Wednesday, July 03, 2013
Juneteenth, The 4th of July And Black “Free”dom
As many of us know, Juneteenth reached its 148th anniversary two weeks ago, celebrating the freedom of those that were enslaved. Juneteenth is widely recognized by African Americans as the day the union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas in 1865 and received word that they were now free. The importance of this date in history is that the news of their freedom came two years AFTER President Lincoln had already issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Juneteenth is celebrated by many African Americans all over the world, as it has become a longstanding tradition. And then we have Independence Day, commonly known as the 4th of July, a federal holiday that commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in which the U.S. declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain; another holiday also celebrated by many African Americans. These two nationally recognized days deal with freedom, but with our current times, and the current state of black America, one has to wonder, what are we really celebrating and just how free are we?
Michelle Alexander enlightened us about the state of African Americans and prisons by saying, "Today there are more African-Americans under correctional control — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. There are millions of African-Americans now cycling in and out of prisons and jails or under correctional control. In major American cities today, more than half of working-age African-American men are either under correctional control or branded felons and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives."
But what has led to so many African Americans being under correctional control? The simple answer, the ‘War on Drugs’. The more complex answer is racial profiling and mandatory minimum sentences.
War on Drugs
African American make up a mere 13% of the US population and 13% of drug users, however, they make up 38 percent of those arrested for drug law violations and 59% of those convicted of drug law violation.
When it comes to the war on drugs, there is significant racial bias when police are making arrests. The ACLU has found that, despite roughly equal usage rates, blacks are nearly 4 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana. Last month the New York Times pointed out that there are federal programs in place that are providing incentives to law enforcement for racial profiling. Federal dollars are literally being awarded to states or precincts that produce the “right” numbers.
In schools, our children’s freedom is challenged by zero-tolerance policies that restrict our students from making mistakes in a learning environment. A prime example of this is 16 year old Kiera Wilmot who was arrested and charged with two felonies and expelled from school after a science project that went wrong, in which no one was harmed and no damage occurred.
The implementations of zero-tolerance policies have had a negative and disproportionate impact on black students. A 2008 study in Florida found that Black students were two and half more times likely to be referred to the judicial system. Those studies also found Black students more likely than whites to be suspended, expelled and sentenced to jail time for infractions that take place on school grounds.
These types of harsher disciplinary actions have been linked to a higher rate of high school dropouts who, in turn, are more likely to become incarcerated. Black students only make up 16% of the nation’s population but account for 45% of juvenile arrests.