The History of Social Injustice in America
“American inequality didn’t just happen. It was created.”
In this essay, I will examine the historical injustices that has caused a division in this country today by examining everything from slavery to being instutionalized, justified brutality and murder, generational economic inequality and disproportionate laws for minorities and racial relations that have shaped the United States. Furthermore, we can equivocally conclude that race is key in various social issue. Racism is repetitive a regenerative action that has been re-developed with each generation essentially causing a universal regression.
Imagine two different societies:
(a) First, everyone lives in harmony with one another, crime is at a minimum, and offenders are given community service as a restorative action. Everyone has the same wealth, if a crime is committed the social contract will determine the punishment, there is no prisons or any weapons.
(b) Second, everyone is divided by the color of their skin, the lighter the skin the more money is given simply based off completion.
The society is closely monitored and even the smallest infraction is reported to the authorities and prosecuted to the fullest extent. When taken to jail, you are given the minimum amount of food necessary, given a job with no real compensation, education or job skills have to be self-taught, you share a grey brick small cell, the families within this society have to work to make up income for of those that are incarcerated.
Which society would you choose? As drastically different as these societies are both of them exist today.
What if I told you that society B was America? Would you still choose to live in that society? This is the world that we live in a world of unequal justice.
In the Divide, Taibbi suggests that there is the wealthy and the poor with nothing in-between causing an existing wealth gap. He starts off with examining the repeal of Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, which was an act by Congress during the Great Depression that separated commercial banking and investment essentially allowing the financial institutions to make their own financial rules, creating fraudulent loans and selling them to customers in the form of securities eventually causing the housing crisis even when several executive’s knew and participated in these illegal activities. Taibbi starts his journey covering the white collar crime specifically JPMorgan Chase, who committed a variety of financial offenses and when they were caught they simply agreed to pay $13 billion dollars in restitution without one of their executives serving any jail time. He contributes this to first the financial institution’s accumulation of wealth of these prodigious institutions which allows the restitution to be minimal compared to their daily opulence. Second, the legal representation are some of the best and brightest lawyers often with the hopes of paralleled between the Department of Justice and vying for a coveted position at the same institutions they are tasked with prosecuting which essentially would be career suicide as Taibbi suggest “the rule of law has slowly been replaced by giant idiosyncratic bureaucracies that are designed to criminalize failure, poverty, and weakness on the one hand, and to immunize strength, wealth, and success on the other.” (Taibbi, pg. 5, 2014) The paradigm for banking and corporations is that they have no real consequences because, they are able to avoid any real consequences as preventive measures for repeat offenses.
On the other hand with America poorest people are subjected in targeted areas to volume arresting. New York State’s Attorney General reported that the “Stop-and-Frisk” program (in which civilians were temporarily detained, questioned, and sometimes searched) disproportionately affected NYC’s blacks and Hispanics. Whereas blacks comprised 26% of NYC’s population, they accounted for 51% of all stops. Hispanics comprised 24% of the population but accounted for 33% of all stops. In strong contrast, whites comprised 43% of the population and yet accounted for only 13% of all stops. (Spitzer, 1999) Targeted areas with some of the most disproportionate amount of detainments and arrest with the harshest penalties and the longest sentences. Furthering the disproportion of wealth and allowing the wealthy to flourish and the poor to remain in their current state.
Among the necessitous, are illegal immigrants “The very brokest people in America, Hispanic immigrants, are one of America’s last great cash crops.” (Taibbi, pg. 217, 2014) They are targeted because, they are not entitled to basic rights of United State citizen, which doesn’t allow them rights to request legal representation, detained for a substantial amount of time without a charge and more importantly excessive fines and bail. Previously they would deport them to the nearest country no matter where they originated from but, now the U.S. Custom and Border protection along with judges who work for the same organization Instead of deporting since many of the illegal immigrants are a huge source of labor they are detained, released to house arrest until trial which would allow them to work but, still impose excessive bails and fines disproportion to the amount their earnings. The common theme among minorities legal and illegal is debt, debt that comes from being poor and barely affording basic living necessities and compounding it further owing the government for fines and bonds whereas, the wealthy are not subjected to the same policing tactics and even if they are found guilty of illegal activities they are able to get the minimum to no sentencing. Historically, the disproportion has going on since the beginning of colonialism. In order to exam the inequality that is occurring today we have to look back at historical injustice.
