DISCUSSION PROMPT: During comments made in April of 2021, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, proclaimed that “America is not a racist country.”Whether or not people agree with that notion is a point of debate. What is obvious however, is that individuals can be racist irrespective of their own ethnic, socioeconomic or political background. As such, what happens when those individuals who have very narrow viewpoints and perspectives on race are either elected or appointed to positions of power and influence within government and the bureaucracy? In many instances they are now capable of using those positions and the systems in place to activate policies and actions that amplify their racist beliefs — this is how racism becomes what many call — systemic.Consider that in 2005 and 2007 the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decided the cases of United States v. Booker and Gall v. United States respectively. These cases effectively gave federal judges greater discretion during the sentencing phase of the criminal adjudication process. The belief was that providing an increased level of discretionary authority to federal judges in this area would result in more creative sentencing opportunities (i.e. rehabilitation programs, probationary options, etc.) The possibility that such authority could result in harsher punishments was never fully contemplated. However, based on statistics from the U.S. Sentencing Commission data reveals that prior to the Gall and Booker cases the disparity between sentencing times for white offenders compared to offenders of color was 5.5 percent. But following those cases the disparity increased to 15.2 percent in 2005 – 2007 and then increased again to over 19 percent from 2007 – 2016. What this meant was that offenders who were people of color, were being convicted of similar or the same crime as white offenders, but being given sentences that were almost 20 percent longer than the white offenders. Moreover, the diversity of our court system does not reflect the demographics of the country as 83 percent of judges are white. To be clear this does not mean that white judges are automatically predisposed to being racist or are somehow more racist than any other ethnic group of judges. However, there are other factors that must be considered. For example, ” A 2014 study published by the University of Michigan Law School, found that prosecutors’ initial charging decisions were a major driver of racial disparities in sentencing: All else held equal, African American arrestees were 75 percent more likely to face a charge with a mandatory minimum sentence than white arrestees. (Even for the same crime, prosecutors often have a variety of charges they can file.)” Additionally, “A series of studiespublished by the American Psychological Association, found that people are more likely to see black men as larger and more threatening than white men, even if the black men are not actually [physically] larger. Another study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2014 found that people are more likely to view black children 10 years and older as “significantly less innocent” than their white counterparts.” (Report: Black Men Receive Longer Sentences than White Men)Even in December of 2021, people called for the resignation of Louisiana Judge, Michelle Odinet, who was ultimately disqualified from working because her racial impartiality could not be substantiated. Ms. Odinet made comments while at home with friends but caught on camera where she watched security camera footage of an attempted break-in of a car in her driveway. The recording included the following comments:“And Mom’s yelling n*****, n*****,” says one male voice, to which a female voice responds: “We have a n *****, It’s a n*****, like a roach.”Do any of these studies or anecdotal accounts actually prove that America is racist? Not at all, but denying that racism is somehow no longer present within the structures of our government and social systems seems to be an inaccurate over correction to the opposing side. So, what could be the potential solution?
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