In America alone, there are currently around 2 million inmates who are serving time in jail, prisons and detention centres. This makes up 25% of the worlds entire inmate population, yes, a quarter.
Going back into the history of America’s incarceration system, the infamous “war on drugs” movement by President Nixon in the 1970’s was a clear influence on the increasing inmate population. The “war on drugs” basically means that there was a huge crackdown on the monitoring of drug use and dealing. In result of this movement, the rate of incarcerated Americans rose very significantly and it only increased from there.
With Nixon being a conservative Republican leader, the “war on drugs” was implemented with the intent to target particularly black and brown neighbourhoods. The population of these areas was mostly of poor residents; some were known to be involved in drugs to be able to make money or for their own use. Nether less, this movement of Nixon’s was a tactic to put more poor people of colour behind bars and to increase the prison population.
Now with over 2 million Americans in prison, there is a need to question if everyone, especially its Black population deserves to be there.
Throughout the course of time, stereotypes have been prominent in society and whether we know it or not, these stereotypes can shape our bias of different people. It all depends on the familiarity of this type of person we may have a bias for.
For those we grow up with or see everyday, we can individualise them and are less likely to pigeon hole them into a ‘type’ of person. However with people we aren’t so used to being surrounded by, there is less knowledge of the individual. The little knowledge we have of this kind of person may become the same if we see any more people like this in the same way.
To contextualise this, if we look at the current population in America based on race, out of over 327 million people in total, around 76.5% are predominantly White, while around 13.4% are predominantly Black (U.S Census, 2018). With such a large White population, it is easy to see that there is more familiarity with various White faces and personalities. There is also a much higher representation of White Americans in the media, increasing this familiarity. While on the other hand, Black Americans are not given so many chances to be represented as individuals. There is mostly a negative representation given to them, mostly crime related, this leading for so many Black individuals to be seen in the same light.
There is a lack of context and insight given to why this negative stereotype exists and the colour of someone’s skin becomes all the context needed to dictate a person’s innocence. This becomes very dangerous when Black Americans are sent to prison mainly based on how they are perceived by others, rather than the facts of the case.
WHO: Antron McCray (15), Kevin Richardson (14), Raymond Santana (14), Korey Wise (16), and Yusef Salaam (15)
Five teenagers from New York were accused of the beating and rape of Trisha Meili, who was jogging in Central park. Four of the teenagers were originally taken in for investigation as suspects, as they were seen in the park that night, yet in a different section to the crime. The fifth boy, Korey Wise was invited by police to give his friend Yusef Salaam company while he was being questioned. Some time later, Korey was questioned and added to the suspect list.
THE SENTENCES AND TIME SERVED:
Yusef Salaam was sentenced to serve five to fifteen years of Juvenile Prison for first-degree rape and robbery. Yusef served 6 years and 8 months.
Kevin Richardson was sentenced to serve five to ten years of Juvenile Prison for attempted murder, first-degree rape, first-degree robbery and also first-degree sodomy. Kevin served 5 and a half years.
Antron Mccray was sentenced to serve five to ten years for first-degree rape and robbery in Juvenile Prison. Antron served 6 years.
Raymond Santana was sentenced to serve five to fifteen years of Juvenile Prison for first-degree rape and robbery. Raymond served 5 years.
Lastly, as Korey Wise was 16 when convicted, he was sentenced to five to fifteen years as an adult in Prison for first-degree sexual abuse, first-degree assault and first-degree degree riot. Korey served 12 years.
PROOF OF INNOCENCE:
There was no sufficient DNA evidence to match to any of the teenagers.
HOW WERE THEY CONVICTED?:
Detectives were asked to collect and question any black male who was in Central Park that night of the incident. Investigators were struggling to come to a conclusion of who was responsible for the beating and rape, so they narrowed their suspects down to these five boys.
They were brought into individual questioning without being sure they are with a parent or guardian or even their right to a lawyer. This is illegal, and these young boys were not told by detectives that they have those rights.
