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Black Lives Matter: How to fix a failing criminal justice system?

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A broken bridge to equality

As Barack Obama stepped up on the podium to rejoice his presidency, one young woman exclaimed: “At this point, the whole race thing is over… it doesn’t matter anymore. We’ve transcended it. Now we have a black president, so clearly we are not racist.” Eight years later, as Obama left his presidency in 2017, you could only wish this was true.

Since 2015 and at the time of writing, there have been 738 black deaths reported through police killings in the United States. Though they were all different — male, female, young, elderly, queer, trans, and differently-abled — their similarity is what ultimately killed them: their colour.

This article is not to define what complex action must be taken; with every black victim of police brutality, there arises a greater surge of visions of reform. Instead, I argue that ambitious attempts under the name of Black Lives Matter will not change the criminal justice system, because the US was not built to make black lives matter. The 738 black murders cannot have the impact to drive a legal change in a country which does not protect, preserve or uphold black life. There is no justice, no repercussions and no driving force to realise the definition of equality the US constitution falsely prides itself on maintaining. What’s required is a systematic reform of a fundamentally broken system.

On the surface, accountability should be a key factor in changing black treatment. Yet, this can only materialise if the criminal justice system of the nation allows it to (which it does not).

This disregard has come in several forms. In 2016 a bill was drafted in Texas requiring education for all ninth-grade pupils on the ‘proper behaviour’ of civilians when interacting with police officers. It is understood that education is important, but only when given to those who require it. Similar disregard came in the form of Blue Lives Matter, a countermovement to uphold the protection of police officers in response to the Black Lives Matter movement — this campaign is now law in two states.

These attempts are simply creating a new class of people who will be taught not to question authority when they need to be questioned, not to challenge rules when they should be challenged and allowing state power to devalue black communities further.

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The irony in these ‘reforms’ is stupendous. The police force is a collective identity which already holds a high privilege and insulation from the forms of violence experienced by the black community. Thus instead, we should be educating those in law enforcement who are under direct responsibility to protect lives but are currently greatly abusing their powers. Therefore, Blue Lives Matter is merely an unwarranted act of white supremacy implying itself as a targeted race: a true paradox to the American reality.

The real paradox here is that we assume we are fixing a broken system, yet it was never right from the moment of its inception in 1776.

The criminal justice system was created in such a way that segmented the beliefs and values of people/communities at the time. Such a structure was designed to feed into the supremacist agenda acting to dismiss the history of race relations and this marked the beginning of the white washing of history. This system is a reflection of the society that empowers it: a white society that has denigrated black people since the Antebellum period. This is a nation in which the same constitution once considered African Americans only three fifths of a person. Thus it comes with little surprise that, the application of laws and distribution of criminal penalties will undoubtedly be disparate and fuel the ideology of white supremacy and black inferiority until today.

It is here that the necessity of such a monumental vision like that of the Black Lives Matter movement comes into play.

It acknowledges that history and the law has only taught that the American system was structured to disrespect black humanity and dignity. This movement is a fight to end mass incarceration and afford its people the chance to drive forward their liberation.

Nonetheless, this empowerment cannot be achieved in a nation which has always organised itself to suppress this community. Why do we think there has not been any justice for the likes of those 738 black individuals shot, stabbed or choked to death by a police officer? Because the legal system does not function for a white man to face the consequences of his actions. Where the legal system does not operate under the name of justice then how can we expect any branch of law based from this to be morally right?

With regret, we face a reality where despite social change, the historic legal flaws in US society remain engrained. The historical derogation of black people was birthed from the racialised ideologies of the Ccolonial period, which continue to manifest itself in the justice system. If there was going to be change, it would have taken place instantly when 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot for playing with a toy gun, or when father-of-six Eric Garner was choked to death.

The 738 cases of black killings and only 46 police offenders being charged speaks for itself. It affirms the notion that the system is not broken; but operating in a way it was designed to function, which is to suppress, subdue and socially control black people. It is unfortunate to say but currently there only stands a papier-mâché bridge to equality, which will bleakly stand until a systematic change occurs in this backward constitution.

Yet, with hope in a future for the dreamers, and words in our heart for the voiceless, we can continue to fight for a nation which comes to respect black human dignity, values black communities and makes Black Lives Matter.

Eeman Talha is a third-year law student at Aberdeen University.

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Please bear in mind that the authors of many Legal Cheek Journal pieces are at the beginning of their career. We'd be grateful if you could keep your comments constructive.

32 Comments

Anonymous

Inb4 the comments section devolves into a racist shouting match Stormfront would be proud of.

Anonymous

But failing to make any interesting points, or in fact any points at all.

