Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Criminal Justice System and Mandated Sentences Part 2

First See Part 1 of this interview, then watch this video, and finally go on to part 3 and part 4.

Important Notes from part 2 of the Interview of Dr. Deborah Burris-Kitchen by Dr. James Haney

JH: We're talking to Dr. Deborah Burris-Kitchen from Tennessee State University and the topic is the Criminal Justice System from the United States.

...Were going to continue talking about what we call police brutality...

DBK: ...They had a publication and a march called "October 22" out in Southern California, where people would protest actual police brutality cases. And they published a book that was literally this thick:

Dr Deborah Burris-Kitchen(Photo: Dr. Burris-Kitchen making a gesture with her fingers showing that the book was about an inch and a half thick, full of police brutality cases.)

DBK: Talking about people that had been shot by the police. And these were NOT cases were the person was challenging the police officer or threatening the police officer. They were cases where the person did not have a weapon, the person's back was to the police officer. Obviously they were not threatening the police officer in any way and they should not have used that type of excessive force.

So that's why I wanted to talk about that. It's because I think there's still some obvious problems. If you have a group that can come up with that many people who have been victims of that type of crime, EVERY YEAR, and protest; literally hundreds of thousands protest this on October 22, then it's a problem.

I wanted to kind of go back to the legal code and how it came out of the European history because I think that's going to lead up to our final discussion as far as racial disparity is concerned. We'll talk about that in just a little bit.

When we talk about coming out of the legal code: The first laws that were written were basically to protect property rights owners in the United States. And those property rights owners were European Americans.

So, Excluded from protection from the legal code were obviously Native Americans, African Americans who were brought here: they were not US citizens or United States Citizens.

Because of that, the laws that were written to protect property rights were usually written as repressive laws against those who didn't have access to the ownership of property. Whether it was Native Americans, or whether it was people who were brought here from Africa against their will.

Because of that legislation, people of color were criminalized very early in our history. And continue to be criminalized throughout American history up until the 1865, 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery which passed.

Once they abolished slavery, they put in that "with exclusion" act.

Ok, slavery is abolished but with the "Exclusion" of those who have been convicted of a felony offense. And slavery could be used in the form of a punishment.

They still use that part of the legislation to enslave! Predominantly African American people who were convicted of crimes that they did not get their due process for. So it would go into court, and of course they would NOT get a jury. If they did, they certainly did not get a jury of their peers.

It was one's person's word against another's and of course, the white person's word was the word of the law. So the person of color was convicted of the particular crime and probably put back on the plantation that they were freed from a few years prior.

JH: That's similar to what you would call the "Chain Gang System" that many of these individuals had some how gone against the law, but it might not be legal. Legal in the terms of what they did but in the end they would be placed back into a situation where they would basically "enslave you" once again.

Is that the so called "Chain Gang System"?

DBK: Yes. That would be part of the chain gang system.

Many of the people were put right back on the slave property that they were on, prior to being freed from the 1865 legislation. So absolutely. And then of course, we had it in our legal code that sever but equal.

Plessy vs. Ferguson was saying also that it was illegal for an African American to go into white establishments, or sit at the front of the bus, or whatever it was that they were segregated from; the school systems...

So that was in place until Brown vs. the Board of Education back in 1954. So we've had a legal segregation, we've had legal discrimination in this country for years. In which, African Americans have been prosecuted because of this legal written documentation.

It wasn't until probably 1964, 1965 that civil rights legislation started putting it into place that legal segregation and legal discrimination was "almost" completely abolished.

The criminal justice system has always been, or had repressive laws against people of color in American History. And then once you look at, not only the laws, but the Court system and the fact that due process has never been a part of African American or Native American History, or anyone that wasn't a "white European American"...

JH: When you say Due Process, enslavement?

DBK: A jury of your peers, a fair trial, a speedy trial, this stuff was never accessible until probably 1960s legislation for African Americans or other people of color, or women, or different groups that have been discriminated historically up until that point.

So I think that's an important history to understand before we get into the racial disparities because without that history then it's going to be difficult to understand where we came from as far as once the civil rights legislation was passed. What's happened since then, that's lead to even more racial disparities, which you would think would be the opposite...

JH: In other words, it's almost a continuation of what it already had been. It really should not be surprising, I would imagine, to a person involved in the criminal justice system, like yourself, that this has happened. This is deja vu in many instances.

DBK: That they wouldn't find new repressive laws to make sure that a population that has been discriminated against historically continues to be discriminated against. Absolutely.

So when we look at "The War on Drugs" specifically, that's what I want to get into a little bit later.

When we look at the war on drugs specifically we can see that that's what's been the repressive law of today; of contemporary society: To make sure that there's over representation of people of color that are coming through the criminal justice system. Just like the juror segregation was used in the past to make sure that the criminal justice system was flooded with African Americans.

JH: ...It broadens our point of view in terms of problems that we will have to face, in terms of challenges. As you've indicated, this has always been a part of the American experience. I think that the more people recognize that this has been a part of the system, then it's easier to deal with it, when you think in terms of trying to move forward.

I think the system CAN be reformed. I think that there HAS been quite a bit of reform in the system but still, it's a real problem. Of course we'll talk about that as an issue. Later on, during this fine segment.

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