February 28, 2008

US criminal justice: still racist

Not to mention just plain bad news and a waste of people and time.

The NYT reports that 1 in 100 US adults is in prison (actually slightly more - 1 in 99.1). Worse, it's 1 in 15 black adults, and 1 in 9 black men between 20 and 34. I don't really know how to say how appalling that is. People, it is really really really bad. 23% of black men between 20 and 29 are in contact with the criminal justice system at any given time (cite: Sentencing Project). For white men the same age, it's 6.2%. More depressing information and links to actual scholarly research at Crooked Timber. I don't have anything like enough energy to talk about how totally fucked up things are at school about this.

To me, this is why it matters whether presidential candidates have used drugs. The core of the issue is this: do the recent candidates who've used drugs - George Bush, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore, Barack Obama - think they should have been arrested and jailed? If not, why the hell do they want to arrest and jail African Americans, especially poor African Americans, for exactly what they did? More to the point, why the hell do we accept that bullshit from them? Obama is not clean on this score, people. Despite having advocated decriminalizing pot in his Senate run, despite supporting prisoners' rights and reintegration programs and lower sentences both in word and deed - despite, in other words, being probably our best hope - he accepts this disparity in consequences, at least in public. Based on his actions, I'd guess he cares about this stuff personally - this is the man with the brass balls to stand up for the rights of accused criminals with no public reward - but he too is constrained by the 'acceptable' political rhetoric. And we all put up with it.

A nation of laws, my ass. Not if you're poor and black.

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