Not Amused

We are not America (thank goodness)

If we want to live in a free and tolerant multiracial society then it is important not to import any of America’s issues or conflate our justice system with their justice system.

Anonymous

Lessons on the proper behaviour of civilians when interacting with police officers?

And this is supposed to be the land of the free?

I feel much freer in a society where the police don’t have the ability to shoot me.

This country isn’t perfect when it comes to race relations, but we never had state imposed segregation and abolished slavery a full two generations before the Americans did.

We’re way ahead of the game compared to them. Still much to do, but still way ahead.

Anonymous

I ran an Irish lives matter point in a debate once.

The Empire treated everyone like they treated the Irish, came the unexpected reply, and other empires were similar.

Criminal justice systems and political systems treat all sorts of people like shit. It is a shame that there is no intellectual pull towards changing that. It was once the danger of Christianity that it did, but the danger got ironed out by promotion and the thing was later submerged.

Criminal justice systems and political systems operated by people of colour who are not BAME in their own countries are no different.

The unifying feature is that the value of the life of the lost sheep is low.

Do you want to change * that* , the value of the lost sheep, or would you rather try and build up a c.v for a middle class job as a radical journalist, lawyer or M.P ?

It may well be that in 2018 you can blog about the lost sheep and no one has a clue what you are talking about.

If you are in for all the lost sheep, count me in. Are you, though?

BAME!

🎼 I wanna live for-ever!🎶

Anonymous

I chuckle every time you post this.

I am old enough to remember humour, and Irene Cara 🙂

I'm in it for the lost sheep

I’m not the first to speak out about this issue and I know the reality of this world is that despite us speaking out, little difference is made on an universal scale.
Yet, I like to think I’m investing my degree in something worthwhile – be it starting off as writing an article, I wont stand here to think no change can be implemented because ‘its out of our hands’. We may not be able to change the roots of the harsh realities present-
but we can aid to those suffering from it instead of sitting silently. Change starts small after all right?

Farmer Taffy O’Jones

I’m just in it for the sheep!

Kirkland 3PQE Turbocock

What, no mention of Kirkland becoming the richest, biggest dick-swinging megafirm in the world, Alex?

This is pathetic.

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Corbyn. Sympathiser

#buggerofftrumpenkreig

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

STRAWPEDO

Why the fuck was this deleted LC, you fascist c*nts.

Anonymous

The “738” figure has been repeatedly discredited – please see https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/02/08/black-and-unarmed-behind-the-numbers explaining why.

Here’s an extract on how the Washington Post arrives at its figure:

“But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. It is worth looking at the specific cases included in the Post’s unarmed victim classification in some detail, since that category is the most politically explosive. The “unarmed” label is literally accurate, but it frequently fails to convey highly-charged policing situations. In a number of cases, if the victim ended up being unarmed, it was certainly not for lack of trying. At least five black victims had reportedly tried to grab the officer’s gun, or had been beating the cop with his own equipment. Some were shot from an accidental discharge triggered by their own assault on the officer. And two individuals included in the Post’s “unarmed black victims” category were struck by stray bullets aimed at someone else in justified cop shootings. If the victims were not the intended targets, then racism could have played no role in their deaths.In one of those unintended cases, an undercover cop from the New York Police Department was conducting a gun sting in Mount Vernon, just north of New York City. One of the gun traffickers jumped into the cop’s car, stuck a pistol to his head, grabbed $2,400 and fled. The officer gave chase and opened fire after the thief again pointed his gun at him. Two of the officer’s bullets accidentally hit a 61-year-old bystander, killing him. That older man happened to be black, but his race had nothing to do with his tragic death. In the other collateral damage case, Virginia Beach, Virginia, officers approached a car parked at a convenience store that had a homicide suspect in the passenger seat. The suspect opened fire, sending a bullet through an officer’s shirt. The cops returned fire, killing their assailant as well as a woman in the driver’s seat. That woman entered the Post’s database without qualification as an “unarmed black victim” of police fire.

[…]

Other unarmed black victims in the Post’s database were so fiercely resisting arrest, judging from press accounts, that the officers involved could reasonably have viewed them as posing a grave danger. In October 2015, a San Diego officer was called to a Holiday Inn in nearby Point Loma, after hotel employees ejected a man causing a disturbance in the lobby. The officer approached a male casing cars in the hotel’s parking lot. The suspect jumped the officer and both fell to the ground. The officer tried to Tase the man, hitting himself as well. The suspect repeatedly tried to wrench the officer’s gun from its holster, according to news reports, and continued assaulting the officer after both had stood up. Fearing for his life, the officer shot the man. It is hard to see how race entered into that encounter. Someone who tries for an officer’s gun must be presumed to have the intention to use it. In 2015, three officers were killed with their own guns, which the suspects had wrestled from them. Similarly, in August, an officer from Prince George’s County, Maryland, pursued a man who had fled from a car crash. The man tried to grab the officer’s gun, and it discharged. The suspect continued to fight with the officer until he was Tased by a second officer and tackled by a third. The shot that was discharged during the struggle ultimately proved fatal to the suspect. In January, a sheriff’s deputy in Strong, Arkansas, responded to a pharmacy burglary alarm in the early morning. The burglar inside fought with the deputy for control of the deputy’s gun and it discharged. The suspect fled the store but was caught outside, at which point the deputy noticed the suspect’s gun injury and called an ambulance.”

