Monday, September 16, 2013

Bill O’Reilly, Ray Kelly, and Frederick Douglas got me to wondering.

Bill O’Reilly, Ray Kelly, and Frederick Douglas got me to wondering.

“There is a reason why more young black men are in prison. There is a reason why police are more cautious while approaching a Black man in a car. And the reason is overwhelmingly violent crime in this country is generated by young Black men.  Am I wrong?”
                                                                                            -Bill O’Reilly, FOX News

"Last year 97percent of all shooting victims were Black or Hispanic and reside in low-income neighborhoods. Public housing where five percent of the city's population resides experiences 20 percent of the shootings. There were more stops with suspicious activity in neighborhoods with higher crime because that's where the crime is."
                                                                                          -Raymond Kelly, NYC Police  Commissioner

“A person who had passed fifteen years [old] in Alabama said to me recently, ‘Why, everybody knows! Colored people are sent to the convict camps for almost nothing. A parcel of little boys may be playing crap [and] they are seized by the police and sent to the convict camp for life’.

Is it with wonder that a feeling of unrest pervades a people subjected to such inhuman treatment?’”
                                                                                             -Frederick Douglas, page 36

            The statistics articulating the large number of Blacks with criminal justice involvement are staggering.  According to the Cradle to Prison Campaign of the Children’s Defense Fund, nationally, 1 in 3 Black boys born in 2001 are at risk for imprisonment during their lifetime.  In even simpler terms, if you have three black boys  born in the same household, likely one of them will go to jail or prison at some point during their lives.  And if you side with the reasoning of O’Reilly  you will conclude that they their blackness alone is enough reason to substantiate the inevitable destiny of at least one of those Black boys.  You will also agree with Kelly’s assertion that stop-question-and frisks occur more in high crime neighborhoods, where Blacks happen to live because, of course,  Blacks’ natural inclination is to move to neighborhoods where crime is at its highest. Yes, Blacks move to high crime neighborhoods because it’s a redefinition of gentrification. Blacks appreciate high crime areas more so than Whites…right? Further, the reason for the high crime and high likelihood of imprisonment has nothing to do with anything form the past. In fact, just like Jews, Blacks should just get past the past injustices and atrocities, and inhumanities, and tortures, and pillaging, and genocides, and enslavements, and systemic discriminations. The American dream is about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, if  you never had boots, or straps in the first place. The ghettoes that Jews were forced into 65+ years ago had nothing to do with racism and injustice, but everything to do with a group of people not wanting to better their own lots in life. Thus, any trauma they experienced during those years in concentration camps should be a thing of the past, especially generations after those atrocities occurred. Jewish people today have no reason to still chant “never forget.”

Blacks have it much easier than the Jews. The kidnapping of about 12 million Africans during the transatlantic slave trade for over 400 years was so long ago. Blacks have had emancipation, voting rights, the end of segregation, and now a Black president. All of those accomplishments give them every opportunity that any other person living in the US has. The fact that many Blacks were subjected to convict lease gangs for crimes like vagrancy and larceny has no impact on their being incarcerated at such high rates today.  It was their fault that they did not have jobs and places to live after generations of slavery. Further, just because convict lease gangs appeared right after the Civil War when slavery ended, and over 80% of those in these convict lease gangs were Black, and that Blacks also typically received sentences of 10 years or more, much more than Whites were usually given, has no bearing on today’s disproportionate representation of Blacks incarcerated.  None whatsoever!
Blacks, we need to ignore the research by the US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) regarding plea and charge bargaining, that references that Blacks are “less likely to receive a reduced charge compared with Whites.  We need to get past the policies of just 40 years ago, that is, the FBI and its COINTELPRO policies that insidiously destroyed any cultural upliftment initiatives of poor Black people with the intentional and widespread distribution of drugs.
To echo, O’Reily, “there is a reason why more young Black men are in prison.” O’Reilly is correct to that point. However, his reasoning stops short of really addressing the problem of Blacks in prison and as homicide victims. He diagnoses the problem without deeply considering the traumatic impact of American history on Black people, and other peoples of color. When a young Black man  in the mid-to-late 1800’s can tell Frederick Douglas that,  “Why, everybody knows! Colored people are sent to the convict camps for almost nothing,” we should consider the effects of that reality on future generations. What do we think that 15-year old boy told his children and grandchildren about being Black in America? What do we think that 15-year old boy told his children and grandchildren about the criminal justice system in America? What do we think  that the survivors of lynchings, beatings, and rape told their offspring about life in America? What do we think the survivors and witnesses to the infiltration of drugs in the ghettoes of New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles told their children about being Black in America? And when I say “told” I ask you to think about the  non-verbal communications that were transmitted.  The feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness, low and vacant self-esteem,  and the devaluated feelings and thoughts about Black life.  Would we think descendants of the atrocities of the centuries of Jewish persecutions to simple “forget” about what happened to their fore parents? Why, the first ten amendments to the US Constitution are declarations to not replicate the tyranny of the British Empire. The founding father vowed never to forget the pangs of British rule by creating Union. Thus, why and how can we expect that Black people and other peoples of color in this country should easily “forget” and “get over” and simply “move beyond” the atrocities that many of them see not only in times of the past, but everyday?

The criminal justice system in America is one of the starkest remaining examples of the oppression of Black people in the United States. We disproportionately overpopulate prisons, and parole and probation caseloads not only because of the offense committed, but also because of the instant and historically consistent offenses committed towards us. So, O’Reilly and Kelly, yes, if you are coming from the lenses explained here in this essay, then, yes, “there is a reason why more young black men are in prison. There is a reason why police are more cautious while approaching a Black man in a car.”