Racism is blamed for just about everything negative involving blacks. The debilitating effect of this is that it doesn't afford us the motivation to look inward and work to find effective solutions to our race's problems. It's easier to just holler "Hey, look over yonder" than look right here.
That's what is happening with the implication that racism is the reason for the disproportionate number of blacks in prison. Those who consider the fact that one-half of the murders in America are committed by blacks (mostly male and black-on-black) could easily conclude that blacks commit disproportionately high rates of other types of crime. Notice that bars also guard homes, businesses and even churches in some of our neighborhoods. Those who are suffering are law-abiding, poor blacks who cannot afford to escape those crime-infested neighborhoods. But the media and our so-called black leaders seem to be more concerned about the welfare of black criminals than about the safety of average citizens.
A good example of this attitude was featured in an article that appeared on the front page of The Huntsville Times. The article noted that two out of three Alabamans in prison are black although almost three out of every four Alabamans are white.
Racism, of course, must be the culprit. After all, what else could it possibly be? State Representative Alvin Holmes, a black Democrat, said the numbers were "shocking and unbelievable." He added, "It makes you wonder, as a person who went to jail 27 times for civil rights causes, if your work was in vain and worth the suffering you went through."
Am I missing something here? As someone who has read several books on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement, I don't remember anyone in the past fighting for the civil rights of hardened criminals of any race. Besides, why are we demonizing the criminal justice system instead of those who commit the crimes? After all, the law-abiding citizens whom the crimes are perpetrated against are the victims, not the criminals. Moreover, I think this is a moral issue rather than a racial one. Can I hear some amens from the ministers out there?
The Times reported that the director of Auburn University's Montgomery Center for Demographic Research, Don Bogie, said the prison statistics prove there are problems in the state's legal system. "It gives an indication that they are going after the kinds of crimes that are committed by people of lower incomes," said Bogie.
Robert Sigler, a criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama, "theorizes" the reasons are more economic than racial. "Poor people go to prison. People of wealth don't," Sigler said, adding, "A large number of black Americans are poor." Now I'm really confused. When the debate is "blacks on welfare," the comeback is inevitably "there are more whites on welfare." In "raw" numbers, this is true. But if poor whites outnumber poor blacks in America, and being poor is the only reason for the disparity behind bars, then please tell me why there aren't more (poor) whites in prison than (poor) blacks. Jeeeez!
State Representative Holmes agreed with Sigler. "Economics - that's 99 percent of it," Holmes said. "When people are unemployed, they are hungry. The water is off. The lights are off. It causes them to do things that people who are employed with money don't do." This is garbage. I will venture to say that the majority of poor blacks who fall in this dismal economic category are law-abiding and God-fearing, moral people who don't look to crime as a solution. Holmes also says this leaves less than one percent of the problem to drug abuse and other factors. This is unrealistic. And I guess the fact that the majority of the blacks in prisons are fatherless also has nothing to do with their situation.
Blaming the criminal justice system, a bad economic situation,
or racism for the high number of blacks in prison is a cheap cop-out.
Secular humanists, the media and black liberals are giving our
black youth excuses for committing crimes. They won't admit the
high number of blacks in prison is a moral issue. Neither would
they admonish the advice "If you don't want to do the time,
don't do the crime." No, that would be too simple.
(R.D. Davis is a member of the African-American leadership
network Project 21 and a writer and radio talk show host in Huntsville,
Alabama. He can be reached at [email protected].
A photo of Mr. Davis can be downloaded at http://www.nationalcenter.org/StaffP21RDDavis.jpeg.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.