This write-up is an addendum to an epic 6 part series about slavery in the United States, then and now. No matter what you want to believe, Slavery never ended in the United States. It only changed names. Slavery turned to convict leasing, which turned to Jim Crow, (segregation) which became the war on drugs, which turned to mandatory minimum sentences, which turned into what we have today: A system that a human rights group out of Iran has cited as having human rights violations.
Yes, you read that correctly. Even Iran has noticed that there is something horribly wrong with America’s system of justice. I feel a deep sense of shame that a country like Iran noticed these problems before most of my own countrymen, and so should you. It’s up to all of us to correct these mistakes, in any way we see fit. Taking no action is no longer an option, however. Keep reading to see exactly why we have waited far too long already.
Here I have some personal stories that highlight different areas of the legal system and stories about the epic inequality that exists in the American criminal justice system as it currently stands today. Catch up with the first parts of this series here, here, here, here, and here.
FATE VINCENT WINSLOW, AVA DUVERNEY, AND KENNETH ROUSE
Meet Fate Vincent Winslow. He is currently serving life without parole in Louisiana. Homeless at the time of his arrest, police caught him acting as a go-between in a marijuana deal. What was he found holding in his pocket?
Less than $10 worth of marijuana. It wasn’t even HIS marijuana; Winslow wanted to earn money to eat so decided to act as the runner and only for that, the system sentenced him to life behind bars.
The man is serving LIFE in prison for less pot than it takes to get most people high.
Next, meet Ava Duverney; a mother with no prior criminal record at all. Sentenced to life without parole for conspiracy to distribute crack-cocaine, the jury based her conviction entirely on other people’s testimony. A couple of confidential informants called her and asked her if she knew where to get crack. She said that she might without giving names or even a phone number. Duverney only said she might know where to find some.
For that simple answer, she is locked up for the rest of her life. One of 105 people arrested in that particular sting; all of whom are Black.
Finally, meet Kenneth Rouse, who is currently on death row and tried by an all-white jury in North Carolina, but only after the prosecutors struck every Black person from the jury. This is a common practice.
One of the jurors who served at his trial – and convicted the man to die – later admitted that he decided the case based on his prejudices. Rouse still sits on death row today.
ALICE MARIE JOHNSON
Meet Alice Marie Johnson, a 62-year-old great-grandmother who writes plays, and spent the last 21 years in a federal prison.
Ms. Johnson, a single mother, raising five children on her own, was let go from her position as a manager. She couldn’t find work fast enough, so she made the same decision that many do in her situation. She decided to run some drugs to make quick cash.
There was no “victim” and no violence at all, but she was caught up in the sting. It didn’t matter that no one got hurt. It didn’t matter that she had never broken the law before in her life. The judge wasn’t allowed to show any leniency at all. Why? Mandatory minimum sentences, which you can read about here.
Ms. Johnson is one of 3,278 people serving out life sentences for nonviolent offenses. Of those, 79 percent are non-violent drug offenses, and 65 percent of them are Black.
THE POLICE, SUSPECTS, AND HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
Many human rights organizations have condemned the United States for our justice system practices. Human Rights Watch reported on mass incarceration and found that here in the US, even children are subjected to solitary confinement. A practice they consider inhumane.
Not only that, but they have sentenced CHILDREN under the age of 18 to serve a life sentence – without the possibility of parole.
Even an Iranian, yes IRANIAN human rights organization called Global Centre to Support Human Rights released a scathing report on the injustices in the American system.
Following are a few examples of what they have observed from Iran:
— The American police rely on brutalities. A ProPublica study found that Black males between the ages of 15 and 19 are 20 times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts, even when adjusting for crime rates.
— Americans do nothing about past police abuses. We see this play out time and again; the police shoot an unarmed, innocent Black person, and the justice system disciplines them with a paid vacation and a slap on the wrist, at best.
— Even from Iran, they can see that the United States embraces the prison system as a form of apartheid. There are more Americans behind bars that were held in Stalin’s gulags at the height of his power.
— American prisons often use isolation as a form of social control. It has been reported that over 80,000 people are subjected to this torture every year. And torture it is. A report the Committee Against Torture released condemned prisons for their use of solitary confinement. They say it violates not only the Convention Against Torture but also the Constitution.
— The U.S. is ranked fifth in the world for death penalty convictions behind only China, Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
So, let’s get real. These are only a few of the stories out of tens of hundreds of thousands of people just like these who have been caught up by a system that feeds corporate greed. They are little more than numbers to fill the prisons and build the goods.
We can do better. We MUST do better.
Featured Image: Drew Angerer /Stringer/Getty.