Being Falsely Convicted of Crime
by Nefeli Brandhorst Kapernekas
The United States is home to 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners (13th documentary- Barack Obama). A 2015 study showed that 56% of imprisoned individuals are African American and/or Hispanic, even though they only make up 32% of the US population (NAACP). Why is this the case? Why are people getting away with shooting young African American males? Yet, African Americans are being falsely convicted to crime. Clearly, something isn’t right and hasn’t been since the Civil War.
Let us start with the 13th Amendment that states that it is unconstitutional for someone to be held a slave. This grants freedom to all Americans. However, there is a loophole: criminals. The 13th Amendment was created after the Civil War and states that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime.” (Legal Information). This loophole allows slavery in terms of a small percentage of those who have been convicted of crime. Primarily, according to the 13th Amendment, a convicted offender is programmed into the legal system as a slave, resulting in a modern-day slavery. This has a cruel impact on people who endure a wrongful felony conviction. Going back to the post-Civil War era, after the 13th Amendment was established, African Americans were arrested in masses, for petty crimes such as loitering or vagrancy. The outright intention of the 13th Amendment was, and still is, to outlaw slavery – but this has not been achieved. So, could this be a reason for why 33% of African Americans are incarcerated for drug offense, when only 12.5% of them are illicit drug users? (NAACP) We don’t know, what we do know is that when the Constitution fails to provide all constitutional protections, laws become meaningless.
Some evidence of this lies in the American Legislative Exchange Council (also known as ALEC). ALEC is a powerful, secretive corporation supported by Republican-forward companies and politicians. ALEC writes “model legislation” on a range of topics in favor of the conservative legislators (ALEC exposed). Just name any controversial conservative item of legislation: ALEC is behind them all, including the infamous “Stand your Ground” law, that legitimizes the shooting of anyone viewed as suspicious. It was when the weaponless 17 year-old African American male, Trayvon Martin was shot dead, right in front of his home, by George Zimmermann, that ALEC lost its anonymity (CCCCD Libraries). Because of the “stand-your-ground law”, George Zimmerman did not face any prison sentence whatsoever because he had felt threatened by this young boy, and has ALEC behind him.
Unfortunately these cases of racial inequality in the prison system cannot be solved, because they have already happened. However, there are possible solutions to prevent further cases such as these. For example, the “blinding cases” system. Like everybody, prosecutors have an “unconscious bias.” To ensure that this unconscious bias is not part of their decision-making when it comes to the suspect’s race, all the police would have to do is exclude racial profiling from their reports (Business Insider). “Blinding cases” has proven to benefit many different fields. For instance, a Harvard study of symphony orchestras did a blinding of musical auditions to assess the impact on female musicians. The results showed that the probability for women to chosen as instrumentalists would advance by 50% (Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse – Harvard University). Blinding prosecutors to the racial identity of offenders could have an equally positive effect. Prosecutor bias has an influential impact, so, even a small reduction of this bias would be advantageous (Business Insider).
I hope that many of you have understood my message regarding an issue urgent to our country. Each and everyone of us must understand this injustice. We are the next generation and it is our responsibility to make sure that our country will not persist in making decisions and criminal accusations based on the color of someone’s skin. The persistent idea of race and its attendant inequalities must be put to an end. I do not want to say that this can happen overnight, but we can work progressively against this injustice. For example, employing the concept of blinding cases. This won’t solve structural racism but it will begin to solve certain biases and inequalities towards a just system in the United States of America. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “INJUSTICE anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail).
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.].” Edited by Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.], African Studies Center- University of Pennsylvania, http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html.
Gooden, Cliffon. “Sign the Petition.” Change.org, 2011, http://www.change.org/p/challenge-the-13th-amendment.
Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. November 20, 2012. Retrieved November 30, 2012.
“Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.” NAACP, http://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/.
ALEC Exposed, http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed.
Williams, Juan. “Trayvon Killing Puts American Legislative Exchange Council in the Spotlight.” The Hill, 23 Apr. 2012, thehill.com/opinion/columnists/juan-williams/222965-martin-case-puts-alec-in-spotlight.
Strauss, Valerie. “The United States of ALEC.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 27 Sept. 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/what-is-the-united-states-of-alec/2012/09/27/06dfb1ca-08b6-11e2-afff-d6c7f20a83bf_blog.html?utm_term=.02dc785c56c7.
“George Zimmerman Trial.” Famous Trials, famous-trials.com/zimmerman1.
Conversation, The. “3 Professors Have a Radical Idea for How to Remove Bias from the Criminal Justice System.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 22 Oct. 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-remove-bias-criminal-justice-system-2016-10.
Goldin, Claudia. “Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of ‘Blind’ Auditions on Female Musicians.”Http://Scholar.harvard.edu/Files/Goldin/Files/orchestrating_impartiality_the_effect_of_blind_auditions_on_female_musicians.Pdf, 13 Aug. 2006, links.jstor.org/sici?=0002-8282%28200009%2990%3A4%3C715%3AOITIO%22%3E2.0.CO%3B2-A.
CCCCD Libraries /LMC, alice.dvc.edu/record=b557457~S3.