Larry Kerschner Writes

Martin Luther King

       Martin Luther King dreamed of a nation where people would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.  Unfortunately, a look at the so-called justice system in this country shows we have a long way to go to before seeing Dr. King's dream.  In 2003, African-Americans were five times more likely than Caucasians to have been in jail.  African-Americans make up thirteen percent of the general population but forty-four percent of prisoners under federal and state jurisdiction were Black.  Blacks are forty-eight percent of those on death row.

        Recent Bureau of Justice statistics estimate that nearly one in every three Black males will serve time in a federal or state prison during their lifetime predominantly related to drug offenses.  The effects are felt in the communities in many ways after release of these men from prison.  Those convicted of felony drug conviction have reduced access to jobs and related health benefits.  Since 1996 they are legislatively restricted from public housing.  Since passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 access to food stamps is restricted.  This act also limits access to many jobs, licenses, permits, and military service.  Access to financial support for higher education is restricted to those convicted of drug felony by the Higher Education Amendments of 1998.  The right to vote is also limited in many states.

       The disproportionate rate of minority confinement in the prison system combined with the post-prison effect of many vindictive laws lead directly to high recidivism rates. Incarceration affects social support networks and family relationships, economic vulnerability, and access to social and risk reduction services.   Studies show that White adolescents are more likely to use illicit drugs than their African-American counterparts, and to initiate both illicit and non-illicit (alcohol, tobacco) drug use at younger ages.  That being the case I have to assume that another factor such as the color of skin is the main reason that Black youth are 5-10 times more likely to be incarcerated than same age Whites. 

      We need to take a good look at ourselves as a society.  We need to stop building more prisons than schools.  We need schools that teach the true history of this country.  How many schools teach the fact that the Constitution of this country contained statements that Black people are inferior to White people?  How many schools teach the genocidal murdering of the Native peoples? Until we look clearly at where we have come from we can have little hope of changing the direction we are headed.   We need truth and reconciliation in order to make a society in which people are no longer judged by their skin pigment.