Alton Sterling case is just further proof that our justice system is not colorblind

By Robert Mann

Was there any doubt the U.S. Justice Department would absolve the Baton Rouge police officers who killed 37-year-old Alton Sterling last July? I never expected federal prosecutors would vindicate Sterling’s death by charging one or both of the two officers with violating his civil rights. And I cannot imagine anyone thought otherwise.

The Sterling incident speaks volumes about police-community relations, but also the powerlessness of people of color (especially if poor) when confronted by police or sucked into the justice system.

Indulge me a time-travel thought exercise. Take me back to July 5, 2016, and put me in Sterling’s place for his encounter with police. An officer would not jam his gun to my head and bark, as one of the Sterling family’s lawyers reported, “Bitch, I’m gonna kill you.” No one would die. That’s not because of my superior survival skills. It’s, rather, because I am white.

Over the 40-plus years I have owned a car, I’ve been pulled over by police a few times. Early on, I was fearful I couldn’t afford to pay the ticket; in more recent years, I’m fearful of the impact on my auto insurance rates. Never once, however, have I worried the officer emerging from his squad car would harm me. That’s because white people don’t have such fears. Black people do every day.

Even if police don’t kill them, impoverished black people know the consequences of an arrest — on a minor charge — can be life changing.

Haul me into court for a misdemeanor criminal charge (or even a felony), and I can afford a competent lawyer. If a jury heard my case, the panel would have only a handful of black members. A majority-white jury would likely give me the benefit of any reasonable doubt. In other words, my race or social status would be, at worst, a neutral factor, and, at best, an advantage. And, if convicted of a minor charge, I could afford to pay whatever fine the judge imposed.

This is not the experience of most black people tossed into our nation’s jails. Waiting months or years to face a jury, almost a half-million Americans — most of them poor and black — rot in state and local jails awaiting trial or formal charges (and 75 percent of them are not suspected of any violent crime). Most are kept in jail because they cannot afford bail. A speedy trial is a fantasy to most of them.

In Cook County (Chicago), Ill., a writer for The American Prospect wrote this month about observing 276 hearings in 10 bond courts. “Across all judges observed, the slim majority of defendants with private attorneys got an average of 166 seconds in front of a judge,” reporter Kamil Ahsan wrote. “By contrast, the vast majority of people with public defenders got an average of a mere 22 seconds.”

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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5 Responses to Alton Sterling case is just further proof that our justice system is not colorblind

  1. Joe Delatte says:

    This is a fine analysis. Thanks for your work

    Joe Delatte

    BR, LA

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim says:

    Alton Sterling is dead as a result of his own actions. The cops didn’t single him out because he was black. They singled him out because they were responding to a call about a large black male wearing a red shirt brandishing a gun. He was a large black male wearing a red shirt. They did not walk up to him and put a gun to his head. They asked him to comply. When he refused, they told him to comply or he would be tazed. When he continued to refuse, he was tazed. When one officer felt the gun through his pants he was ordered to stop resisting. At that point he was shot. If he had complied at any point, he would be alive today.
    The officers weren’t charged with a crime because they did not do anything illegal.
    As for the rest of this dribble, it is not 1955. Cops are not yanking black people out of vehicles and beating them for no reason. Cops are not executing young black men in cold blood. Black people are not “tossed into jail” without due process. People guilty of only minor, nonviolent offenses are not ROUTINELY spending years in jail.

    This type of article, devoid of any real facts, is simply pushing a narative of institutional racism that doesn’t exist.

    Like

    • Stephen Winham says:

      Institutional racism does and will always exist. The degree depends perception and experience, but denial is not an option.

      The major social condition leading to crime is poverty – There is an undeniable correlation between poverty and crime. A disproportionate number of black people are poor. Blacks have a disproportionately higher rate of contact with police and higher rates of arrest. A disproportionate number of black people are imprisoned and serve the longest sentences.

      The cycle this creates is clear.

      I recall a documentary filmed in Houston some 2 decades ago that attempted to honestly address the disparate treatment of black citizens by police officers in that city. The thing that struck me most was how many of the officers honestly admitted to racism, but said they developed it on the job. The attitude seemed to prevail regardless of the officer’s race. The officers also admitted to development of an “us vs. civilians” attitude that was strongest among the ethnic groups with whom they dealt the most often.

      Police are likely to gain additional power in the current national administration and race relations seem to be deteriorating rather than improving. This is not a recipe for optimism.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Lory,

    Many thanks for the kind words and for catching that typo. I will go back to check to see if I transcribed it verbatim or if the mistake was mine (probably the latter).

    Best,

    Bob

    Get Outlook for iOS ________________________________ From: Lory Tubbs Sent: Sunday, May 7, 2017 7:39:30 AM To: Something Like the Truth; bob.mann@outlook.com Subject: Re: [New post] Alton Sterling case is just further proof that our justice system is not colorblind

    Dr. Mann – Thank you for your continued insight into so many vital matters! I appreciate your blog immensely.

    I do want to point out one error in this essay, however. It was confusing to me, so I read the quoted article (thank you for the link!). “…slim majority” should be “slim minority”!

    “Across all judges observed, the slim majority of defendants with private attorneys got an average of 166 seconds in front of a judge…”

    Thanks again. Lory Tubbs

    Like

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