Crooked numbers: America’s biased justice system

Over 90 percent of crimes against black people are committed by black people. Sounds awful, right? “They’re all killing each other,” you’ll often hear from the mouths of white suburbanites.

It’s a nice diversion, but it’s totally irrelevant when discussing the fairness of America’s justice system.

What if I told you that nearly 85 percent of crimes against white people are committed by other white people? That’s a totally real statistic, just like the frequently discussed black-on-black crime percentage, but I haven’t heard many people talking about.

I have a crazy suggestion: crime is bad and often tragic, regardless of who does it – blacks, whites, yellows, purples.

The fact that crime against a person of particular race is often done by someone under the same racial umbrella isn’t some groundbreaking piece of news; it’s a result of geography and the human tendency to live in areas where most people look similar to you.

In other words, I’m white, most people I know are white, and the neighborhood I live in is predominately white. If someone is going to commit a crime against me, it’s highly likely that the person will be white. This is not some big New York Times scoop, and anyone throwing out these irrelevant numbers is simply avoiding a more important, complicated discussion.

We all know crime is bad, regardless of which skin color commits it, but the question is whether or not our justice system is fairly doling out punishment for those crimes – or not doling out a just punishment when a certain race commits them.

So when you hear somebody cut off a debate about inequality in our justice system by either bringing up similar crimes against white people or falling back on the black-on-black crime numbers, chances are they’re just not willing to have an honest discussion – or they simply have biases of their own.

The good news is you don’t have to simply take my word for it when I say that there are clear racial disparities built into our system; the numbers speak for themselves.

African-Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white people, and one-third of black males will see prison time in their lives (Bureau of Justice Statistics).

Black and white people use drugs at roughly the same rate, yet black people are almost four times more likely to be arrested for it (Human Rights Watch).

African-Americans serve about as much time in prison for a drug offense as white people do for a violent offense (Sentencing Project).

Men of color are four times more likely to be shot and killed than somebody who looks like me (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and black teens are 21 times more likely to be shot by a police officer than a white person of the same age (ProPublica; FBI).

In total, black and brown people make up a combined 58 percent of our prisons, while those two racial categories make up only a quarter of the American population.

This is neither my opinion, nor is it an attempt to incite a race war. These are the facts. And anyone who cares about living in a country that strives to treat its citizens equally would recognize that we need to fix these things.

If we come together, we can do just that.

Poor Darren Wilson

Ever since the Ferguson grand jury decided that the life of Michael Brown wasn’t even worth a trial, there has been a firestorm of heated debate across the country.

Many people, from Cleveland to L.A., have turned out to protest not only because of the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson, but because of a justice system that more and more people believe undervalues the lives and rights of African Americans.

People on the other side of the debate claim that Michael Brown was up to no good and essentially asked to be killed. He robbed a store – even though the full video shows what appears to be Brown paying for those infamous cigars – and his death was his own fault. Officer Wilson had no choice, they say.

Regardless of your stance, everyone can agree that the death of someone so young – an 18-year-old just days away from starting technical college – is a great tragedy.

Well, almost everyone.

That’s why I was a bit puzzled when someone said this to me recently:

Officer Wilson lost his career and will have to uproot his family and start all over. Where is his justice?

My short answer to a question filled with such lunacy is this: Darren Wilson gets to live; Michael Brown does not. Wilson’s family hasn’t lost a loved one; Brown’s family has.

But, okay, let’s dive into the many injustices facing poor Darren Wilson.

First of all, Wilson emerged virtually unscathed after his “violent confrontation” with Michael Brown. Don’t take my word for it; check out the pictures released by St. Louis county officials. Does this look like a guy who was about to be beaten to death? I’ll save you a click and just tell you no, it does not.

Secondly, Darren Wilson fired 12 rounds at an unarmed teenager, who barely left a scratch on him, AND he successfully convinced a grand jury that those dozen shots were necessary – no indictment, no trial, no prison time. Poor Darren Wilson!

And, let us not forget about the fact that Mr. Wilson is rolling in cash. A woman who organized three different pro-Darren Wilson Facebook pages says that her backers have raised roughly a half million bucks for Wilson. This woman says that $500,000 is a “conservative estimate” and that number could likely climb past the $1 million mark. When all is said and done, he’ll have more money than he would have earned after 10 years of a police officer’s salary.

