Monday, October 29, 2007

Racism And The Law Still Intertwined: Will Equal Rights Ever Be Attainable?

Inequality under the legal system was supposed to be non-existent after the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, culminating with the civil rights act. This act outlawed discrimination of any kind based on ethnicity, gender or religious orientation. Dishearteningly, an act almost fifty years old has yet to take full effect; as the Martin Lee Anderson(his image on the left) case demonstrates, discrimination still lingers within American courtrooms. The verdict of the case on October 12 of this year reaffirms the notion that the judicial system continues to be riddled with bias. The courts acquitted seven camp guards and a nurse of manslaughter after fourteen-year old inmate Martin Lee Anderson died under their supervision. Caught on tape was a thirty-minute video of the seven camp guards dragging, choking and beating Anderson as the nurse watched; all of this abuse ensued solely because Anderson collapsed after a routine run. Fortunately “after Anderson's death, the Legislature dismantled the military-style youth boot camps,” but the death of a child was necessary to prompt the end of these camps in Florida. Regardless of the Legislature’s delayed actions, the sequence of events ignited outrage within the Florida community; as a result of the verdict, the local NAACP sponsored a protest on October 23, gathering an estimated 700 protestors.

Defendants of the seven camp guards and nurse argued that Anderson died from internal bleeding as a result of undiagnosed sickle-cell anemia, “a blood disorder that can hinder blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen during physical stress.” "An initial autopsy said he died from a genetic blood disorder, sickle-cell trait, while a second autopsy said he suffocated when guards clamped his mouth shut and held ammonia capsules under his nose for several minutes.” In response to Anderson’s passing out, the guards claimed they “handled what they thought was a juvenile offender faking illness to avoid exercising on his first day in the camp.” Defense attorneys even argued that “camp workers were using acceptable tactics”, but the video footage shows otherwise. The term “acceptable” is used loosely by the defense; choking and shoving pills down a semi-conscious adolescent’s throat does not constitute “acceptable” under any circumstances. If anything, these actions indicate excessive force and a violation of civil rights.

Included in these civil rights is the right to a fair trial. The fairness of the case has been called into question because of the jury composition, which consisted of only white people. “A pool of 1,400 people was initially called to find six jurors and four alternates. Defense attorneys asked that four black potential jurors be disqualified from service, while prosecutors eliminated one black potential juror themselves before a final jury and alternates, none of them black, was chosen.” Chuck Hobbs, a legal counsel for the NAACP said treat African-Americans differently from white people. Executive director for the Florida State Conference NAACP he “was surprised to learn that prosecutors removed a black woman from the jury that the defense wanted.” Creating an impartial jury is important in upholding the law, and the fact that there were no ethnic minorities in the jury does give cause for speculation. Whether or not the removal of all potential black jurors was intentional will be difficult to prove, and does not address the main issue within the case. The fact still remains that the police and the judicial system generally Beverlye Neal claims, “in 2007, we’re still dealing with blatant racism and no concern for black life.” Martin Lee Anderson was deprived of medical attention after he passed out, and instead, he was offered a series of pushes and kicks. The most visible illustration of the unfair ruling is described by Hobbs. He reports, “The jurors also acquitted them (the camp guards and nurse) of manslaughter, child neglect and culpable negligence.” Employees at the boot camp had a responsibility to Anderson, a child under their watch and care. The verdict of the case illustrates the devaluing of an African-American’s life. Regardless of Anderson’s history and criminal record, there is no excuse for beating an incapacitated person. Discouragingly, the Anderson verdict is just one example out of many that conveys the immense disparity between African-Americans and white people in the criminal law system. Capital punishment statistics affirm the notion that a black life is worth less than a white person’s. Based on statistics from 1983 to 1993, the figure on the middle right indicates that in Philadelphia alone, blacks were thirty-eight percent more likely than whites to be sentenced to death for similar crimes. Based on values from 1976 to 1994, “nearly 40% of those executed since 1976 have been black, even though blacks constitute only 12% of the population.” The chart on the left also depicts bias; the race of the victims influenced whether or not the defendant received the death penalty. If the victim was white, the defendant was more likely to be sentenced to death row than if the victim was black. Although the data appears outdated, it reflects the trends that exist within criminal law today. With a system that projects discrimination, how are African-Americans supposed to guard themselves against their claimed governmental protectors? If the keepers of justice are prejudice, then African-Americans are left defenseless against institutionalized racism. The black community will have to use out-of-doors organizations like the NAACP to ensure that their rights are safeguarded.

Since the recent protest (image on right), “the FSC NAACP has requested the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to investigate the circumstances surrounding the case bought by the State of Florida in Bay County, and more importantly, to follow up on the FSC NAACP’s initial request in March 2006, calling for the U.S. District Attorney in North Florida to conduct an investigation into and charge those responsible for the civil rights violations evident in Martin Lee Anderson’s death.” Efforts to remove hints of bias from the judicial system send a hopeful message to African-Americans. The progress of the American government since the 1960’s in removing manifest discrimination from most of its institutions is praiseworthy, but furtive elements of partiality still remain. The civil rights movement did not just end with the Civil Rights act; it is an ongoing struggle minorities face to achieve equal protection under the law.

1 comment:

YJC said...

Your post on the biased nature of the justice system is revealing and shocking. I was always under the impression that some degree of preferential treatment was in effect, but not to this extent. Whilst it is debatable whether the boot camp child’s treatment would be any different from any other kid in that boot camp, it is still unacceptable for life to be taken in that manner. Especially interesting in your post is your observation on capital punishment which “affirm the notion that a black life is worth less than a white person’s”. In an age where advancements are developing so rapidly in so many fields, it is a shame that basic problems with humanity rights are being left to the side.

Overall, your post was well articulated, and your links and pictures compliment and reinforce your text. I especially felt the ‘fig 3’ pie chart provided a visual reinforcement of the extent to which racial bias exists in the judicial system. One recommendation I would suggest is that perhaps the Anderson case could have been shown to be more pronounced and racially charged if a similar account of a white child being given punishment could be found. I understand that this is easier said than done, and besides that, I thought your post flowed well, was supported by your use of links, and was generally an enjoyable read. Good Work.

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