Over the past few years, anyone with eyes can see that things are happening in the Black community. In 2015, the Black Lives Matter movement burst on the scene as videos of rampant police brutality against black people began to surface all over social media. Reminiscent of the civil rights movement, the Black Lives Matter movement aims to reinstate basic human rights to all black people. This movement would not have happened if black people were treated fairly in the American Justice system. If there weren’t literally dozens of videos of police outright violating countless civil liberties of black citizens, then no one would have found it necessary to organize such a powerful political movement. This paper explores the nature in which black people are oppressed in this country, specifically through the lense of the justice system. The first part examines a brief overview of civil rights themselves, and black people’s struggle to hold on to them throughout their time in this country. The second part goes over this country’s mass incarceration problem, and how it’s inextricably linked to the fact that black people are overwhelmingly imprisoned more than their white counterparts. The last part examines a few cases of extreme police brutality. The police are the first interaction any citizen has with the justice system, and black people are overtly oppressed and outright targeted by those who are sworn to protect and serve.              In  contrast  what is a civil right? According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, civil rights are defined as, “the nonpolitical rights of a citizen; especially : the rights of personal liberty guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution and by acts of Congress.”(1).  According to senate.gov, the 13th amendment federally abolished slavery, and the 14th amendment granted citizenship and “equal protection under the laws” to all naturally born citizens and extended the bill of rights to apply to all of the states. Both of these amendments were drafted at the end of the civil war, and in order for the confederate states to join the union, they had to ratify (approve) the 13th and 14th amendments (2). If these amendments from the 1800’s accomplished all this, then why was there a civil rights movement in the 1960’s? Even though the states ratified these amendments to the constitution, they certainly didn’t all enforce them. In fact, racist laws known as Jim Crow laws were extremely popular in the south. These laws kept black and white people separate. They imposed unrealistic poll taxes, and “literacy” tests, and even outright force from local law enforcement to prevent black people from voting, or exercising other basic rights. According to archives.gov, it wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that the federal government actually enforced the equal protection provided by the 14th amendment (3). It was thanks to civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X that the civil rights act was even thought of, let alone passed through congress. But the black community still suffers from atrocious oppression, especially at the hands of violent law enforcement. The Black Lives Matter movement has spawned from countless videos of police brutally killing unarmed black people surfacing across the internet. Famous comedian Michael Che does a phenomenal job summing up the necessity, and overall goal of the BLM movement in his Netflix comedy special, “Michael Che Matters.” In the special he talks about BLM hen he says, “That’s a controversial statement. Black lives matter. Not matters more than you, just matters. Matters. Just matters… That’s where we’re starting the negotiations. Matters. We can’t agree on that…? What is less than matters? Black lives exist? Can we say that? Can we say… Is that controversial? We always ask for the lowest common denominator. We ask for the lowest rights. Gays are fighting for equal rights. Equal rights. That’s… Can you believe that’s an actual stance you can have? You can be for equal rights? There’s people saying, “I think everybody should have the same rights as everyone else.  And there’s other people like, No, son, I disagree.  I just don’t think so.Black people was fighting for civil rights. Not even equal. Just civil.  Can we get civil? I’ll take civil rights. Just be civil.  We just want civil. Can we get civil?”(4)(Micheal Che)Though Michael Che is making a joke, the fact that his statements are so undeniably true goes to show you that, even today, the civil rights of the people are not fully protected by the federal government. If they were, then actionable steps would be made by the justice department and other federal agencies to prevent the discrimination of black people in two major areas: the mass incarceration of black people, and the oppressive, violent way in which state and local law enforcement treat an entire race of people. The rest of this paper explores the mass incarceration problem and the police brutality problem in more detail. Mass incarceration is a growing problem in the U.S. Not only is in financially irresponsible to have more and more prisoners supported by taxpayers, but it’s socially unsustainable to send such a vast amount of the population to correctional facilities. This is especially true when it disproportionately affects one race or ethnicity more than others. According to prisonpolicy.org and the 2010 Census, 2.2% of the black population were incarcerated, while only 0.38% of white people were incarcerated at the same time (5). Couple that with the fact that, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 46% of the prison population is made up of non violent drug offenders, then it seems like the war on drugs, racist police actions, and discriminatory sentencing result in an extremely institutionally racist, dangerous environment for the black community (6). Mass incarceration leaves entire communities without fathers, with a starved tax base, and horrible educational and overall living conditions. It gets even deeper than that. According to legal scholar Michelle Alexander, mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow and has lead to more African Americans in captivity than there were during slavery (7, 8). In a 2012 interview on NPR, Michelle Alexander explains how the current system of incarcerating massive amounts of black citizens for non violent crimes is almost the exact same thing as Jim Crow legislation. This excerpt from NPR.org explains her position in detail: “People are swept into the criminal justice system — particularly in poor communities of color — at very early ages … typically for fairly minor, nonviolent crimes,” she tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies. “The young black males are shuttled into prisons, branded as criminals and felons, and then when they’re released, they’re relegated to a permanent second-class status, stripped of the very rights supposedly won in the civil rights movement — like the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, the right to be free of legal discrimination and employment, and access to education and public benefits. Many of the old forms of discrimination that we supposedly left behind during the Jim Crow era are suddenly legal again, once you’ve been branded a felon.”