Oh, the injustice of getting away with killing an unarmed teen and becoming a millionaire! Poor Darren Wilson.

Forgive my angry sarcasm, but this is absolutely ludicrous.

To all of those who jump out of the woodwork to defend the killing of so many young, black men, what’s your game? Why do you think it’s your duty as a white American to justify all of these killings?

This really isn’t about the evidence. I’m not saying I agree or disagree with anyone on the particular details surrounding this case. I’m just wondering why so many white Americans are inclined to have sympathy toward the guy who pulls the trigger instead of a family who lost a loved one.

The people who do this have no apparent dog in the fight, yet they make it their life’s work to trash whatever legacy these deceased teenagers might have in hopes of saving the reputation of the cop who did the killing.

It’s one thing to believe that there was not enough evidence to convict Darren Wilson – that’s a separate debate. It’s a whole other thing to say that the only sympathy we should feel is for the man who still has the privilege to live and be with his loved ones.

But this is America, after all, where the dying voice of previous generations still continues to call the shots when it comes to how much value we give the lives of African Americans and other minorities.

Let me remind you again: Darren Wilson is alive, newly married and awash in money. Michael Brown is dead, his future stopped in its tracks, and his family is left to mourn him.

But, no, we should all feel bad for Darren Wilson.

Think what you want about what’s been unfolding in Ferguson, but please spare me the garbage about how we should feel sorry for a guy who lost nothing but 12 rounds from his gun.

Catching up on being thankful

When I was about 5 years old, my parents went through a terrible divorce. None of my hazy memories from that time period are particularly good. All I know is that there was a lot of fighting and screaming and slamming doors.

After a nasty legal battle, my sister and I eventually ended up living with my mom. She didn’t have much money, and we even spent some time on food stamps. For a while, we didn’t have beds to sleep in or a dinner table to sit at. The first year, I remember being upset about not having a big Christmas tree to decorate.

What’s most important, though, is the fact that I still got to live the life of a normal little kid. And I didn’t fully understand just how thankful I should have been for that, especially given the circumstances.

I had friends and I idolized Batman and I traded Pokemon cards. I fought with my sister and played little league baseball and watched Disney movies. Summer nights were filled with games of backyard hide ‘n’ seek and winter was filled with bottomless mugs of hot chocolate.

These are simple things that many of us experienced when we were kids. At the time, we don’t think much about them. But as I get older, the more often I find myself catching up on being thankful and thinking about those days with such gratitude, wishing I had understood how lucky I was back then.

Just being given the chance to experience the basic things that life has to offer is an amazing blessing, even if you’re going through some struggles, and we should all be thankful for having those chances.

If you ate dinner today, you should feel blessed. Millions upon millions of people around the globe are living on an empty stomach as we speak.

If you woke up in a warm bed or under a roof, you should be grateful. Too many people wake up under bridges or on city streets.

If you spent time with a loved one or gave someone a hug today, you should be thankful. Loneliness is something that far too many people suffer from every single day, and we shouldn’t take for granted the people that are close to us.

Just remember, there are families everywhere who will sit down at the dinner table tomorrow and have to endure the pain of seeing an empty seat that a lost loved one left behind.

So, all these years later, I’m starting to understand just how thankful I am to have this life. It may have taken some time, but it’s never too late to catch up.

Happy Thanksgiving.

A few comments on Ferguson

I just want to make some quick comments about what’s been unfolding in Ferguson and across this country. This is mainly for all those people who keep saying, “If Michael Brown was white and Darren Wilson was black, we wouldn’t even be hearing about this right now.”

I agree with you; we wouldn’t be hearing about this right now if that were the case. But in saying that, you’re missing a more important point: Why wouldn’t we be hearing about this if the races were reversed? And the answer to that is simple: A. This rarely – I mean rarely – happens to white teenagers (black teens are 21 times more likely to be shot by the cops than a white person of the same age); B. In the rare case that it does happen, justice is almost always served; the shooter either goes to jail or faces a trial. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the racial make-up of our country’s prisons; it’s clear who has the advantage when it comes to dealing with the law, and that’s something that needs to be fixed.

So, please, stop whining about how white people don’t get the same attention when something similar happens. You might be right, but the reason why you’re right is simply because the system works well when white people are the victims, meaning it won’t attract much media attention.

