The American justice system is rockin’ the suburbs

Let me tell y’all what it’s like 
Being male, middle class and white 
It’s a bitch, if you don’t believe,
Listen up to my new cd, shamone

–Ben Folds, “Rockin’ the Suburbs”

First off, I apologise to Mr. Folds for using his song about nu metal bands in a blog post about racism.

A common meme in the political systems is that “racism is over”, because Barack Obama was elected in 2012. It’s pretty patently bullshit, though, because Obama is subject to a lot of racist shit that Bush, Clinton, Reagan, et cetera, did not receive as President, and it’s all sugar-coated in the guise of “I’m just asking questions” or “I’m just a concerned citizen”. Take a look at the birth certificate conspiracy theories, for example. Where are the people demanding Romney’s birth certificate? When you consider that the only other President to have received such questions was Chester A. Arthur, who was a) born close to the border and b) was Irish by descent (and therefore, the argument goes, Catholic, a political suicide in the 1800s), it’s seen in a different light. It runs through American conservatism, where the patriarchy of straight cis white Christian men must be upheld: look at their erasure of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement as racial conflicts, which they claim was about “state’s rights”, when it was about keeping the black population as second class citizens.

I had an interesting discussion with several friends about the Trayvon Martin case several days after George Zimmerman was charged with second degree murder; I commented that, were Zimmerman black, they’d already be preparing the execution chamber. In apartheid-era South Africa and Nazi Germany, they had a legal system which elevated minorities to be honorary members of the ruling caste. I iterated the point that Zimmerman, like Herman Cain before him, had been given this honorary status by the American right; especially Zimmerman, despite the fact that he was a Hispanic, that’s not as bad as being Black in their estimation, in the same sense of the terrace chant, “I’d rather be a Paki than a Jew”.

The American justice system does disfavour ethnic minorities, the working class, and women; 39% of the prison population in America is black, for example. Whether it’s a result of being poorer than average (which does increase the likelihood of crime, if purely out of desperation), or a result of being black, or both, is a matter of debate, but it is there.

Nothing could make that more obvious than the case of CeCe McDonald, a black trans woman who was charged with second degree murder for killing her attacker in self-defence. An attacker who called her a “faggot” and a “nigger“, who glassed her, who had a giant fucking swastika tattooed on his chest. She took a pair of scissors out of her purse to defend herself, and her defence resulted in the death of her attacker. For that, for being a black trans woman, she was threatened with 40 years in jail. As a person, a human being, to whom transgender equality and respect matters very much, it makes me sick to read about the details of the case.

The criminal justice system wasn’t kind to her either. Let’s not forget that Minnesota, where she lived, is a concealed carry state. But when it came to her trial, all the evidence that made it clear it was self-defence was excluded. Gone was the fact that her attacker was a neo-Nazi. Gone was her attackers’ theft convictions. Gone were the witnesses who would testify on transphobic violence. Gone were the potential LGBT jurors. And in came her conviction for cashing a bad check. In came a bloody shirt that prejudiced the jury against her. And in came the prospect of spending most of her life in a men’s prison, in which she would be forced to cessate any gender therapy, would be at the mercy of the transphobic prison population, and would be put in solitary confinement for all of her incarceration, for “her own safety”. I don’t blame her for taking the plea bargain of three and a half years. But it’s wrong that she should be incarcerated for living while trans, and living while black.

And this is just one trans person, one black person, one black trans person, for whom the criminal justice system has failed, and there are thousands of similar cases every year. Yesterday, it was reported that no criminal charges would be filed against police who shot a black Marine veteran to death because his medical bracelet went off. And consider that George Zimmerman would’ve escaped without charge for following a black teenager for five minutes before shooting him, were it not for international outrage.

But hey, racism is over, right?

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