For some reason, we live in a nation that has consistently avoided having an honest conversation about race and the criminal justice system. While Attorney General Eric Holder is very quick to blame black men for the outcomes of their lives, he doesn’t seem nearly as confrontational when it comes to dealing with America’s commitment to mass incarceration. Not only are black men being arrested, convicted and imprisoned at holocaust proportions, but many of them are being charged with crimes they did not commit.
According to the Innocence Project, of the 247 post-conviction DNA exoneration’s they reported, 148 were Black men, who served an average prison sentence of 13 years before being released; in addition, 18 of the men exonerated had confessed to crimes that they did not commit. Elliot Millner, legal advisor for the Your Black World Coalition, states that we should “keep in mind that these are only the exoneration’s reported(the first DNA exoneration did not take place until 1989), and also that these are only DNA exoneration’s, not including other exoneration’s of innocent individuals not based on DNA.”
There are over 2 million people in prison, nearly matching the population of Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States. In 1980, there were three times more black men in college than in prison. Now, there are more black men in prison than in college. If you are somehow convinced that these disparate outcomes are due to the fact that black men are more likely to be criminals than the white kids who get crazy at campus fraternity parties, then you probably don’t need to be reading this article.
As we talk about the issues faced by black men, there must be a consistent conversation about disparities in sentencing, marginalization after incarceration and horrifically high unemployment numbers. If we can’t talk about these issues in an honest and forthright way, then speeches on personal responsibility by Eric Holder will have almost no impact. The use of mass incarceration to exterminate African American families is not only counter productive, it is also an expensive remnant of our Jim Crow past. America should try to be better than that.