Most of you reading this are probably white, and that’s fine. I happen to be white myself. And I certainly don’t condone violence of any sort. But we have to understand that racism still exists, particularly racism that’s built into our institutions. If you’re white and you kill someone, you just need mental help or it’s somebody else’s fault. If you’re black and kill someone, you’re an animal or a thug who needs to be put away for life.

We might not understand the extreme reaction we’re seeing in Ferguson, but we also don’t understand what it’s like to deal with the pain and frustration of having to live in a country whose justice system is constantly putting you at a disadvantage.

That’s all for now.

End the war on Thanksgiving!

Target recently announced that it would be opening its doors at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, joining Sears, Kohl’s and Macy’s, who all open at the same time on Nov. 27. Last year, these stores opened at 8 p.m.

Not to be outdone, Best Buy, J.C. Penney and Toys R Us will be welcoming shoppers at 5 p.m., just as your drunk uncle finishes carving the turkey.

This has been a trend over the last few years: instead of keeping their doors shut for the holiday, many stores decide to open them in the evening on Thanksgiving – or even stay open most of the day – in order to cash in on consumers who just can’t wait one more day for the big sales. And every time an open sign flashes to life on Thanksgiving Day (an angel loses its wings?), the holiday loses a little bit of meaning.

So, can we all just suppress our addiction to shopping for 24 hours? Because if we don’t, more and more businesses will respond by keeping their doors open, essentially removing any meaning this holiday still had left.

We live in a world that dishes out increasing amounts of stress on a daily basis, leaving people less time to stop and catch their breath. The least we can do is preserve the few days that still exist, so everyone can hit the pause button and catch a home-cooked meal with the people they love.

Sure, the stores are partly to blame, but do we really expect any better from cash-hungry corporations? They are in the business of getting as much of our money as possible, and they wouldn’t open their doors on a holiday if there wasn’t a sizable demand coming from us, the sheep who think a cheap plasma screen TV from K-Mart is more important than spending a day with family.

One day. One meal. Honestly, you don’t even have to smile.

What we can blame the stores for is forcing their employees to work on a day when they should have the choice of being with their families, or even just lounging around at home in their pajamas. There was a time, I believe, when holidays weren’t commercialized out the wazoo. Heck, people actually enjoyed driving to grandma’s house on streets lined with empty parking lots and unlit open signs.

Oh, the good old days.

There is more to Thanksgiving – and any holiday, really – than getting together with the family for a big meal. What makes it even more special is that mostly everyone is celebrating it, just like you, with the people they love. If this trend of commercialization continues, it won’t really be a holiday at all. It might as well be any old Thursday.

So, for goodness’ sake, stay home on Nov. 27. Argue about politics with your racist uncle or pretend to enjoy the peculiar-looking jello your great aunt insisted you try. Above all else, spend time with your family and keep the annual tradition of Thanksgiving alive. You might not think it’ll make that big a difference, but you never know.

Because if we keep going in this direction – if we keep rewarding businesses who decide an extra buck is more important than an American tradition – Thanksgiving Day will become just another day. That is something none of us should want.

Veterans deserve more than empty words

Saying “thank you” to a veteran who has served or is currently serving in the military is a good thing to do on Veterans Day. These are people who put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms, and they deserve nothing but our endless support and gratitude.

But we can’t just forget about our veterans once the calendar flips to Nov. 12. There is still much more we can and should be doing for them.US-Troops-R_jpg_600x345_crop-smart_upscale_q85

We can start by electing leaders who understand that it isn’t weakness to show restraint when it comes to using military force. As a former president once said, “We should lead by the power of our example, not the example of our power.”

Politicians who think it’s cool to constantly suggest sending American combat troops to war – I’m talking to you, John McCain – probably don’t have a son or daughter who may get shipped off into battle.

We have a moral responsibility to make sure we only send our troops into danger as a last resort – and when we must send them, we should give them clear objectives and an ultimate plan to get the hell out.

The other side of the equation, caring for our veterans when they come home, is just as important.

One example of just how much our leaders have failed our returning soldiers continues to be seared into my memory. In 2012, a jobs bill specifically designed for veterans came to the floor of the U.S. Senate. The legislation would have provided funding for communities to help returning soldiers find work. It was estimated that 20,000 veterans across the country would find employment as a result.

What happened? Republicans, determined to block any legislative accomplishment for the president weeks before the election, filibustered it. It was a blatantly political vote.