First, the ability to colonize is to explore, conquer and systematic ravage every region of the world. The motivation behind colonization was simply gold, God and Glory. European voyagers were sent by their perspective regions simply motivated by the possibility of becoming financially affluent by pilfering other continents of their natural resources for profit. In the Doctrine of Discovery “whatever land you find not ruled by Christian rulers, those people are less than human and the land is yours for the taking” enemies of Christ …reduce their persons to perpetual slavery…and to convert them to his and their use and profit.”  This principle was, that discovery gave title to the government by whose subjects, or by whose authority, and it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession. [1823 Johnson vs McIntosh] Religious conversion was another reason for to colonize “saving by converting souls” was a huge part of Christianity moral duty in an effort to change perceived savage conditions.
Competition was fierce between European colonies so the more continents that they were to conquer during the 15th century the more bragging rights were obtained. Colonialization was the start of economic inequality applying financial amounts to natural resource that were only traded previously. Thus creating wealth for colonizers and the first forms of enslavements for the natives of the dystopian land. Distributive justice would have to require the 13 Europeans to come in with resources and share them over the regions they colonized and any resources that were acquired financially were shared however, from history we know that this was not the case. It was beneficial for early human beings to deprive others of their resources without consciousness the truest and purest form of savagery.
Cultivation of acquired land from Native Americans were part of the motivation to acquire slaves from the continent of Africa extradited to foreign continent to work the land in which resources were developed to be sold for profit without having to pay for labor further dividing the economic inequality between European slave-owners decedents and minority slaves. The abolishment of slavery only allowed for slaves to no longer be in chains, allowed them to acquire property, legalize marriage but, would still be subjected to Black Code laws that would still subject them to servitude through conviction often times caused by committing crimes in order to survive in poverty or being falsely accused and is the first form of racialized policing.
Incarceration prior to slavery was mostly Caucasian Americans simply because, slavery was already a form of incarceration. Once African Americans were free former slave-owners in the South had to figure out another form of slavery and with that the development of legal prosecution under what was now known as Black Codes shifted the prison population from White to Black creating more correctional intuitional development which required the government to purchase land from already wealthy land owners. “The south’s prison population continued to from reaching 19,000 people by 1890 nearly 90% of those found were African America prisoners seemed to reflect an alarming rise in black crime so as early as 1890 African Americans are almost three times overrepresented in the prison population the general population is 12% the nation’s prisons a population of black is 30% thus cementing that black people are criminals.”  This was the beginning of state-sanctioned violence against African Americans, it allowed the state to create restrictive vagrancy law which allowed the authorities to arrest freemen after they considered to violate the smallest infraction and subjected to police brutality and sentenced by the state to hard labor.
Minorities decent into state sanctioned violence are just a modified version of evolved Black Code. In the case of Kalief Browder who just like under the Black Codes was picked up by police who are enforcers of the state for allegedly stealing a backpack and sent to Rikers Island for three years without a trial or conviction beyond the maximum amount of time given for a conviction of that offense. We see history repeating itself from the very conception of this country of African Americans being dehumanized by individual agents of the state and that this is a consist narrative that has been going on for centuries. The only thing that has changed is that there is imputable evidence that are displayed on social media platforms for the world to see. “So hundreds of thousands of people go to jail without committing crimes. Thousands or tens of thousands more commit extremely serious crimes, and no jail time even exist to detain them.” (Talibbi, 2014) African American men are locked away often times the maximum amount of punishment allowed whereas white men commit the same crime it eithers goes unnoticed on the minimum sentence. Upon release, they are denied of rights such as voting, employment, housing and public benefits are remanded. This employs a racial caste system that keeps black people at the lowest level possible and revoking probation with even the smallest infraction committed. When looking at state-sanctioned violence the authority has been given to law enforcement officers, often times when a minority is killed during an encounter with police officers the majority of the cases go without prosecution simply because, of a systematic loophole. Such as in the most recent 2014 case of Eric Gardner, who was put into a chokehold stating that “I cannot breathe” after being questioned about selling cigarettes outside a convent store the New York Police officer, Daniel Pantaleo was prohibited from using this subduing tactic claimed he used a “seatbelt” technique which is across the chest and not the neck which ultimately caused his death after the medical examiner determined that it was caused from compression of the neck. The state sided with Officer Pantaleo stating that they could not determine if the Officer had the mens reas in other words a guilty mind that is applied to criminal liability. We have seen state-sanctioned violence over and over again without anyone actually held criminally liable. The determination is oftentimes on the victim which usually results in death making prosecution under the same entity nearly impossible.
