Racial profiling just one of several strategies employed
The struggle against racial profiling is directly linked to the historic freedom struggle of Black people. From 1619 to 1865, the struggle for freedom was against racial slavery, and from 1865 to 1968 it was against racial segregation. In this post-civil rights period, the main struggle is against the criminal justice system and the prison industry.
Opinion: Criminal justice system is used to control and weaken Blacks
Throughout American history, the government has created institutions that functioned to maintain White privilege and supremacy, resulting in the continuing oppression of Black people. One major arm of the government that is used to control Blacks is its criminal justice system. Since the very inception of the United States, through its ratification of the Constitution in 1787, Black people have had to fight against the legal system which legitimized our dehumanization and enslavement.
Today, the criminal justice system is being used to control and weaken the Black community by felonizing a very large segment of the Black male population. Blacks are over-represented in the criminal justice system. About 50 percent of the 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States are Black, while Blacks represent only 13 percent of the population.
The Human Rights Watch Press Backgrounder issued on February 22, 2002, reported that although Blacks make up three percent of Minnesota’s population, for each White person incarcerated there are 14.3 Blacks incarcerated. Moreover, the National Corrections Program of 1996 found that 49 percent of all African Americans who are incarcerated in Minnesota are drug offenders.
Racial profiling is a manifestation of the political strategy to control and stigmatize Blacks as violent criminals and dangerous drug dealers.
“Black American problem” and the “War on Drugs”
Criminal justice and incarceration as a political strategy began in the 1960s with a call for law and order in reaction to Black people’s human rights struggle of that era. In 1969 President Nixon said, “You have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
He was the first president to declare a war on drugs. Later, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986. This law mandated harsher penalties for drug possession and trafficking.
The “War on Drugs” has had devastating effects on the Black community. Blacks are much more likely than Whites to be stopped, searched, arrested and imprisoned. In fact, one in four Black men aged 20 to 29 are in prison. Moreover, one in three is on parole, probation, or in prison.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 13 percent of all monthly drug users in America are Black, which is about the same as the percent of the population that is Black. However, 35 percent of those arrested for drug possession are Black; 58 percent of those convicted of drug possession are Black; and 74 percent of those imprisoned for drug possession are Black.
In 2001, 60.5 percent of White persons, aged 18-25, had used illicit drugs in their lifetime compared with only 49.4 percent of their Black counterparts (National Household Survey on Drug Abuse). Although Black Americans have used less illegal drugs in their lifetime, they are incarcerated at 9.6 times the rate of White Americans.
Consequently, Black drug offenders are much more likely than White offenders to develop a criminal record. It is ironic that, in America, a major egregious injustice is in its legal justice system.
Turning the Black community against itself
The social, economic, and political consequences of stigmatizing and criminalizing Black males have seriously weakened the social fabric of the Black community. Black ex-convicts are viewed as social pariahs.
They have been virtually banished from the labor market, and in many states they have been banned from civic engagement by the Felony Disenfranchisement Laws. They return to the Black community from prison with very few skills or opportunities to lead constructive lives.
Thus, out of despair, many succumb to illegal activities and serve as negative role models for the youth. As a result, many Black youth get involved in criminal activity, largely preying on Blacks in their community, and end up being raised from their teenage years to adulthood in the penal system.
The social dysfunctions in the depressed areas of the ghetto can be largely attributed to the anti-Black functions of the criminal justice system, which operates to debilitate the Black community by felonizing a large proportion of Black men who then prey largely on members of their own community — “Black-on-Black” crime. Racial profiling is a tactic used in the strategy of the criminal justice system to maintain the subordination of Black people.
But we are fighting back. The mass protest marches to free the Jena 6 in Louisiana show our resolve to struggle against racial injustice in America.
Dr. Luke Tripp is professor and chair of the Department of Community Studies at St. Cloud State University. Dr. Tripp is among those who have experienced racial profiling in St. Cloud and who testified before the Council on Black Minnesotans on October 9.