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Human Rights Advocates Urge Obama to Fulfill Promises to Correct Unfairness in Criminal Justice System
By Kenneth Williams
Obama for president! That was an exciting notion that sparked high expectations among voters, especially African-Americans. I can remember being overcome with intense joy and optimism by the once-unlikely prospect of an African-American occupying the highest position in the White House. This shared excitement came from the thought of African-Americans finally receiving fairness because Obama insisted during his ’08 campaign that he would “Bridge the gap and “Level the playing field.”
In his campaign speeches he acknowledged the shameful inequalities pervading the judicial and criminal justice system. This means he’s aware that African-Americans are more often illegally searched, overcharged, over-sentenced, and wrongfully convicted in comparison to White Americans. These acts of unfairness are noted worldwide. I was shocked to discover that the United States pays fines to the United Nations because racism is a critical factor in the U.S. criminal justice system. Amazingly, the U.S. government chooses to pay the fines instead of correcting the problem. Why?
The U.S. prison system makes more money locking up Black and Brown minorities than it loses paying fines to the U.N. Two major beneficiaries of the booming prison industry are the Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) and the Geo Group. Both multi-national corporations are lavishly traded on Wall Street.
To increase the profitability of businesses that profit from incarceration rates, Michigan and congressional legislators passed several bills that stiffen the penalties of crimes committed at a higher percentage by lower-income minorities. For example, it is widely known that Black crack cocaine dealers are sentenced more severely than Whites who sell powder cocaine. Race-based laws that violate Constitutional rights are enforced on minorities more frequently because African-Americans and Latinos are less likely to be informed of Constitutional protections. Many, minorities, moreover, are too poor to hire a competent or trustworthy attorney to ensure they receive fairness in the U.S. judicial system.
Prosecutors play a vital role in ensuring that the prison system remains a lucrative enterprise. Numerous court records prove that prosecuting attorneys more often than not manipulate the criminal charges facing the accused. A popular way they do this is to charge a defendant with the most severe of crimes that can just as easily fit into a less serious category; charging the accused with several crimes so that at least one stick is another manipulation the district attorney uses to help keep prisons full. This method was in full display during the politically motivated trial of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
Judges also play a major role in supplying the U.S. prison system with enough human commodities to keep stocked on its bunk beds, i.e., shelves. In fact, to a large extent, the sentencing judge decides how long a defendant lingers in prison. Studies show that minorities serve longer prison terms for the same crimes committed by Whites.
The Michigan Department of Corrections is the last pillar in a strong structure that supports the supply of inmates to its facilities. The MDOC functions as the executioner of the desires of the afore-mentioned corporations, prosecutors, and judges in that this government agency ultimately determines how long an inmate physically remains incarcerated.
What’s often overlooked is the fact that the MDOC’s role in punishing law-breakers amounts to double jeopardy. For instance, the Michigan Parole Board essentially re-sentences prisoner over and over again every time it gives a prisoner a ‘flop’ (12 or 24 month extension of time beyond an inmate’s earliest release date). In this regard it must be noted that thousands of inmates have served 125% of their original sentence.
Even though we have a Black president these problems still persists. Keen political observers cautioned African-Americans not to get their hopes up too high because they realize that Pres. Barak Obama can do no more than what White power elites allow. They will not allow him to “level the playing field” because they need minorities to play a subordinate role in the United States. Leveling the playing field would mean correcting economic disparities between Whites and minorities. In practice this means whites handing over some of their wealth to Blacks. This will never happen because it goes against the very reason why Blacks were brought to the Western world: to enrich Whites.
Obama has yet to address the flagrant injustices corrupting its judicial and criminal systems. And there are no indications that the criminal justice system is on the White House’s radar. The public discourse emanating from the mistreatment and the unconstitutional detainment of alleged ‘terrorist’ held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba presents a golden opportunity for voters to force Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and the Obama administration to correct injustices occurring in its judicial and correctional systems right here at home.
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