Racism still evident in criminal justice system

While it would be nice to believe that we have arrived at a color-blind society, this is obviously not the case, particularly as it pertains to the criminal justice system. Two examples from last week, via the NYT.

No. 1:

More than two decades after President Ronald Reagan escalated the war on drugs, arrests for drug sales or, more often, drug possession are still rising. And despite public debate and limited efforts to reduce them, large disparities persist in the rate at which blacks and whites are arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses, even though the two races use illegal drugs at roughly equal rates.

Two new reports, issued Monday by the Sentencing Project in Washington and by Human Rights Watch in New York, both say the racial disparities reflect, in large part, an overwhelming focus of law enforcement on drug use in low-income urban areas, with arrests and incarceration the main weapon.

No. 2:

WASHINGTON — Secret Service supervisors shared crude sexual jokes and engaged in racially derogatory banter about blacks, and passed around an anecdote about a possible assassination of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, according to internal e-mail disclosed in a federal court filing on Friday by lawyers for black Secret Service agents.

The filing includes 10 e-mail messages that were among documents the agency recently turned over to lawyers for the black agents as part of an increasingly bitter discrimination lawsuit. The messages were written mainly from 2003 through 2005, and were sent to and from e-mail accounts of at least 20 Secret Service supervisors.

On a related note, Ariel has a piece in the current Phoenix about Justice or Just Us?, a festival that offers a critical look this week at criminal justice in America:

“Justice or Just Us?,” which Reilly describes as a “series of events designed to make us question the state of justice in our society” marks the realization of many of [Bruce Reilly's] dreams. Taking place from May 12 to 18 at Perishable Theatre and AS220 (95 and 115 Empire St., Providence), the festival offers 26 events, ranging from music, comedy, and slam poetry to film, theater, and a free discussion series sponsored by the RI Coun-cil for the Humanities.

Over the past several years, a complex debate on criminal-justice reform has been pushed to the surface by community-based organizations (the Family Life Center and Direct Action for Rights & Equality); legisla-tors (Providence Democratic Representatives David Segal and Joseph Almeida, and Senator Harold Metts), and activists such as Reilly. “Justice or Just Us?” offers an opportunity for Rhode Islanders to take part in advancing this dialogue.

The featured activists and speakers will include former prisoner and current Drug Policy Alliance fellow Tony Papa; former narcotics officer John Tommasi of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP); Brown University Professor Glenn Loury, Department of Corrections Director A.T. Wall; Segal, Almeida, and Metts; and filmmakers Dylan Avery and Korey Rowe, who will present their film Loose Change: Final Cut, a critique of the official narrative of the War on Terror.

Poets Jimmy Baca (Albuquerque) and Lemon (Def Poetry, NYC) will perform, as will the sketch comics of In House Freestyle. On the mic will be local artists Who Dem?, Fedd Hill, Chachi, the Low Anthem, and the What Cheer? Brigade, as well as the nationally celebrated Saigon (as seen on HBO’s hit show Entourage) and Immortal Technique. Theret will also be performances of the off-Broadway sensation The Exonerated, directed by Reilly and 1000 lbs Guerilla.

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