Paul R. Lehman, Correcting problems in the Criminal Justice System begins at the top

March 19, 2019 at 3:07 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American history, American Racism, Bigotry in America, blacks, criminal justice, Department of Justice, desegregation, education, entitlements, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, European Americans, fairness, integregation, justice, justice system, law, law enforcement agencies, mass incarceration, Media and Race, Michelle Alexander, minorities, Oklahoma, police force, Prejudice, President Obama, race, racism, reforms, respect, segregation, skin color, skin complexion, social justice system, socioeconomics, white supremacy, whites | 1 Comment
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The announcement made recently about the decision to not charge the police officers who killed Terence Crutcher and Stephon Clark might have come as a surprise to some but was expected by others because of the history of criminal justice relative to African Americans and other people of color. The decisions to not charge the officers could have been easily made by someone blind and brain-dead. When Eric Holder served as Attorney General, he along with then President Obama made attempts to challenge law enforcement to change the practices, policies, behavior, and laws that discriminate against African Americans in particular and about all people in general. Since that time, many changes relative to criminal justice have been addressed in many locations throughout the United States. The focus of these changes and challenges varies from excessive fines for people who cannot pay them to redefining sentences of people of color whose only serious offense was the color of their skin. Once they get caught up in the maze of the criminal justice system, their lives are completely and forever negatively altered.

Oklahoma leads America, and in some instances, the world in incarceration especially of women. Efforts by many civic groups are working to reduce the numbers. Some of the efforts have been successful via bills the public supported and approved. While all the efforts of groups like the ACLU and others in addressing the problems in the criminal justice system, they have not yet focused on the primary problem of the system—the biased culture within the criminal justice system beginning with law enforcement and including the courts as well as officers of the court. That is, rather than focusing on the cause of the problems attendant to citizens who have been arrested, the majority of the efforts by interested and involved groups are on the problem of those incarcerated. In order to correct the many problems in the criminal justice system, we must look first at where the system begins—what puts the wheels in motion.

What determines the attitudes and actions of the law enforcers from the small towns to the large metropolises begins with the mayors, the councils and courts. They are the ones who make the laws and create the climate and culture that informs the police and other law enforcers. If change is to come to the criminal justice system in American then it must begin with those who administer the programs that represent the criminal justice system. Having the administrators and city or town council members undergo diversity training is generally a waste of time and money because that training does not address the issue of ethnic bigotry that is a part of the everyday cultural climate. We know this biased culture exists from the plethora of incidents that occur and are shown daily on social media. These incidents occur in spite of the diversity training these administrators, council members and court officers have received. We know this ethnic bias exists from the numerous police officers that have suffered no legal repercussion from having shot and killed a person of color.

One thing that needs to happen in order to make the criminal justice system applicable to all citizens is to educate the top administrators, council members and court judges and other officers to what democracy looks like from a perspective that recognizes the bias that presently exists and how they are implicated in the culture and climate that promotes, support, and maintains it. The fact that the majority of people incarcerated are people of color seemingly represents no call for action or consequence. The fact is that the number of people of color is adjudicated differently and more harshly than European American citizens seem to be viewed as acceptable represents a big problem that begs for attention and correction. However, if the people who administer and are the caretakers of the system of criminal justice are fine with the status quo then something needs to be done to alert them to the injustice they are delivering to American citizens who happen to be people of color.

If the problems of bigotry and injustice in the criminal justice system today are promoted, supported, and maintained through ignorance, then education, not training should help in remedying some of the problems. Other avenues of approach would be removal from office via election or for some judges, impeachment. The citizens should be made aware of the amount of money they pay out to citizens that receive judgments from the civil courts for the misconduct of police and other law enforcement officers. One would think that the officers found guilty in civil court should shoulder some of the monetary responsibility as well as the unions that support and represent these officers. That way the citizens would not have to bear the entire expense for the officers’ actions.

The American system of criminal justice is generally a good system when it is administered in a democratic and fair way; however, when ethnic and cultural biases are represented in the outcome negatively affecting people of color, then corrective action must be taken. Again, the actions of the many concerned groups addressing the problems that focus on incarceration are welcomed and, indeed, applauded and encouraged, but their efforts are focused on the citizens that are already incarcerated and part of the system. In order to impact positively the system of criminal justice, the focus must be at the beginning. Michelle Alexander noted in her work, The New Jim Crow, that “A study sponsored by the U.S. Justice Department and several of the nation’s leading foundations, published in 2007, found that the impact of the biased treatment is magnified with each additional step into the criminal justice system.” The evidence is clear.

The biased treatment of people of color in the criminal justice system is due to unconscious and conscious ethnic bigotry that infects the decision-making process of those entrusted with those powers. In order for the system of criminal justice to be fairly administered, those biases must be addressed at the beginning before the arrest is made. So, now that we know where to begin, if we are not part of the solution, then we are the problem.

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