Racialized Border Controls
Just as African Americans are subjected to targeted police harassment, charged with crimes that they didn’t commit and incarcerated for lengthy period of time so were Latino specifically illegal immigrants. As Davis states “The racial Composition of this prison population is revealing, Latinos, who are now in the majority, account for 35.2 percent, African Americans 30 percent and white 29.2 percent” (Davis, pg. 13 2003) Not much has changed since the Immigration Act of 1965, just as the abolishment of slavery the Act was supposed to end discriminatory quotas based off of national origins and race however this is not the case. Just as African Americans were targeted with Black codes immigration enforcement criminalized aliens as a threat to national security over 400,000 immigrants have been detained and deported and double the amount are currently incarcerated through the Federal Bureau of Prisons with a very small percentage being detained and sentenced for actual criminal violations. So, if very few of them are actual criminals why are they being targeted like this? In my opinion the answer is simply because they are easy target. First, they will not be able to report a crime simply because, they fear being deported more than the actual crime themselves. If they are detained by either law or immigration enforcement they don’t have the same legal rights afforded to US citizens which makes it harder to obtain counsel and subjected to any term of detainment seem fit. Second, they are financially taken advantage of first by given any wage America employers see fit for long hours and often hard labor, if they are detained and released until trial they are subjected to disproportionate fines as part of economic exploitation until they are deported.
As Marx explained economic exploitation “is the sole foundation of their [capitalist] power to compete” (Marx 1906: 519–520) In my opinion, economic exploitation is the intersectionality between African Americans and Latinos as they are both subjected to the same amount of exploitation which continues to systematically keep them repressed. First, the financial intuitions the same ones that avoid prosecution for illegal provide distribution amongst themselves and wealth and targeting minorities through predatory lending, disproportion debt furthering the wealth gap. While a small percentage of minorities have achieved wealth in proportionate to that of white and thus using that as the foundation for which many may believe that the problem of racism has been solved. However this couldn’t be further from the truth, the majority of minority households still are far behind in net worth, education and overall household income in proportion to white households. Assumptions of economic ignorance is something that not everyone recognizes the negative effects of slavery and discrimination is a lingering and festering economic roadmap in which this society built wealth on the backs of servitude of others. Any economic advancement was met with resistance, circumventing them into poor neighborhoods, blocking them from better-paying jobs reducing some to crime and incarceration, exploiting them with businesses that were detrimental to their health, drug addiction, and alienation.
In my opinion, the most theoretical frameworks that are effective are transformative and restorative because, it is the bringing together of people and things that were damaged or destroyed. The least effective is distributive simply because, we can’t ever have the same number of goods or an equal playing field that would allow everyone to flourish and retributive which focuses more on the punishment of the offender than the actual rehabilitation. Historically from colonialism up until now we have shown a disproportion on the distribution within a society. This is simply by those that pursue hedonism even if a society started off with the same proportion of distributive justice and goods there would naturally be those who disposition would naturally gravitate toward leadership and dominance and this was the framework in which the enslavement of others, the need to gain more wealth and in doing so they were able to effectively establish a gap between those that were leaders gained and maintained wealth and those that were poor remained generationally poor. I think you need parts of each theoretical justice in order to begin to mend the problems of unequal justice. In order to do this, first it would require those that are wealthy to distribute their wealth among the society in which they live allowing everyone the option the provision to have and maintain the same lifestyle. Second, if everyone has the same economic resources then a social contract needs to be maintained without any outside influence. If someone within the society violates the social contract the society as a whole needs to decide the retributive punishment, as well as the restorative justice that would be contingent upon the offense, and the society, would have to come together as a whole in order to transform and grow. The problem with society now is that each one of these theories requires that the society comes together for the greater good of the collective but, we know this is not the case. America has worked harder at division than it has with bring everyone together. Marx understood that you needed to dismantle the system in order to move away from a capitalistic society that has divided us but, he like many other had no real answer on what to replace it with. This itself is the million-dollar question: How do we do away with the division in order to grow together as the collective? Like the societies I described at the beginning of my paper most people would say society A however we in America live in society B with racialized policing and border control as well as economic disproportionality
- [See Black Power]. (2014, Jul 5). Slavery by another Name [Video File]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/UcCxsLDma2o
- [Mark Charles]. (2016, Feb 24). What is the Doctrine of Discovery? [Video File]. Retrieve from https://youtu.be/N3oc84aLC-Q
- Davis, A (2003) Are Prisons Obsolete?
- Marx, K.
- Spitzer, E. (1999) The New York City Police Department’s “Stop & Frisk” Practices: A Report to the People of the State of New York from the Office of the Attorney General. 1999. [Retrieved 08/01/19]. Available online: www.oag.state.ny.us.
- Taibbi, M. (2014) the Divide: American Justice in the Age of the Wealth Gap