Like many Black Americans, I held my breath in anticipation of the verdict for the George Floyd murder. After ten hours of deliberation, the jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of first-degree murder, second degree murder, and manslaughter. Although relieved for the verdict, Black Americans have been placed, once again, in the space of great anticipation and anxiety—for the sentencing of Chauvin in the coming weeks.
Chauvin faces up to 75 years in prison for the murder of Mr. Floyd, but the community fears an incongruent sentencing, rooted in white privilege, may yield a much shorter sentence for Chauvin. The systems of policing, prosecution, conviction, sentencing, and reentry are designed to produce disenfranchisement for communities of color. The system of policing, birthed from the enslavement of black people, operates in complete dysfunction—as it was designed to do. Black communities are both under-policed and over-policed. In other words, high levels of police presence in black neighborhoods undermines the purported rationale of increased safety. Undoubtedly, a militarized police presence in black communities has led to a pool of black defendants for prosecution. According to The Sentencing Project’s 2018 Report on Racial Disparities in the U.S. Criminal Justice System:
“African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, and they are more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences. African-American adults are 5.9 times as likely to be incarcerated than whites…”
According to 2018 Department of Justice figures, increased policing budgets have not yielded lower crime rates nationally. In 2021, Black people make up nearly 39% of the federal prison population, but only represent 13% of the American population.
The United States Sentencing Commission found that “Black male offenders received sentences on average 19.1 percent longer than similarly situated White male offenders.” In other words, when controlling for prior criminal history, crime classification, and aggravating factors, black people receive a nearly 20% longer sentence because of their race.
The project, commonly known as the War on Drugs, has in recent years been denounced by many politicians for its devastating and targeted impact on Black communities. To this end, some states and local governments have begun the process of decriminalizing marijuana-related offenses. While 11 states have passed laws legalizing recreational uses of marijuana, Black people remain disenfranchised from participating in the profitable weed industry. In 2017, less than 5% of owner stakeholders in the marijuana industry were Black.
Just 10 miles from the murder site of George Floyd, Daunte Wright was murdered by a 26-year veteran police officer who alleges she mistakenly shot him with her gun, instead of her taser. Just last week, Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, was killed by Columbus Police Department. Compare the police outcomes of black people with white people suspected of serious crimes. See, Roger Hedgpeth (threatened to assassinate the President with a knife on his person, arrested without incident; Robert Aaron Long (killed at least eight Asian Americans to carry out hate crimes against the Asian American community, arrested without incident); Dylan Roof (murdered 9 black people at church and taken to Burger King by the arresting officers); James Holmes (murdered 12 people and injured 49 others in a mass shooting in a Colorado movie theater, arrested without incident). These inapposite examples of police violence confirm a system of white supremacy.
Why can police officers disarm and deescalate white people suspected of serious crimes, but cannot exercise the same level of restraint for black people?
Even controlling for seriousness of the alleged crime or ‘resisting’ on the part of the alleged offender, black people have disproportionately more violent or fatal outcomes with the police. Through emotional and physical assault, economic decimation, educational disadvantage, and others, the weaponization of Black skin is maintained.