« Concerns about concerns about the recognition of serious gun rights | Main | Oh, the places sentencing can take you! »

January 21, 2008

Reflecting on race and criminal justice realities to honor MLK's legacy

To honor MLK's legacy, I encourage everyone to take 15 minutes to watch all of Dr. King's amazing "I Have a Dream" speech (available here).  Notably, in this post on MLK day two years ago, I asked whether criminal justice reform should be the new civil rights movement and made this observation:

From my sentencing-centric perspective, reflecting on a day honoring Martin Luther King leads me to the view that Dr. King, were he still alive, would be focused on criminal justice reforms.  So many aspects of the criminal justice system — from racial profiling to jury selection, from drug sentencing to the administration of the death penalty — highlight that our system is not color-blind (or at least not color-neutral). And, because of felon disenfranchisement and other collateral consequences, the enduring impact of a racially skewed criminal justice system cannot be overstated.

Listening to the speech with a concentrated criminal justice focus is an interesting exercise — especially when one reflects on Dr. King's emphasis on freedom and the massive number of people of color subject to criminal justice control in the United States. 

With this context, I also recommend reviewing this recent congressional testimony of Dr. Bruce Western, Director of the Inequality and Social Policy Program at Harvard University, which includes this distressing data:

The fraction of the population in state and Federal prison has increased in every single year for the last 34 years. The rate of imprisonment today is now five times higher than in 1972.... Today's novel rates of incarceration are most remarkable for their concentration among young African American men with little schooling.... Young black men are now more likely to go to prison than to graduate college with a four-year degree, or to serve in the military.  These extraordinary rates of incarceration are new.  We need only go back twenty years to find a time when the penal system was not pervasive in the lives of young African American men.

In the period of mass incarceration, blacks have remained 7 to 8 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites.  The large black-white disparity in incarceration is unmatched by most other social indicators.  Racial disparities in unemployment (2 to 1), nonmarital childbearing (3 to 1), infant mortality (2 to 1), and wealth (1 to 5) are all significantly lower than the 7 to 1 black-white ratio in incarceration rates.

January 21, 2008 at 02:38 AM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e200e54ffb38a48834

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Reflecting on race and criminal justice realities to honor MLK's legacy:

Comments

Eric Foner calls Sitkoff's King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop (2007)"the finest brief biography of Martin Luther King, Jr." Details about the book at http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/law_librarian_blog/2008/01/sitkoffs-king-p.html

See also See also The Legal Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/law_librarian_blog/2008/01/the-legal-legac.html

Posted by: Joe Hodnicki | Jan 21, 2008 9:50:27 AM

Doug, as I posted a while back, in my
last capital trial 85% of black femaless
were challenged for cause due to their
opposition to the death penalty. I
believe that such skewing of the jury
venire by a statute which is race neutral
on its face but discriminatory in
practice violates the equal protection
clause and the fair cross section
component of the Sixth Amendment.

bruce cunningham

Posted by: bruce cunningham | Jan 21, 2008 9:55:21 AM

"Racial disparities in unemployment (2 to 1), nonmarital childbearing (3 to 1), infant mortality (2 to 1), and wealth (1 to 5) are all significantly lower than the 7 to 1 black-white ratio in incarceration rates."

This doesn't seem to have any logical implications for me. This is comparing apples to oranges. Does anybody out there think the relationship of these other variables to incarceration is so simple as to imply that there should be equivalency in their respective ratios?

Posted by: Jesus Louise | Jan 21, 2008 12:14:57 PM

"First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;' who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a 'more convenient season.'"

-- Letter from Birmingham Jail as found in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., p. 295.

Posted by: Scott Taylor | Jan 21, 2008 2:12:02 PM

From my [insert pet cause here]-centric perspective, reflecting on a day honoring Martin Luther King leads me to the view that Dr. King, were he still alive, would be focused on [my cause].

Claims like this seem to be the favored way of "honoring" Dr. King. It's too bad he's not still around.

Posted by: | Jan 22, 2008 9:16:37 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB