An astonishing 96.5 percent of those tried in the nations criminal courts on crack cocaine charges are minorities, though more than two-thirds of all crack cocaine users are white. And former Assistant U.S. Attorney David Baugh said most American judges see African-Americans as more threatening. For that reason, African-Americans are treated differently. Baugh reported that when he questioned why prejudice was playing such a major role in the courtroom and in sentencing procedures, he was pressured to resign.
Now a defense attorney, Baugh recounted an incident that took place in a Virginia courthouse in the summer of 1995. As Baugh was waiting to present his clients case, the bailiff said, We are going to call your case second because the judge is going to sentence a white boy first, and you know that he cuts them slack. The implication was that Baughs client a young black man might receive a less severe sentence by following the white defendant.
The white man had a three-page rap sheet, but received a suspended sentence for burglary and was released at once from the courtroom. Baughs client, with no prior arrests and facing a similar charge, received a 10-year prison sentence.
When Baugh challenged the judge on how he could hand down such a sentence after releasing the white man, the judge warned him to be careful what he said in his courtroom.
Blacks are not the only casualties of racism, however. American Indians and Hispanics are also subjected to unequal treatment, with American Indians three times as likely as blacks to wind up in prison, according to American Indian activist Little Rock Reed, who heads the Center for Advocacy of Human Rights in Taos, New Mexico. According to Reeds figures, once an American Indian has been jailed, he will serve an average of 35 percent more time before parole than a non-Indian for a similar offense.
Reeds Center for Advocacy of Human Rights has documented many abuses within the penal system, including American Indian leaders who have been singled out for special punitive measures and even assassination once they are locked up.
Many Indians have been targeted and sent to prison because of their political activism, even though it is peaceful, Reed said, because their activism is a threat to the vested interests who wish to exploit the lands and resources the targeted activists seek to protect.
We live all sorts of lies, and one of them is that black and brown young men are more dangerous, said Harold E. Pepinsky, professor of criminology at Indiana University and chairman of the Division of Critical Criminology of the American Society of Criminology.
Pepinsky, who is white, has observed many forms of discrimination and bigotry within the judicial system. He recounted the case of a black prisoner, a Muslim, in Michigan City, Indiana, who sought to see an Islamic prayer leader instead of the prison chaplain and was consequently put in segregation away from the other prisoners. In another case, prison authorities disciplined a small black man by forcing him to share a cell with a burly white supremacist who had threatened to beat him up. The threat was fulfilled.
Whatever their guilt or innocence originally, when inmates are released and return to society they have graduated from a school in which they have learned not to work, not to contribute, not to build but to prey upon others. Returning to their former neighborhoods, they make these areas even more dangerous.
If current trends continue, the 5.1 million Americans behind bars, on probation or parole will soon climb to 6 million, and by 2005, the number in prison or jail will exceed 7.3 million. The vast majority are and will be minorities who, when released, know and practice only what they learned in prison: the jargon, skills and activities of criminals.
The Council on Crime in Americas January 1996 report confirms that revolving door justice is a reality, and that about a third of those arrested for violent crimes, such as murder, rape, robbery and assault are already on probation, parole or pretrial release at the time of the arrest.
The judicial system thus creates more crime and traps law-abiding minority citizens in an increasingly criminal environment.
The conclusion that judicial mistreatment of minorities is by design, not accident, led Freedom to look into the actual motives and reasons behind the discrimination and mistreatment rampant in todays justice system.
For every act of judicial discrimination, there was an individual set of circumstances. But as the investigation continued, common denominators began to surface. Most alarming was what was found at the most plentiful and powerful area of law enforcement: police.
Sources revealed to Freedom scenarios where, to get raises and promotions, police officers were forced to go after minorities. Hung with the pressure of quotas to meet, they tend to ignore big-time, well-financed, professional white criminals (which require long-term investigations but also potentially yield substantially more remunerative arrests) and instead pursue the quick bust, the far easier prey of small-time dealers and gang members.
A veteran Los Angeles law enforcement official said, Police officers know that arrests earn awards and promotions. They also know that when dealing with poor minorities, rules can be bent or even broken with no repercussion.
