY ASHLEY LEE | OCTOBER 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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There is no doubt some black families and communities need to do a better job in raising children to break the cycle of crime and poverty. Much can be done to eliminate the appreciation of drug culture in hip-hop and preventing young births out of wedlock.

However, this can only go so far. To say the lack of guidance and discipline in the black community is primarily responsible for the racial disparities in the criminal-justice system is incredibly ignorant. The statement completely disregards the institutional racism that actively targets African Americans. This is something they cannot prevent.

According to the Sentencing Project, “The source of such disparities is deeper and more systemic than explicit racial discrimination.”

America’s criminal-justice system is considerably racist. In many cases, it relies on implicit biases and prejudices that presume black people are inherently violent and more dangerous than whites.

Oftentimes, police will disproportionately visit poor, predominantly black and brown precincts. In some places, minorities are subject to stop-and-frisk — where they are disrespected, physically violated, and searched by law officials finding them to be suspicious.

These suspicions are partially due to the negative depictions of African Americans in the media and some dubious statistics claiming they are more likely to commit crimes. Americans accept this information, and some law officials use the data as an excuse to partake in racial profiling — what the American Civil Liberties Union defines as “the discriminatory practice by law-enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin.”

A person may consider the police simply “doing their job.” Unfortunately, there are plenty of African Americans who are not criminals but are still treated as threats to the social order.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., a prominent black Harvard professor and scholar, was racially profiled and mistaken for a burglar when trying to get in his Cambridge home, for example.

President Obama has done all of the “right” things, yet has been racially profiled as a black man on numerous occasions.

I may be a UI student, but that doesn’t stop me from receiving looks in a department store out of suspicion I may confirm a racist presumption.

Black people may do all the “right” things: stay in school, have a successful career, not break the law, and refuse to wear a hoodie. But this will not eliminate the fact that we are often guilty until proven innocent.

America implicitly operates on this belief and refuses to give the benefit of the doubt to African Americans, meaning that we do not collectively benefit from our skin as do our white counterparts.

This “system,” one that preaches, “innocent until proven guilty,” is merely a mockery to the blacks who work hard within the system, yet may fall short because of institutional racism.

Because white Americans are systematically in power — over-represented in most, if not all, influential spheres of society — they often receive benefits when it comes to the law.

Black families can do their part in educating the next generation to do better. The bigger challenge is combatting institutional racism that has been set in place since this country was founded.

The racial disparities in the criminal-justice system have a lot to do with America’s legal systems willingness to exploit and target African Americans. Only when Americans in power are willing to change their attitudes and behavior will this end.


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