Check out this great interview by Jon Stewart with Bryan Stevenson, author of the new book JUST MERCY. (Bryan is one of my personal heroes, I have to admit.)
His main thesis is that we need to have a discussion about discrimination and race in this country, and that we need to face it squarely in the same way that Germans face their history of the Holocaust.
Here are some facts to ponder:
- We have more people in prison than any other nation.
- And here is why our rate is so high: in a phrase — the failed War on Drugs. Now factor in mandatory sentences and the 3 strikes rule, not to mention our NRA-fueled obsession with guns, and you get a pretty good idea of what's going on. [Funny how these are all hot-button issues with the GOP.]
- See how blacks and Hispanics are statistically over-represented due mostly to the War on Drugs because inner city neighborhoods are where the cops make these busts — not in the suburbs, although drug use in the suburbs and in urban areas is roughly equivalent.
- The Justice Department is now reporting that 1 in 3 black male babies born in the 21st century is expected to go to jail or prison. The statistic for Latino boys is 1 in 6. That statistic was not true in the 20th century. It was not true in the 19th century. It didn't become true until the 21st century.
- According to U.S. Bureau of Justice estimates, more than 846,000 black men were incarcerated in 2008. African Americans make up 13.6 percent of the U.S. population according to census data, but black men reportedly make up 40.2 percent of all prison inmates. In fact, there are more black men in prison and jail, or on probation and parole, than there were slaves before the start of the Civil War, and more black men were disenfranchised due to felony convictions in 2004 than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.
- A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery.
- Oh, yeah: Funny how incarceration rates have jumped since we started to privatize prisons (a GOP favorite). When folks can make money off prisoners, suddenly there are a whole bunch more of them. Hmmmmmmm
In Peterson's own word:
We have never committed ourselves to a process of truth and reconciliation of our history: we didn't talk about the consequences of the myth that created and justified slavery and so slavery didn't end — it evolved; we didn't think about what it meants to terrorize people between Reconstruction and WWII; and we had Jim Crow and Reconstruction for decades without appreciating the harm done by that to people.
We don't even want to talk about the legacy of racism that continues to haunt us, let alone come up with ways to fix it. In Germany, you can't go anywhere without running into some memorial, some monument or some plackard talking about the holocaust and what the Nazis did to the Jews. But where are the memorials here? In this country, we try and hide the worst parts of our history. We (too ironic, this word) white-wash the past. We barely mention these things in the history books we give to our kids, except a page or two about slavery and the Civil War, and a paragraph about MLK and Civil Rights. But talking about the success of the civil rights movement is not facing the causes behind it. Where are the strange fruit art installations hanging from the trees of our parks? If someone were to mount such an installation, they'd be accused of race-baiting, of promoting divisiveness. But how can we ever come together as a nation without facing our past, without looking it in the face and admitting what we did and continue to do. We're trapped by our silence.