criminal justice system

A broken criminal justice system: #BlackLivesMatter will be over when #AllLivesMatter

My name is Susana G Baumann, and I am writing this article solely representing myself and none of the organizations I work with. I share this clarification because I do not want this article to be construed as representing any other opinion other that my own.

All week, I have been debating if I should write a statement as the President and CEO of Latinas in Business Inc. Instead, I wanted to exercise my right to free speech hopefully still guaranteed by the First Amendment, as it seems that the rest of its several basic freedoms -including freedom of the press, the right to assemble, and the right to petition the government- have suddenly vanished as the result of recent events.

criminal justice system

(Photo credit Gabe Pierce – Unsplash)

Angry and in distressed, I was not myself all week. I could not get my ideas together and define what I really wanted to say, how to express my feelings for the injustice and the unrest the country was living through without just screaming out of my lungs “Enough is enough!”

So, I posted quotes and GIFs and got engaged in conversations here and there on social media condemning the terrible events of the last weeks and months until I knew something will trigger what I wanted to say.

And that happened the other night, at a casual virtual happy hour with old time friends. We used to work together many, many years ago and we had remained connected just because we all shared a workplace where we suffered some minor injustices, and many laughs about that; but mostly because we all liked each other.

What are the concerns of many Americans?

One of my friends brought up a story about a female cop friend of hers. She was indignant and scared because her friend had been ordered to protect one of the protests around the area where she lives. “She was insulted and offended, people screaming at her, and I know she is a good cop who wants to help people,” my friend stated. In addition, it seems her friend was filmed on a video posted on social media.

She continued, “My friend -the cop- wanted to knee down but she was waiting to follow what her chief was doing. She was just doing her job!” Like in many other protests, the kneeing went down too late and protesters accused the police, “You are doing it just because you are scared!”

Patiently and respectfully I listened to the story that is the sentiment of many people in this country. My dear friend was representing true indignation because all lives matter, and her cop friend had suffered humiliation and discomfort, and probably was scared too. After all, she was doing her job.

Good cops and bad cops

Whether a cop shows up at a peaceful protest, a riot or a crime scene, she or he represents an institution that has historically protected White people, more specifically, the interests of White powerful people, who see privilege as an entitlement and for that, they need the protection of a force that in return, feels “untouchable” and “unpunishable.”

Not all White people, though, feel protected by the police but being White is icing on the cake.

How do I know that? Because I am a Caucasian Latina. And as long as I do not open my mouth and my “heavy” accent shows -as I’ve been told many times-, I am fine.

As a seemingly White person, even Brown or Black people avoid me. I lived that experience once traveling 19 hours in a Greyhound bus from Jacksonville, Florida to Washington DC, and nobody, nobody sat next to me -even when the bus got full and people were standing up. And by the way, yes, I left the seat open without loading my bag on it, in case that is what you were thinking.

Latinos talk to me in English, thinking I’m a “gringa” or “güera (blond woman). Although we come from all races and colors, there is a distinct separation of the “brown-ness,” which I have only experienced in this country and never in my travels throughout Latin America.

Let’s look at statistics everywhere

So how do I know that police protect the interest of White people? In truth, they are just a small piece in a gigantic mechanism that involves the whole criminal justice system.

According to a Report to the United Nations on Racial Disparities in the U.S. Criminal Justice System (April 19, 2018), the U.S. is a world leader in its rate of incarceration, far from any other nation in the world.

Racial disparity permeates the U.S. criminal justice system, particularly for African Americans, who are more likely than Whites to be arrested.  “Once arrested,” the report continues,” they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, and they are more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences.”

  • Though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the US
    population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015.
  • African Americans and Whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites. Source: http://www.naacp.org/fairchancehiring/
  • 1 in 3 Black men born in 2001 in the US can expect to go to prison in their lifetime

Once a person is convicted of a crime, not only they lose their freedom but often other civil rights are taken away. The severity of their disenfranchisement varies according to each state.

African Americans, who are known to lean towards voting for the Democratic Party, represent almost 30% of the disenfranchised population. These are some common rights that a felon might lose:

  • Voting rights
  • Serving on a jury
  • Traveling abroad
  • Owning firearms or ammunition
  • Certain types of employment
  • Parental rights
  • Total Disenfranchised population in the US: 6,106,327 (2.47%)
  • Total Disenfranchised African Americans 2,228,118 (7.44%)

In combination with a push to privatize prisons during the Reagan era, prison populations soared during the “war on drugs.” “Since the official beginning of the War on Drugs in the 1980s, the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses in the U.S. skyrocketed from 40,900 in 1980 to 452,964 in 2017,” the report states. The criminal justice system was then transformed into “big business.”

Private business stepped in to offer a solution, and the era of privately-run prisons began, creating a flagrant conflict of interest: private prisons get paid more when they house more prisoners. In this way, for-profit prisons have the least interest in rehabilitation of prisoners and recidivism is welcomed.

This mass incarceration does not affect the US population in the same way.

criminal justice system

 

 

“In 2002, approximately 4,800 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees were held in privately run facilities. By 2017, that number had jumped to 26,249 people,” according to the same report.  This expansion was the result of immigration policy’s enforcement during the tenure of President Obama.

Arrests and detentions of immigrants have increased more than 40 percent since then. President Trump’s 2018 proposed budget to Congress asked for $1.2 billion to add 15,000 more private prison beds for immigration detention.

Diversity and inclusion and the criminal justice system

Racial composition of the force has been proven to be a factor in building trust among the communities they serve. While some Police Departments around the country are making efforts to diversify their force, an extensive look at Police Departments’ diversity rates after the Ferguson event in 2014 showed less diversification tendencies in smaller cities. The trends also vary by state and voting trends in each state.