A more recent attack on our veterans comes in the form of GOP-demanded cuts to food stamps, which took effect in Nov. 2013. There are 900,000 low-paid, active duty members of the military who receive these benefits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Before the cuts, the average recipient received about $4 a day for food; that number is now less.

Republicans and their sheep certainly get their rocks off whenever they have the opportunity to label food stamp recipients as “lazy freeloaders.”  What they seem to forget, or at least conveniently ignore, is that nearly a million of those “freeloaders” are men and women who have fought or continue to fight for this country.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there.

In February of this year, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that provided funding to expand health care programs for our veterans. It would have created 27 new medical facilities to help boost health services for men and women returning from conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What’s so striking about this is that many of the same people who voted to send our troops into a misguided war in Iraq also voted to block these measures. Essentially, it’s okay to send our soldiers into a quagmire in the middle east, but it’s not okay to help them find work or afford food or receive the proper medical care when they return home.

These politicians can wrap themselves in the flag and talk about how much they appreciate our veterans until they are red, white and blue in the face; their, however, records prove otherwise. Over the course of the past several years they have shown just how empty their appreciation is.

So while saying “thank you” to our veterans is a great thing, it’s far from enough.  And it certainly doesn’t give any of us an excuse to ignore how poorly our veterans are being cared for every other day of the year.

We all have the ability to put some meaning behind our words, and it starts by electing leaders who support our troops as much as they say they do.

Because our veterans deserve more than words, and right now they aren’t getting it.

 

(This is an updated version of a post from one year ago)

 

Republicans will win the Senate. Or they won’t. Honestly, it makes no difference.

Put away your polls and your graphs that try to predict the performance of a certain political candidate or party right down to the decimal point. No scientific formula is going to figure out exactly what tomorrow’s election results will be, particularly given how many states are within a few percentage points of swinging toward either party.

But, here’s the beauty of this election: we don’t need to know the outcome of these individual races in order to have an understanding of how things will change afterward.

I’ll tell you very clearly what will be different after this election: nothing.

Right now the current U.S. Senate consists of 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans, and 2 Independents. Since both Independents vote with the Democrats, it’s essentially a 55-45 Democratic majority. You might think this majority means something, but you couldn’t be more wrong.

A subversion of Senate rules by the GOP has basically given Republicans the power to block any piece of legislation they don’t like – and all they need is 40 votes.

Since 2010, we’ve basically had a Senate controlled by the minority party.

A good example is when the Senate voted last year on a proposal to expand background checks to cover all firearm purchases in this country. A majority of Senators (54-46), including some Republicans, voted in favor of this legislation – a proposal 9 out of 10 Americans support – and it still failed to pass.

How could this happen? Because Republicans use their filibuster power to block any bill their extreme base won’t support – which is just about anything the president breathes on, no matter the actual merits of what is being proposed.

This tactic has been used by the GOP to block everything from health benefits for 9/11 first-responders to paycheck fairness to ensure men and women earn the same money for the same job.

If the Republican Party wins a slim majority in the Senate, which many pundits predict, they will bring us an extra helping of this gridlock, which they have heaped on our government since 2010. In other words, the results of this election will bring us no beneficial change in our personal lives or in the way our government operates – just more of what we’ve already seen.

No jobs bill. No minimum wage increase. No help for students with mounting college debt. No equal pay for equal work. No legislation that will do anything to improve the lives of those Republican-leaning folks who will inevitably make up a higher percentage of tomorrow’s midterm election voters.

If I have to make a prediction, sure, I would say that Republicans will make gains in both chambers of Congress. They may even achieve a slim majority in the Senate. Historically, this is normally what happens. It’s especially the case this year, since most of the contested seats are in states that always lean heavily toward Republicans.

But, as conservative columnist George Will said yesterday, this is the Seinfeld election; an election about nothing. The outcome just doesn’t really matter. Barack Obama will still be president, and Republicans will still work their tails off to ensure that nothing productive happens while he’s in office.

Yes, you should vote; there are still many important races and issues on your ballot, wherever you are, especially state and local elections.

Just know that the probable results of this year’s national elections will bring you nothing but more of the same gridlock we have seen for the last four years. Denying Republicans a chance to officially control another portion of our government would be positively meaningful – and it’s another major reason why you should still vote – but there will be continued political stalemate nonetheless.

For an election with a little more meaning, stay tuned for 2016.