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  Afro Courts

Criminal Injustice System
By Steven Malik Shelton

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There is a strange phenomenon occurring in America, and it serves to perpetuate a widening circle of debauchery, violence and mayhem. This strange practice is the glorification of criminals through media sensationalism.

It seems that since the 1970's and with the advent of feeding-frenzy media exposure of the likes of Ted Bundy, Kenneth Bianchi, etc., mass murderers, serial rapists, and child killers have become the darlings of the mass media.

Often before the culprit is sent away to serve his sentence, there are books written, movies filmed and magazine articles distributed, describing in lurid detail the crime as well as minute details of the miscreants demeanor, while magnifying his life as though it needs to be looked upon with fascination and worthy of our attention and consideration.

As a result of this fawning coverage, serial murderers have become so intoxicated with publicity that they are soliciting for national coverage and threatening to kill if their demands for more widespread and thorough media exposure are not met. And the media, hungry to whip up public interest in this sordid coverage in order to sell more newspapers and to boost Neilson ratings, has become an eager partner in the criminal's quest for attention and fame.

Sadly, criminal behavior in America is not looked upon as shameful or dishonorable as it is in many African and Eastern countries. In these nations, when a person is convicted of a crime, they are never lionized or held up as a spectacle of media hype and fascination. And if their crime is a Capital offense, they are kept in isolation until the time of their execution.

They are then transported to the site where the sentence is to be carried out without fanfare and usually quickly dispatched with a single shot to the back of the head and buried in a mass grave. Any press they obtain is limited to a post mortem sentence or two in the back pages of the newspaper, where their crime is dryly described and the coverage limited to the time, place and manner of their demise. There is no romanticizing of criminals. They receive no book or movie deals. And there is no aura of fascination or cultural approval surrounding them.

There is another facet of this problem which is often overlooked or ignored by social scientists and criminologists. Especially by those who indict the criminal justice apparatus of the East; for while the methods used there may be criticized as brutal and inhumane they (at least in the majority of these nations) work as a deterrent in reducing crime judging by the lower percentages in the major offences of murder, rape, theft, and robbery in Eastern nations compared to countries in the West.

In the United States, where more of its citizens are locked away behind bars than any other nation on earth, the methods of punishment (although widespread) are increasingly ineffective.

Moreover, it is unjust to punish someone for a crime without first removing those factors and influences in the society which prompt deviance or pave the way for it. In America, far from adhering to this golden principle, it seems that every effort is expended to saturate the country with those elements and influences that are guaranteed to lead people astray.

Travel down the streets of any large American metropolis and the evidence is overwhelming. There is prostitution, pornography, gambling, drug dens, bars, and liquor stores. In short there is an available roost for every foul desire and a perch catering to every filthy bird. And although, in most instances, the local police make a grand show of trying to stem the tide, the vices are engineered and facilitated from the very halls of political power and command, and bankrolled by many of the nations most entrenched and venerated financial institutions.

Moreover in America, where the national rate of unemployment is between 10 to 20 percent for Whites and as much as 50 percent for Blacks, it is heartless and hypocritical to punish those individuals that are compelled (because of poverty) into crime out of a sense of desperation to survive another day.

Many researchers concur that over 50 percent of criminal behavior is induced by the consumption of alcoholic beverages in the form of wine, whiskey, beer, gin, etc. Yet no sincere effort is made to either curtail or to eliminate this deadly scourge upon the society.

In fact, the seed of most crimes is rooted in impoverishment, immorality and a lack of adherence to higher spiritual principles. Yet this reality is totally ignored by America's criminal justice system as well as its academic and government bodies and agencies.

Judging the Court System
The huge discrepancy between the percentage of black Americans in prisons and jails throughout America, compared to their percentage in the general population should be a wake up call for all Americans.

The phenomenon of racial injustice and inequality can be traced to America's origins when its non-white and poor populations were considered as mere units of labor to be exploited, used and discarded for the benefit of a privileged elite of wealthy land and property owners.

Centuries of structural racism along with the mental diseases that were used to perpetuate it has continued to infect the most important and influential institutions in the nation. And these influences are especially evident in America's legal and so-called correctional systems.

There is, perhaps, no institution in America as obviously biased as its criminal court system. Nevertheless, it continues to grind on, destroying millions of lives and decimating communities through out the nation.

The American legal system is run by judges, lawyers, probation officers and other agents of the court who are predominantly white and middle class with very little empathy or direct knowledge of the lives of thousands of poor, non-white defendants who face them every day in America's judiciary. This is not a recent development, but a constant through out American criminal court history, and it has produced a uniformity of values and perceptions by agents of the court and desensitized them to the racism and gross injustice of the system.

In a rare break from the judicial wall of silence upheld by most jurists, former Supreme Court Justice, Bruce Wright observes in his book, Black Robes, White Justice:

"Most of the judges of America are male, white, middle class and conservative. Brought before them is a parade of dark skinned defendants, all alien to the concept the judges have of the way life ought to be.

Do white judges ever bring to bear a sober reflection on why there are so Many black defendants in criminal cases? Do white judges ever wonder why there are so few black lawyers appearing before them? Do they ever inquire about the history of bar associations that used to exclude Jews and blacks? Do they ever ponder aloud or in silence the reasons that there are so few black judges? Whenever I have raised the subject of bar association discrimination against blacks, my white colleagues profess never to have noticed any such thing."[1]

This propensity has resulted in higher bail (or no bail at all) for blacks accused of crimes. It has criminalized blacks to the extent that police believe they need more powerful weapons to control blacks, and led to targeting blacks and Latinos for suspicion or arrest in cases involving narcotics sales or possession as well as a slew of other felonies.

Steven Malik Shelton is a journalist and human rights advocate. He can be reached at:

[1] Bruce Wright, "Black Robes, White Justice: Why our Legal System Doesn't Work for Blacks," Kensington Publishing Corp. (1993) p.p. 12, 13

© Jan 2009 By Afromerica || [TOP]


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