For instance, New York City Police Department shows that just over half of NYPD officers are white (51%), 27% are Hispanic, 15% are Black, 7% are Asian and less than 1% are American Indian. “Data from a federal survey of police departments in 2007, analyzed for The New York Times by Andrew A. Beveridge, a sociologist at Queens College, found that nearly 400 departments, most with fewer than a hundred officers, were substantially whiter than the populations they served. In these departments, the share of white officers was greater than the share of white residents by more than 50 percentage points.”[1]

Even when efforts have been made to diversify the police by incorporating more Blacks, Latinos and women in the workforce, the hierarchical structure of chain of command that allows them the legal use-of-force keeps them at bay. So, when my friend kept talking about good cops doing her job, she is talking about a profession that is allowed the legal use-of-force in the name of the state.

In the study, “It’s Not Depersonalization, It’s Emotional Labor,” authors Mastracci and Adams sustain that using force on behalf of the state routinely demands “emotional labor” but the dominant display rule in law enforcement is to display no emotion at all: No frustration, no relief, no anger. “Emotional labor theory predicts a range of ill effects arising from emotional suppression, particularly cognitive impacts due to the suppression of anger and negative emotions (Gutshall et al., 2017; Richards and Gross, 1999).”

The authors invoke an “emotional labor theory” as an aspect of training to legal use-of-force in law enforcement. “The received wisdom is that burned-out officers use more force. Is it indeed the case, however, that burned-out officers no longer see the humanity in others and rush to use lawful force to compel compliance when other approaches might work as well? Or instead, does repeated emotional suppression bring about both burnout and the default to lawful force, only to demand further emotional suppression and a retrenchment into further cycles of burnout and reliance on force?” [2]

These are thought provoking questions that Police Departments around the country should ask themselves. So far, the public perception is that law enforcement personnel depersonalize the suspect, and then depersonalize themselves –“my friend wanted to knee down but…”. In doing their job, everybody is guilty until proven innocent.

This is not a misread.

When confronted with a suspect, law enforcement personnel have to make a quick decision whether their life is at risk. In divesting the suspect of human characteristics or individuality to be able to act accordingly, law enforcement personnel also depersonalize themselves on the job.  It’s the only mechanism that allows them to cope with the job and then go home to spouses and children and parents and friends and neighbors. And many of them are good people!

The long arm of the law will catch you -and cost us

criminal justice system

(Photo credit Max Bender – Unsplash)

The common expression “long arm of the law” is true for minorities in the US and expensive too. We all pay for it. Just think of the following cases we have lived through in the past few years:

  • In 2014, unarmed Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old black man, was fatally shot by a 28-year-old white Ferguson police and the crime went unpunished with no criminal charges. Settlement: $1.5 million.
  • The same year, Eric Garner died in the New York City borough of Staten Island after a White New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer, put him in a chokehold while arresting him, with multiple officers restraining him. Garner repeated the words “I can’t breathe” 11 times while lying face down on the sidewalk. Again, no criminal charges. Settlement: $5.9 million.
  • Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy who was holding a toy gun when shot dead by a Cleveland, Ohio, police officer in 2014. No charges. Settlement: $6 million.
  • Freddie Gray, a black man who died from injuries he sustained while in handcuffs and leg irons after being thrown into the back of a Baltimore police van in 2015. Criminal charges: The six officers criminally charged in Gray’s death were acquitted or the charges were dropped. Settlement: $6.4 million.

The list continues endlessly and I have not even talked about cases of Blacks and Hispanics gunned down, bullied or rallied like cattle; women raped and 2000 immigrant children growing up in private deportation prisons; and other horrors even Stephen King would not dare to imagine.

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A broken criminal justice system breaks people

Like many other institutions in our country, the criminal justice system is also broken. And a broken system breaks people.

It breaks the lives of millions of incarcerated men, women and the underaged who will continue to come back to jail even when released. According to the National Institute of Justice, almost 44 percent of the recently released return before the end of their first year out. They lose their freedom, their jobs, their children, their civic rights and their dignity.

It breaks the “human-ness” of law enforcers -cops, I.C.E. or the like- when they are allowed to apply excessive use-of-force, knowing that they are protected from strenuous consequences. And it breaks the law enforcement system because it avoids addressing flawed management, policies, or patterns of abuse, or hold an individual officer criminally or financially responsible.

It breaks the trust of families when civil lawsuits against police officers are “settled” by appeasing them with tens of millions of dollars. What is the role of this compensation? If it is “a sort of accountability” recognition that there has been a violation of the victim’s human rights, why is the abuser not being accountable for the violation in a criminal court? [3]

It breaks the whole community by leaving responsibility for an abuse incident unresolved in the minds of both the community and the law enforcement agency. The cast of the “untouchable” and the “unpunishable” continues their duties like nothing have changed.

So, when you say that you are concerned about good cops because they are just doing their job, I say, if our broken criminal justice system did not support racism, injustice and inequality, cops would not even need to do “this” job.

 

 

 

[1] Mostly White Forces in Mostly Black Towns: Police Struggle for Racial Diversity https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/10/us/for-small-police-departments-increasing-diversity-is-a-struggle.html

[2] Sharon H. Mastracci and Ian T. Adams, International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice,

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijlcj.2019.100358 (Accessed 06/08/20)

[3] Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States (Accessed 06/08, 2020)

Susana G Baumann

About Susana G Baumann

Award-winning journalist, author, multicultural expert, public speaker, small business advocate and the Editor-in-Chief of LatinasinBusiness.us. Susana is an Argentinean immigrant who started her own small business over 20 years ago. Now, through her new digital platform and social media channels, she advocates for the economic empowerment of Latinas in the United States.
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