(Michelle Alexander)In the interview she talks about the number of black people in the criminal justice system in this powerful statement: “Today there are more African-Americans under correctional control — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. There are millions of African-Americans now cycling in and out of prisons and jails or under correctional control. In major American cities today, more than half of working-age African-American men are either under correctional control or branded felons and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives.” (Michelle Alexander)The label of ‘convicted felon’ allows for the state to legally discriminate against that person. This is just like the legal discrimination that happened if you were labeled ‘black’ during the Jim Crow era. Alexander also explains why the war on drugs is the main cause for the explosion in prison population: “Federal funding has flowed to state and local law enforcement agencies who boost the sheer numbers of drug arrests. State and local law enforcement agencies have been rewarded in cash for the sheer numbers of people swept into the system for drug offenses, thus giving law enforcement agencies an incentive to go out and look for the so-called ‘low-hanging fruit’: stopping, frisking, searching as many people as possible, pulling over as many cars as possible, in order to boost their numbers up and ensure the funding stream will continue or increase.” (Michelle Alexander) She even makes the conclusion that the U.S.’s beloved system of racial profiling in drug cases, and in communities of color creates a system similar to the overtly oppressive Caste system in India. At the bottom of the Caste system are the undesirables. The disenfranchised masses that are systematically kept impoverished by their higher class counterparts. She says in the NPR interview: “I think it’s very easy to brush off the notion that the system operates much like a caste system, if in fact you are not trapped within it. I have spent years representing victims of racial profiling and police brutality and investigating patterns of drug law enforcement in poor communities of color, and attempting to help people who have been released from prison attempting to ‘re-enter’ into a society that never seemed to have much use to them in the first place. And in the course of that work, I had my own awakening about our criminal justice system and this system of mass incarceration. … My experience and research has led me to the regrettable conclusion that our system of mass incarceration functions more like a caste system than a system of crime prevention or control.”(Michelle Alexander) Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow is eye opening to say the least. And the relationship she describes between the black community and the police is exactly what the Black Lives Matter movement aims to fix. On the BLM official website, there are dozens of stories of tragic police brutality. They understand that each person that was senselessly murdered by the police had a family. They had a mother, a father, possibly brothers and sisters. And the police take it upon themselves to brutally end the lives of these unarmed black individuals. That’s why the BLM movement is careful to list each of these atrocities in grave detail, so as to obtain some form of justice and possibly a change in the way the oppressive justice system is operated in this country. On the BLM official website they have links to various news reports cronicalling the deaths of unarmed black men and women at the hands of the police.  This paper will go over a few of these senseless deaths covered in this LA Times article (9). This article brings it back to 1999 when they recount the headline news of the killing of Amadou Diallo. He was shot 19 times in a row after reaching for his wallet (after they asked to see identification of course). None of the officers were uniformed, and they were all acquitted of criminal charges. Fast forward to 2014, and the slaying of unarmed teen, Michael Brown, sparked outrage in the streets, and lead to the organization of the Black Lives Matter movement. The officer that murdered the unarmed teen was not charged with any crime, nor was a civil suit allowed to occur, because the Department of Justice and other officials claimed that the officer shot the unarmed teenager 6 times, fatally wounding him, in self defense. Absurd. How can an officer of the law not use non lethal force when trying to detain an unarmed teenager. He was obviously targeted, and the system protected the murdering police. In 2014 Eric Garner was illegally choked to death by a police officer after selling a loose cigarette. The entire time he was being attacked by the officer, Eric simply said, “I can’t breathe.” The illegal chokehold and the entire murder was caught on tape. The coroner of New York even deemed it a homicide. With all of these facts the officers were still not charged with a single crime, and were seen at protests wearing shirts that said, “I can breathe,” in order to mock the family of the person they murdered in cold blood. If you aren’t outraged by this, there is something seriously wrong with you. The last police murder this paper will cover is that of Walter Scott. Scott was running away on foot from a traffic stop in North Charleston, S.C., in April 2015. Scott was unarmed. That didn’t stop officer Michael Slager from firing 8 shots at the victim as he was running away. He was not in any danger, and decided to shoot Walter Scott in the back 8 times. Slager was actually charged with homicide which is surprising because all of these instances have video evidence, yet the police are seldom charged with the crimes they commit on camera. With all the evidence presented in this paper, it’s clear that there is a systematic destruction of the black community happening right now. This outright oppression of the black community is caused by institutionalized, racist laws and racist criminal police officers that seldom if ever have to answer for their violent crimes. All the while countless black men are imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses. The number of murderous police and incarcerated blacks continues to skyrocket. Things must change on an institutional level in order for meaningful progress can be made to solve any of these problems.


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