And a little more on the source which I have linked:

“Mission Statement
The Marshall Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system. We achieve this through award-winning journalism, partnerships with other news outlets and public forums. In all of our work we strive to educate and enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice.

Diversity and The Marshall Project
The Marshall Project is committed to building and maintaining a diverse workforce, and not only because our name is a tribute to a hero of equal justice. We best serve our audience by bringing a variety of experiences and vantage points to bear on the issues we cover. We regard diversity as integral to our overall responsibility, which is to produce the best possible journalism about the U.S. criminal justice system, with its disproportionate impacts on communities of color. Read our annual diversity report.”

So a tip for your future career prospects as a lawyer, Ms Talha: do your proper due diligence before doing anything.

Doc Schwartz

Nurse, please get the ECU ready, we’ve got a burn victim incoming!

Dixie

Virginia is a lovely progressive state to live in.

Death row inmates get to choose whether they die by lethal injection or electric chair.

Civilians can also carry concealed firearms on their person.

No free healthcare if you get shot, by you have the satisfaction of knowing that the state is not interfering with you.

What’s not to like?

STRAWPEDO

YOUR POINT BEING???

The Pragmatist

@ Anonymous 1.34pm. You seem to have gone to great lengths to prove which black people deserved to be shot by the police. Will you be posting your article where your research concludes that 6 million Jews didn’t actually die at the hands of Hitler? And producing facts that at least 5000 died of heat attack’s, a further 3000 of pneumonia, 1000 in child birth and an elderly man who tripped over, hit his head and died? There is a name for people like yourself that produce endless facts and statistics but ignore the fundamental underlying issues the created the problem in the first place… WHITE SUPREMACIST

Anonymous

I’m actually black, but don’t ruin the narrative my dear.

PEPE

U OK HUN

Anonymous

“Please bear in mind that the authors of many Legal Cheek Journal pieces are at the beginning of their career.”

OK but tell them the difference between data/statistics and..opinions

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Corbyn. Sympathiser

#buggerofftrumpenkreig

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Anonymous

In 2014, there were 6,095 black homicide victims, more than all white and Hispanic homicide victims combined, even though blacks are only 13 percent of the population. In over 90 percent of those black deaths, the killer was another black civilian. By all means, we must try to eliminate unjustified use of force by police. But as long as crime rates in black communities remain so high, officers will be disproportionately engaged there, with all the attendant risks of such deployment. In addition Blacks are disproportionately responsible for violent crime and therefore likely to be in situations where they might be shot by police FBI data shows out of all violent crime where someone was charged black Americans were charged with 62% of robberies, 57% of murders and 45% of assaults despite making up just 15% of the population.

Just sayin’...

Hmm…

I’d say let’s also look at the figures vis a vis poverty.

Let’s see what the proportion of offences committed by the poorest of blacks is per 100,000 compared to othe proportion of offences committed by the poorest of whites per 100,000 of the population.

Given blacks tend to be poorer, you’ll probably find that the per capita crime rate committed by poor blacks is similar to that committed by poor whites, there just happen to be far more poor blacks than poor whites, hence more crimes committed by blacks overall…

Anonymous

I think overall it remains true, give then wealth, jobs and security they’ll have no need to commit crimes. Simple.

Anonymous

Good for you. You’ll need to grow a skin thick enough to deal with the sort of roughouses that appear on Legal Cheek.

When you ‘ve safely got your degree give some thought to writing an article about the lost sheep.

It would be interesting to see if Trumpenkreig, Not Amused and Corbyn.Sympathiser could be united by an article about the lost sheep.

Psychiatry is worth a look to locate them and broaden your horizons from human rights within the law.

Anonymous

Just to be clear. I think psychiatry is a terror to creation, not a cure for the lost sheep.

Anonymous

The problem is not the justice system but the socioeconomic factors that bring a disproportionate number of minorities into jail.

Instead of talking about incarceration and police statistics why don’t we push for subsidies into education for less wealthy areas? Oh yes, because that doesn’t play into the divide and rule agenda.

Anonymous

EXCELLENT!

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