I’ve gotta hand it to this Martin Luther King fellow. As I researched the data to write this piece about racial disparity in America’s system of injustice, I decided that if I were black, I’m not sure I could favor peaceful resistance any longer. I’d be mad as hell. Truth of the matter is, I’m white, and it makes me mad as hell.
Here’s the truth, pure and simple: Racial disparity permeates every stage of the United States criminal justice system, from arrest to trial to sentencing to post prison experiences!
I’m just going to rattle off some statistics here. Maybe you’ve heard some or all of them before. I’m not going to list all of the sources of this information, but rest assured that the data are accurate. After carefully reading this list I’ll give you two questions.
-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
-Black men have a 1 in 3 chance of going to federal or state prison in their lifetimes
-Among black kids, 1 in 9 has had a parent in prison
-Blacks are over-represented in solitary confinement
-Black youth are disproportionately sent to adult court by judges
-In Michigan, more than half of the prison population is black (the black population in the state is less than 14%!).
Question number one: Does it make you mad?
Question number two: What are you going to do about it?
I close with two quotes from Dr. King. Both of these quotes come from a man experienced on the subject of incarceration. These are from his letter written while sitting in the Birmingham Jail:
“Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, 'Wait.'”
I suspect we’ve all said it, we’ve all thought it. They’ve waited long enough.
Today, as we honor one of our nation’s greatest heroes, let’s not stop with the quotes and the tributes. May Dr. King’s words from a jail cell give us new resolve:
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”