While being questions, all five of the boys denied being involved in the incident and said multiple times they were not eve aware that that incident even happened. In return, detectives became more verbally and physically abusive and forced each of the boys to say they were a witness and that one of the other five boys was attacking the woman.
This abuse and coercion went for hours without the access to sleep or food overnight into the next day. Eventually, when detectives had all of the boys saying what they wanted to hear, they filmed these coerced confessions on camera. These videos were used as evidence against the five boys. Despite the investigator’s failure to find any actual DNA evidence, their manipulation of the court system lead them to win the case.
All five men are now fully exonerated and have recieved compensation for their injustice.
The media takes in the conventions and stereotypes of different kinds of people and puts that in the forefront. Unfortunately, with so much of the media being owned by white corporations run by white people, there is often a lack of differing perspectives when it comes to the content we consume.
This lack of different perspectives can be most impactful to viewers is when it comes to the news. Whether we are reading a newspaper, watching a news program or reading news articles online, it is the headline that catches out attention. Just a sentence can shape which opinions we form of the article before we start reading or watching it.
It is when these headlines make assumptions about race based on bias and stereotypes where they can become dangerous. When words such as THUG, GANGS, TERRORIST, ANIMALS and others exist, they are so often linked to the people of colour in question. These words have been used when no conclusions have even been made in whether they are guilty or not. On the other hand, white suspects in question are more often described as TROUBLED, FAMILY MAN, STUDENT or MENTALLY ILL. This implies that they are innocent on default, yet what they have done is just a minor flaw in their character.
Eyewitness testimonies are a legal form of evidence regarding a crime and rely on the memory of someone present at the crime and what they recall. While it can be very helpful in some cases if this is the one lead to solve a case when other evidence is less sufficient, it has its shortcomings in other cases.
Where eyewitness testimonies lack sufficiency in cases is that they are based on someone’s word and said memory, yet there is no tangible proof that these testimonies are always true. Unlike DNA evidence, based on science, eyewitness testimonies can be skewed or changed, even based on opinion. Because of this there is not always a way to be able to tell how far from the truth the statements is.
Just like opinions can skew testimonies and that person’s memory, bias can affect this even more. There have been multiple cases where people have been asked about whom they saw involved in the crime scene, and they provide very vague descriptions of people of a certain race. Most of these cases involve describing a ‘black man’, and struggle to find any distinguishing features other than what you could imagine when you think of when you picture a black man.
If someone is struggling to remember small details of a case, they can subconsciously create details that fill the gaps in their memory and this is what racial bias can do. This can become harmful when investigators take this description seriously and focus on finding subjects who match this.
This is one of the leading causes of wrongful incarceration of Black Americans because DNA evidence becomes a second priority behind eyewitness testimonies.
While we do not have the death penalty here in Australia, it is scary to remember that this form of punishment still remains in America. It is even scarier to see that not everyone who has been sentenced to death has been the guilty party in the case.
According to the Death Penalty Information Centre, since 1976, of those 1,509 people executed, it is possible that 16 if not more are innocent. While this number may not sound like much, it still highlights how flawed America’s death penalty system has been over time.
The death penalty also has a race problem regarding incarcerated Black Americans and the decision of their punishment. The final decision is mainly based on the views of the jury and ultimately the judge(s). It is when there is a courtroom of majority of White people in a case of a Black person as the defendant where racial bias skews opinions.
It is very important that this can be avoided as an individual’s life should be decided upon in the most fair way possible. In an ideal world, racial bias should be out of the picture when it comes to the death penalty because it should not have any relevance to the crime in question.
The chance to live an independent adult life has been taken away from people who spend this time in prison. They are sent for convictions they have not even committed, thanks to poor analysis of forensics. Is there a reason why it is innocent Black Americans who are so often being pushed into a narrative of being the perpetrator?
This platform aims to share information of why many Black Americans have been wrongfully convicted and to educate viewers of how this can so negatively impact their lives. In doing so, we hope to bring more attention to this issue and for this to be brought into action through sharing this site, as well as making donations seen throughout the platform and sharing those too.