Don Jackson, a veteran of 10 years on the police force of Hawthorne, California, confirmed that arrests translated to promotions and that those who engaged in abusive and violent activities as police officers were the ones who got promoted the fastest. He provided examples of two officers he knew personally notorious for slapping and beating suspectswho were promoted, while others more deserving (and not violent) were passed over. Several officers revealed to Freedom that they were told to forget about the white criminals because many could afford expensive and effective lawyers, while most minorities could not. Numerous documented cases exist of innocent minorities being forced into accepting jail time or probation simply because they could not afford or arrange to muster up a defense.
Joseph McNamara, past police chief for Kansas City, Missouri, and San Jose, California, revealed another side to this situation: As officers are pushed for volume drug arrests, they focus on minority consumers rather than dealers and manufacturers, who are mostly white. The minority consumers, usually neither dangerous nor wealthy, are easier and cheaper to arrest in volume than the often well-armed and well-financed white dealers and manufacturers, which require longer-term investments of law enforcement time and energy. Ironically, this means that those in the drug market who are creating the problem are mostly untouched.
The police and the criminal justice system are wasting vast resources, says McNamara. There were 1,100,000 drug arrests last year; of these, roughly 70 percent were for possession and the other 30 percent were not Cali cartel dealers, they were small-timers who were set up by undercover agents. These are not career criminals who are Columbian drug masterminds.
Don Jackson concurs. As pressure grows on police, they take more and more draconian steps and will do anything to make it look like they are doing something. They are taking guys at the bottom and locking them up for life. ... They are getting small-time people who if they had a job wouldnt be on the street anyway. It is a much bigger gamble going after whites. [The police] go for the easy mark they want to look like they are doing well.
I dont think anyone would [bluntly] say go after the blacks, but they would have the unequivocal support of police management.
Of course, this also sheds light on why the increasing number of drug arrests and convictions does not stop or slow the ever-increasing level of drug-related crime. Prosecutors and judges are getting stiff necks from looking the other way, noted McNamara.
A perverse form of judicial politics also factors into the equation. In the same way police officers use arrests of minorities as career stepping stones, prosecutors who got where they are with primarily white political support ignore white criminals in favor of minorities in the interest of keeping their jobs and getting re-elected.
Blacks are targeted because it is simply too costly politically to go after whites. According to Robin Magee, professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, politicians seek to appear tough on crime to score points with voters. They do this while assiduously not going after those who put them in office those in the white middle-class and upper-middle-class neighborhoods on whose contributions and votes they depend.
This situation surfaced in the case of Geronimo Pratt. Jim McCloskey and others associated with Pratts legal team had numerous discussions with Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti who is presently seeking re-election concerning the considerable evidence which has been amassed demonstrating Pratts innocence. Garcetti agreed to re-examine the case in light of the new evidence, and to give Pratts counsel a yes or no answer within 30 days as to whether Garcetti would call for a new trial for Pratt. Yet three years later, Garcetti, who has remarked that he is going to upset some people whichever way he goes on the Pratt issue, has not provided an answer to Pratts team.
As Garcetti put it, this case is a hot political potato, noted Johnnie Cochran. He is afraid of offending people on the right, because Pratt was a Black Panther. Yet Geronimo Pratt is an American citizen; he is a highly decorated war hero who almost gave his life for his country. He is entitled to the rights of every other citizen. What do you say to someone who has spent 25 years of his life like this? Popular or unpopular, you should do the right thing. Garcetti seems to have solved the problem of offending by simply doing nothing.
Such policies have a cascading effect reflected at every step of the justice system. Thus, one rarely sees police raids in middle-class or wealthy neighborhoods, even though one finds many drug dealers and the majority of drug users there. And while college campuses are often burdened with drug abuse, one rarely hears of organized drug sweeps at such institutions.
Those who police and administer justice unfairly and inequitably lack understanding of, and are not representative of, minorities in their communities. Minorities are not only unfairly targeted but also under-represented at all steps of the justice system.
One crucial part of the solution, according to experts such as Robin Magee, is to increase the number of minority judges, prosecutors, public defenders and police officers. In Detroit, for example, police brutality was a serious problem until Mayor Coleman Young diversified the police department and required that police officers live in the city. As a result, according to Magee, police-community relations improved dramatically and the widespread perception throughout Detroit now is that the police are accountable to all segments of the community.
