Nothing short of abolition will correct the over-representation of people of color in the criminal justice system. The racial disparities that exist in the criminal justice system are not simply unfortunate or unavoidable consequences, but rather intentional State-sanctioned disappearances. The accepted way of challenging discrimination is to rely on the Courts to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority, but as we’ll look at shortly, Courts are not impartial observers, but rather function as stewards of the White Supremacist State we live in. Any hope for meaningful change will have to come from outside the current box we exist in.
The watermark case of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system is McClesky v. Kemp (1987). The NAACP Legal Defense Fund presented extensive statistical evidence of racial disparities in Georgia’s death penalty system. They found that prosecutors sought the death penalty in 70% of the cases involving black defendants and white victims, 32% of the cases involving white defendants and white victims, 15% of the cases involving black defendants and black victims, and 19% of the cases involving white defendants and black victims. While noting that racial disparities certainly existed, the Supreme Court decided that statistics alone did not prove a discriminatory purpose and characterized the racial disparities as an ‘inevitable part of the criminal justice system’. Further, the Supreme Court expressed concern that if they ‘accepted the claim that racial bias has impermissibly tainted the captial sentence decision, we could be soon faced with similar claims as to other types of penalty which throws into serious question the principles that underlie our entire criminal justice system.’
First off, racial disparity undoubtedly exists in sentencing. Denying this is akin to denying global warming, another trend that is backed by obvious evidence but is still denied by many.
Next up, let’s dig into the principles that underlie our entire criminal justice system as the Supreme Court beckons. This line of thinking is a fear of too much justice. Any critical observer of United States history understands the law evolved as a means for the elite to preserve their hierarchy. From slavery, to convict leasing during Jim Crow, to mass incarceration today, this continuum of State-sanctioned efforts to fundamentally dismantle communities of color is painfully transparent. The first organized police force funded by the State during the colonial era was the slave patrol. It’s
difficult impossible not to draw parallels between the first police force that rounded up slaves attempting to escape, and police officers today that continue to kill unarmed black men without consequence.
When the Supreme Court ponders the principles that underlie our criminal justice system, how could the answer possibly be anything other than White Supremacy? This answer may frighten the White liberal who believes it’s the conservative movement who’ve built the prison industrial complex, but actually White apathy & cowardice is not restricted to voting Red on election day. Procedural justice pacifies us by giving the appearance of substantive justice, but the presence of Due Process laws doesn’t necessarily produce just outcomes. Despite the specific origins of legal protections like the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court has taken a passive view of their own ability to address the suffering emanating from twenty-first century manifestations of racial discrimination. As the Courts become less available as a legal resource for challenging State-sanctioned White Supremacy, and at times even endorse such discriminatory intentions, communities are left with few options in search of justice. Abolition doesn’t sound radical in this context, it sounds like the moral choice.