To discuss racism and its relevance to this paper, it’s important that racism is understood for what it truly is. Although there are many components of racism, the general definition is “the belief that all members of a purported race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or other races” (Hoyt Jr., 2012). Essentially, racism develops from preconceived notions about members of a particular racial group, which can be defined as prejudice. Prejudice is the perception, while racism is the action one takes fueled by a prejudistic mindset. In many cases, extreme forms of racism against a particular minority group have led to committing hate crimes. Again, to understand the severity this crime has on its victims, it’s important to understand what a hate crime is.
A hate crime is defined as “a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity” (‘Hate Crimes’, 2018). There have been specific cases in which an individual has committed a hate crime against another individual based on their race. One in particular was the 2008 U.S. vs. Piekarsky case, where a group of six Pennsylvania teenage football players beat another Mexican student Luis Ramirez to death. The students yelled “go back to Mexico” and other racial slurs at Luis Ramirez. The jury found that two of the students violated the Fair Housing Act, which protects individuals from discrimination in sectors such as race. The jury concluded that the crime committed by both players and their friends was prompted directly against Latinos living in their community of Western Pennsylvania (‘Criminal Section Selected Case Summaries’, 2018). Such cases of hate crime reveal the correlation between racism and violence, as well as exposing how specific minority groups become targets; leaving them vulnerable to become victims of racism. In this case, it is evident that these two teenagers wanted power and control on whom they preferred to be residents in their community; therefore implying their race was the dominant one in their area.
Within racism, it is evident that the majority of the oppressed populations (minorities in this case) go far beyond just Mexicans. Let’s use African-Americans for example. This specific race have been victims of racism for generations of history. Slavery of this minority group began in the early 1500’s, with 20 Africans captured that arrived in Jamestown. There was a point in history where blacks were counted three-fifths of a person, in which the U.S. passed the Three-Fifths Clause (Johnson, 2015).
Over centuries, slavery became legalized, and blacks were used as indentured servants that performed whatever duties benefited either the economy or their slavemaster, and in many cases; both. Although the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in 1789, the section in that law stating “except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” created a loophole for officials to convict blacks with petty crimes that enslaved them all over again. Blacks were then sensationalized as criminals both by the criminal justice system, and by society at large as their long history of being slaves were now substituted as criminals.
The documentary film supports these claims (DuVernay, Howard, & Averick, 2016). It is also important to note that within most cases of crime that appeared in headlines, Hollywood produced films, blacks were primarily the highlighted race within media than any other minority. In essence, they became heavily overrepresented across media and news platform, while other minorities remained in the background. This magnified the stereotype that society had long before blacks were portrayed as criminals. Essentially, the criminal cases involving a black person that were highlighted in media confirmed the preconceived notions of society: animals needing to be locked in a cage, inferior, criminals, poor, and uneducated (Punyanunt-Carter, 2008).
Although these claims may be general, we cannot overlook the startling statistics: only 14 percent of white males are arrested during their lifetime, while more than half of all black males in large cities are arrested at least once during their lifetime. Twelve percent of the U.S. population is made up of African-Americans, and 45 percent of the prison population are blacks; while 40 percent of those are sentenced to death. The prison population of blacks reached a peak in 1992, in which more black men were imprisoned than in college (Costly, 2018). Criminologist Robert Staples argued that there was discrimination present in the criminal justice system through plea bargaining, and sentencing, as he claimed white men established the legal system to protect white interests from the inferior race below (Staples, 1975). His claims created much controversy and was challenged heavily by sociologists, jurors, and other officials that argued the justice system considers factors far beyond just race, but prior criminal record, background, income, etc. and that race was a minor component when examining a case.
However, the data from the 1983 Rand Institute Study found that black defendants were treated harsher by both jurors, prosecutors, and judges in sentencing in comparison to whites. They discovered that there was a significant difference at this point in the legal system, and convicted African-Americans had much higher chances of going to prison than whites with longer sentences. ‘This disparity,’ the study discovered, ‘suggests that probation officers, judges, and parole boards are exercising discretion in sentencing and/or release decisions in ways that result in de facto discrimination against blacks” (Costly, 2018). As black communities often involve poverty, violence, and crime, judges can assume blacks criminals are far more dangerous than any other race, leading to harsher treatment by the legal system. Additionally, Cornell law professor Sheri Johnson reviewed a dozen mock jury studies in 1985 that found the race of the defendant had a direct correlation of determining guilt. Johnson found that in mock trials of the same crime and same evidence, black defendants were claimed guilty more often than white defendants; even in identical trials.
The research conducted above suggest the extent to which the criminal justice system and society view African-Americans as harmful criminals. It is evident that each case in which is presented to the public and is sensationalized are blacks, leading to the overrepresentation of their criminalistic stereotype. These views have a tremendous impact on the criminal justice process, because it can portray the legal system as a minority Nahtzee rather than a system that brings justice in all cases regardless of race. It can distort the criminal justice system as racist, unjust, and abusive in its legal authority. As these studies expose the criminal justice system, measures might be taken into consideration by government officials to come up with solutions for tighter reins of justice in minority cases. Essentially, it calls attention to their harsh treatment of multiple minorities and may allow them to consider altering their process. Serving the victims of crime can also be difficult in the shoes of a victim, if they already conclude that the system is injustice; many will become hesitant to reach out to authorities in fear that they will not be served fairly.
Throughout history, prolonged oppression triggered violence between the oppressed and the oppressors. As the oppressed led riots, uprising, and revolutions, violence became inevitable. A retaliation is expected as the result of cruel, unjust treatment to another individual and denying a person of their basic human rights. While the oppressed are being controlled, the day in which they gain control back over their lives is a day that should come as no surprise. I did not learn anything new about the population I chose, because it is evident now in society more than ever.