Black and White: Racism in the Criminal “Justice” System

Few issues expose the  comprehensive racist oppression present at the systemic level in the United States better than understanding the criminal (in)justice system.  From street stops to arrests to charging and plea bargaining or jury selection to sentencing to treatment within the penal system to disenfranchisement post-release, racism infects every single level of the criminal (in)justice system.

No resource more comprehensively addresses this vast social problem than Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and as such, it ought to be required reading for every person in the United States.  But for those who shy away from the strong language of the “new Jim Crow” to describe mass incarceration in the United States, consider the following:


In considering this graphic, we should recognize that this is not just a Black vs White issue and that racist mass incarceration does disproportionately impact all people of Color, most particularly those people of Color without access to wealth.  While the graphic is useful, it should be understood to be limited.

Beyond that, though, perhaps the measures in the “There’s Hope Still” section at the end of the infographic bring hope to some, none of those indicate a widespread transformation of the systems of racist oppression that make the rest of these stats possible.

What does give me hope, though, are the people-powerful, organized activists both inside and outside of prisons who are fighting for justice and change.  Whether we’re talking about the organizers of the California Prisoner Hunger Strike or the people at the Sentencing Project or local activists (like Save the Kids here in Minneapolis) who are working daily to transform the (in)justice system that disproportionately impacts people of Color, knowing that there’s power in the people gives me hope that water will eventually drip through stone.

But if their work is ever going to do more than change the fates of individuals wrapped up in the racist system, there needs to be a critical mass of people calling for systemic transformation.

So start by knowing your facts. Then figure out how you will take action.


Infographic courtesy of Ashleigh Bell and ArrestRecords.  Ashleigh Bell is an author, working with strong passion for the site Her interests relate primarily to crime & criminal justice issues.  Feel free to drop her a line at ashleighbell928(AT)gmail(DOT)com.


I am George Zimmerman: Reflections on Zimmerman, Trayvon, and the White Racial Frame

I have spent a great deal of time in the last few weeks arguing the semantics of the Travyon Martin murder with friends and family who do not believe race had anything to do with the case and who think that George Zimmerman was likely justified in his shooting of Martin.  We have gone back and forth about Travyon Martin’s past (suspensions from school and accusations of theft) and George Zimmerman’s past (history of aggression and paranoia).  We have gone back and forth about what the 911 calls say about what happened and about whether Zimmerman’s injuries justified his violence or were merely an excuse for the murder.

These conversations had been frustrating the hell out of me, but I didn’t realize quite why until this weekend at the 13th Annual White Privilege Conference.

I was in a workshop led by the incredible Lee Mun Wah, and he remarked, “I’ve seen a lot of people saying or posting, ‘I am Trayvon Martin.’  I think that misses the point.  I want to see people saying, ‘I am George Zimmerman’ because whether or not we want to admit it, every single one of us is socialized in a system of White Supremacy that says, ‘FEAR BLACK MEN.'”

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