Tinkering … will not make America’s justice system color-blind — By Mohamed Hamaludin

Tinkering around the edges will not make America’s justice system color-blind

— By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who admitted he lied to the FBI and was accused by a federal judge of betraying the flag and probably committing treason, is likely to get just probation. Another white man, billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, accused of abusing perhaps hundreds of teenage girls, served less than two years in a cushy West Palm Beach jail. But Cyntoia Brown of Ohio, victim of sex-trafficking from age 16, has been languishing in prison for 14 years now of a 51-year sentence for killing the 43-year-old pimp who kept her captive.

Brown’s case is among the most egregious examples of how the system victimizes African American  women, though a few eventually won reprieve — but only after years behind bars.       

Angie Jenkins of Oregon, who ran away from an abusive and alcoholic father when she was 17, was sentenced to 30 years, convicted of being part of an operation with her husband and others that made and distributed methamphetamine. She was locked up for 18 years before then President Barack Obama pardoned her and more than 1,320 others in an effort to undo the unconscionable penalties imposed on non-violent drug offenders.

Tyra Patterson of Ohio got life in prison for a murder which she did not commit when she was 20.  She served 23 years before a state parole board finally freed her.  The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington commented that the murder and Patterson’s prosecution “reflected many of the systemic flaws in the modern criminal justice in the US, causing numbers of incarcerated to soar. More than 100,000 women are today locked up in the country, out of a total of 2.2 million people – almost a quarter of the total prison population on the planet,”

Marissa Alexander’s right to defend herself when she fired a warning shot at her abusive ex-husband was rejected and she got a 20-years sentence, despite Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Even after a court ordered a new trial for her – based on a technicality and not her self-defense claim – the white prosecutor threatened to retry her on counts that could have sent her to prison for 60 years. Alexander capitulated, accepting a plea bargain of three years in prison and was released for time served.

New York police officers wrenched a 1-year-old boy from the arms of his mother, Jazmine Headley, 23, as she lay on the floor of a Human Resources Administration office in Brooklyn, according to a video of the assault, NBC News reported. A group of officers is seen surrounding her as she clutches her child to her chest and shouts, “They’re hurting my son! They’re hurting my son!”

Some onlookers in the office screamed, “Oh my God!” and “Look what they’re doing to her!”

The NYPD said staff called them after they couldn’t remove Headley from the facility They charged this mother seeking help for her infant with resisting arrest, acting in a manner injurious to a child, obstructing governmental administration and criminal trespass.

It is not surprising that, despite the fanfare, skepticism abounds over passage of the First Step Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), which offers relief to some of the 180,000 federal prisoners, who include 68,000 blacks or 38 percent and 58,000 Latinos or 32 percent. It does not apply at state and local levels, where most of the more than two million prisoners are held and where racial bias is most prevalent. Jesse J. Holland of the Associated Press reported that the Movement for Black Lives, umbrella group for more than 150 black-led organizations, called the law “custom-made for rich white men.”

“All the carve-outs make the vast majority of our people ineligible for the benefits of the bill,” the Movement said.

The law does seem to reflect a grudging, hesitant effort to address the fact that America’s law enforcement establishment, legal system and political hierarchy were designed from the start to perpetuate the subjugation of African Americans, as The Ohio University professor Michelle Alexander documented in her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

It was only weeks ago that the U.S. Senate, bastion of white male power, finally passed a law making lynching a federal crime. The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, co-sponsored by the three black senators among the 100 members — Democrats Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and Republican Tim Scott — came after at least 200 similar measures were rejected over the past 100 years, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation. Passage came 13 years after the Senate approved 90-10 a resolution apologizing for those rejections. The BBC estimated that at least 4,742 people were lynched between 1882 and 1968, most of them blacks who were hanged by white mobs.

Tinkering around the edges of the system to “reform” it is not enough.  So long as the racial superiority mindset persists in the apparatus of justice, so long will injustice continue to be administered unequally to blacks and other “minorities.” It will take radical transformation to make the system truly color-blind.

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Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who  worked for several years at The Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating to the United States in 1984 where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a commentary every week or two for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above column first appeared. He may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com.

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