Yet what many fail to see simply because they do not look deeply enough is that the police officers are victims as much as are minorities. Statistics show that divorce rates among police are twice as high as in other occupations and more police kill themselves than are killed by criminals, said Morton Feldman, executive vice president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. Thousands of law enforcement officials are doing the best job they can, under extremely trying circumstances.
No solution to the uneven nature of the treatment meted out by the justice system is likely to surface until equal justice becomes a higher priority than money, the pursuit of shallow statistics and obtaining or preserving elected office. In short a top-to-bottom overhaul.
L. Ron Hubbard examined the issue of injustice in the late 1960s and wrote an article entitled Riots which is particularly relevant today. He wrote: A black can be innocently standing on a street corner, can be grabbed, beaten, thrown in jail, and worked at hard labor all on some imaginary charge. It may say it cant be done in the law books, but wheres his $100,000 to take it high enough for action. ...
As a minister, going amongst the people, I have witnessed enough injustice to overturn a state only waiting for a spark to ignite the suppressed wrath into revolution.
Until justice applies to all, until a person is really assumed innocent until proven guilty, until it no longer costs a tenth of a million to get to an upper court, the government is at risk.
The modern-day campaign against minorities affects all of us, minorities or not. The environment that has been created within our inner cities has fostered more and more violence, more and more crime. And increasingly, crimes of violence are being committed by younger people. James Fox, dean at Northeastern University, predicts that by 2005, the 14- to 17-year-old population will have increased by 23 percent and warns of a major wave of violent crime from these minors.
It is not enough to develop social programs which further study the problem or simply encourage late-night basketball. The precursers of crime, including, but not limited to, the failure of our educational system and the decline of morality, must be addressed. (See The Way to Happiness: Building Values and Equality.)
And most important of all who is going to do the addressing?
The problem is truly one which calls for all citizens to demand reforms, as all citizens will suffer if such reforms dont come. Judicial oversight committees, police commissions and similar bodies in all jurisdictions should be pressed to look into discriminatory mandates, quota systems or other abuses. Anyone and everyone who has evidence of such problems must speak up.
If ever there was a cause that cried out to the American people for grass-roots action, this is it. And it is time for everyone, at some level, to get involved.
To demand an investigation into discriminatory policies or practices, to submit evidence concerning discrimination in the courts, or to present information of use in reforming the justice system, contact the Judicial Oversight Committee and/or Police Commission in your area (addresses can be obtained from city government information offices nationwide) and the National Commission on Law Enforcement and Social Justice, 3917 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake, California 91505. Matters concerning the federal judiciary and law enforcement should be directed to:
The Honorable Orrin G. Hatch, Chair
Senate Judiciary Committee
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Congressman Henry L. Hyde, Chair
House Judiciary Committee
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Congressman William F. Clinger,
House Government Reform and
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
The Editors of Freedom Magazine
would also appreciate copies
of all such letters, as our investigation is
One of the most notorious examples occurred in Volusia County, Florida. Over a three-year period starting in 1989, the drug squad of the Sheriffs Department seized
$8 million in cash from motorists, primarily minorities, on Interstate 95.
Although only a small percentage of the motorists traveling the highway were black, videotapes of 1,140 stops made by the drug squad showed that blacks constituted nearly two-thirds of the detainments.
In the majority of cash confiscations, there was no evidence of drugs and insufficient evidence to make an arrest. Under Floridas controversial cash seizure law, however, deputies confiscated the money anyway, assuming that anyone carrying more than $100 was a drug trafficker. Ninety percent of the motorists from whom cash was seized by Volusia County deputies were blacks or Hispanics.
In federal court early in 1995, in a civil lawsuit brought by the NAACP and two victimized motorists, Deputy Luis Garcia testified about racially oriented guidelines used by the department.
Garcia described a pep talk to deputies by Sheriff Bob Vogel instructing them to stop blacks and Hispanics. In the middle of his speech, the sheriff noticed a black motorist driving by and said, There goes one now.
Testimony during the trial revealed an alarming degree of selective application of the law and related abuses. One deputy told how members of the drug squad beat a black man whose hands were handcuffed behind his back. Another deputy reported frequent racial slurs, while still others confirmed that the profile of a typical drug runner promoted in briefings and on bulletin boards was black encouraging the harassment of innocent individuals who fit the description.