By: Owen Brown
Heather Ellis was sentenced to 15 years for switching lines at a Kennett, Missouri, Walmart. Crystal Mason was sentenced to 5 (five) years for voting when she was still being penalized for tax evasion. Jessica Hall was sentenced to two years for “maliciously throwing a missile into an occupied vehicle.” The missile was a McDonald’s cup filled with ice and used in retaliation against another car that cut her off twice on I-95 in Virginia. What did these women have in common?
They were black, and like the Scottsboro Boys and the Central Park Five, they found themselves on the third rail of America’s criminal justice system. African Americans, and particularly their women, have been sentenced to prison terms that hardly fit their legal transgressions. Ask Tameeka Baker, Maria Hernandez, or Lydia Diane Jones, and they like Ellis and Mason found themselves trapped in the nightmares of racial injustice and learned the hard way that Lustitia is white and not blind. Indeed, America’s criminal justice system, which is dominated by white judges, usually reserves the harshest punishment for blacks, even when convicted of minor offenses.
Historically and notwithstanding police brutality being a dehumanizing element of the African American experiences and a constant reminder of white supremacy, America’s criminal justice system has consistently treated blacks differently from whites. Instead of addressing these issues of historical-based racial inequity made possible by police brutality as the sources of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, conservatives have tried to discredit American equal rights champions’ marches and demonstrations for real social and economic equity by digging up and attaching to them deeply disturbing historical symbols of hate.
Former Harris County District Attorney’s Office Prosecutor Kaylynn Williford comments seemed to draw a direct line between the BLM and Nazis’ slaughter of innocent people during the period leading up to and ended by World War II. One of those victims of Nazi’s hate, whose scholarship inspires me, is Marc Bloch. And on a recent episode of Life Liberty & Levin, the renowned Economist, Thomas Sowell, equated the phrase institutional racism with the propaganda tactics of Nazi Germany and the mass murderer, Joseph Goebbels. Is he for real?!
How thoughtless or moronic is it to compare innocent people whose families were reduced to ashes by Nazi state-sanctioned terrorism to BLM movement equal rights advocates calling for ends to police brutality and unequal access to employment opportunities, in America. Sowell and Williford casting BLM movement protesters as imminent threats to national security are not only hyperbolic but strategic.
Indeed, they are the modern version of Nixon’s Southern Strategy meant to keep Reagan’s Democrats and Clinton’s Republicans afraid of the evil black menace. Thus, CNN and Fox News have chosen to focus on the spurious connections between the BLM protesters and poor marginalized unemployed (and mostly out-of-school) blacks murdering each other in Chicago, New York, and Kansas City. What they neglect to tell is the drugs and guns used to perpetuate violence and paralysis in these communities were imported from white dominated commodity chains. How insulting. These networks’ reporting recalled Williams Hearst’s frequent employment of Yellow Journalism, leading to the outbreak of the Spanish American War. How many innocent wo\men and their families were tortured and murdered in Auschwitz, Dachau, and Flossenburg?
How many innocent people have the BLM supporters robbed of their human rights, illegally detained, and marched into gas chambers built by Topf & Söhne’s and H. Kori GmbH? How many of the BLM leaders and their supporters were involved in the Department of Homeland Security illegally snatching Americans off the streets of Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., and placing them in unmarked vehicles and spiriting them away to federal detention centers? What is the sad reality? Other than calling attention to the normalized damages and unacceptably violence inflicted on themselves and their impoverished communities, how can conservatives and their liberal allies seriously elevate the BLM to the levels of Joseph Goebbels and state-sponsored terrorism against the innocent?
Answering these questions requires an understanding of America’s fetish with incarcerating African Americans because they are constant reminders of this country’s original sin and its never-ending violation of the principle that “all men are created equal.”
Historically, America’s genesis and subsequent progress were made possible by its original sin. Slavery. While denouncing British tyranny and using arms to free America from the shackles of colonialism, its revolutionary leaders were owners of people that look like Thomas Sowell and me. These slaves and former slaves, given birth by women such as Phillis Wheatley and Isabella Baumfree, yearned for their freedom.
Despite fighting against an inhumane institution and winning their freedom, many of America’s most brilliant politicians devised new ways of robbing former slaves of their freedom. These new strategies depended heavily on the schema of law and order and the imaginary of blacks as savages incapable of following the rules of Western civilization. Thus, despite the Civil War victory, they were Jim Crowed. Dixiecrats and the Nazis shared a common Rota that relied on legal mandates for disenfranchising, scapegoating, and murdering powerless people they deemed, sub-humans.
Conservative thinkers and their liberal sympathizers have handed Goebbels, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton’s playbook to President Trump. What connects the public policy pursued by these leaders were\are their foci on blaming national societal problems on powerless and marginalized minorities.
For example, Hitler’s propaganda machine, led by Goebbels, blamed innocent Jews for the country’s defeat in World War I and the social and economic catastrophes that followed, characterized by hyperinflation and high unemployment. President Nixon gave us the “silent majority” to discredit Civil Rights protesters by equating them to deviant drug users and criminals.
Let’s not forget the late President Bush’s usage of Willie Horton to re-enforce the imaginary of African Americans as criminals, which led Democrats to embrace punitive criminal justice policies that led to President Clinton’s tough crime bill that incarcerated generations of African Americans. By 2000, Blacks went to prison eight times the rate of white Americans.
Many may contend that my argument is based on faulty evidence. Respectfully, I disagree. Let’s examine the prison sentences of the President’s men. Who are they? Lieutenant General Joseph J. Flynn, Michael Cohen, and Roger Stone. All tried and convicted of high crimes and felonies. What were their sentences? For lying to the FBI, the Justice Department recommended six months of jail time or probation for Flynn.
Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine for tax evasion, bank fraud, and lying to Congress. He is currently serving the rest of his sentence at home. Finally, Roger Stone’s (who was convicted on seven counts, including witness tampering, making false statements, and obstruction) sentence was commuted by Trump, days before he had to report to a federal prison in Georgia.
Let’s compare Flynn, Cohen, and Stone’s sentences to Jacobia Grimes, who faced a possible 20 years to life sentence for stealing $31 worth of candy. How about Ms. Angela C. Thompson? She was sentenced to 15 years to life for selling crack cocaine to undercover police that weighed 2.3 grams!
The President’s men sentences paled in comparison to those imposed on Ellis, Mason, and Hall. What is the unsettling truth that these racial disparities in sentencing reveal? Women of color constitute nearly 50 percent of incarcerated women in the United States. When we compare the prison sentences of women of color, particularly Indigenous and women of African ancestry to white Americans, we find that white Supremacy comes with many privileges. If you are skeptical, ask the President’s men.
Dr. Owen Brown is a Professor in the Department of Social Behavioral Sciences at Medgar Evers College. He is currently completing a book titled: The Awakening: Women of African Ancestry and the Making of America.
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