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All Black Lives Matter. In every circumstance. No matter what.

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

All Black Lives Matter.

In every circumstance. No matter what.












Protests. Outrage. Demands for change. This upset comes in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, accumulating from Black Lives Matter protests and initiatives over the past several years since the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. Yet, while awareness of police brutality and racism have resurfaced in the public arena due to video footage and media coverage, the dehumanization of black lives is far from a new phenomenon.

Systemic racism is embedded into the very fabric of American society; no institution is left unscathed. In fact, our treatment of black lives exemplifies the adage, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” Our country was built on the labor of African slaves, and the abolition of slavery merely changed the terminology of the systems oppressing of black lives. Systemic racism remains entrenched in our criminal justice system, communities, healthcare system, and schools, producing severe racial disparities across each sector.

Some people contend that poverty, not racism, is the driving force of inequality across racial groups. While racism and poverty certainly overlap and are interconnected, poverty alone does not account for the racial discrimination and disproportionately negative outcomes that people of color experience in America. Even when socioeconomic status and other confounding variables are controlled for, racial disparities remain.

This paper provides a historical account of systemic racism, contextualizing contemporary racial disparities by diving into America’s dark past and illuminating the systems of oppression that are preventing black Americans from realizing the rights and quality of life they are afforded as human members of our society. By learning our history and developing deeper understandings of systemic racism, we will be better equipped to identify and address racism in our daily lives,serving as anti-racist allies in this nationwide quest for racial justice.

Important Terms:

Disproportionate indicates that a racial group is overrepresented or underrepresented in a given measurement compared to its percentage of the total population.

Disparity is a large difference between two things. In the case of this report, “disparity/disparities” and “disparate outcomes” refer to inequitable outcomes on the basis of race.

Implicit Bias refers to how people have racial prejudices that are not conscious or overt, but are still acted upon unintentionally (Brownstein, 2019).

Individual Racism involves individuals’ personal presumptions on race that result from conscious and unconscious prejudice.

Systemic Racism is used to describe the organized rollout of policies and practices that are embedded in societal structures and institutions, which facilitate the promotion of some racial groups to the exclusion of others (Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, 2019).

White Privilege refers to the inherent advantages, or privileges, that white people possess simply by being white in a society that is racially unequal and unjust (Oxford Dictionary). Note that it does not undermine the life struggles white people can, and do, experience. Regardless of race, people can face many trials and tribulations throughout their lives. However, some struggles people face are specifically due to their race, and regardless of the obstacles white people endure, those due to race will not be among them... that is white privilege. The U.S. Criminal Justice System


People of color have historically, and are currently, disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system. Throughout history, the criminal justice system has taken on many forms, but all have served as a means of social control for people of color. Each time blacks were afforded rights, backlash from opponents sought new ways to restrict those rights. At its inception, the police were used to capture and return runaway slaves and control the masses of factory workers clamoring for labor rights. Following the abolition of slavery, jails and prisons served as the primary form

of social control for black Americans and backlash to racial progress. Jails for the first time became overpopulated with blacks, and convicts were leased to white business owners in need of cheap labor. Blacks performed free, grueling labor in horrendous working conditions that rivaled slavery. Backlash to the passage of the 13th and 14th amendments led to the Jim Crow Era, which ushered in public spectacle lynchings and segregation that terrorized African Americans and stripped them of their newfound rights. Rather than protect and defend the black population, the police often participated, and even facilitated, the lynchings. When lynchings became disfavored in the media, governments turned to legalized lynchings in the form of capital punishment.

Overwhelmingly, black defendants were, and still are, overrepresented among those that receive the death penalty, with the race of both the victim and the defendant contributing to whether the death penalty is pursued. White mobs were often successful in demanding government officials perform public executions, which amassed thousands of people, long after such executions were prohibited by law. Despite its lynching roots and blatant racial disparities, capital punishment

remains legal in the United States and continues to target people of color, many of whom are still convicted and sentenced with all-white, or nearly all-white juries on the basis of circumstantial evidence.

Backlash to the Civil Rights Movement brought a new tactic of socially controlling and disenfranchising blacks. This time, the backlash to racial justice manifested under the guise of the War on Crime and the War on Drugs. Latent with racially discriminatory rhetoric that was once only prevalent in segregationist circles, calls for law and order soon infiltrated and dominated mainstream political rhetoric among Republicans and Democrats alike. The consequences of these politically-driven initiatives led to the entrapment of millions of people in the U.S. criminal justice system, more than any other country in the world. Overwhelmingly and disproportionately, those incarcerated were people of color. The rates of incarceration of people of color were incongruent to their rates of offenses and proportions of the nation’s population. Communities of color were deliberately targeted and people of color faced harsher punishments than white offenders who committed identical offenses. Even upon release, formerly incarcerated individuals face social restrictions and disenfranchisement, preventing them from freely and fully participating in society.

The U.S. is still grappling with the ramifications of these policies today. These historical and political contexts lay the framework for the police brutality and desperate outcries from communities of color seen today, with blacks 3 times as likely to be killed by police than whites, and 1.3 times as likely to be unarmed when killed. Police brutality is not a new phenomenon, nor is it the sole contributor to the institutional racism infecting the criminal justice system. To effectively address these racial injustices, a massive overhaul and reformatting of the criminal justice system is needed, in which individuals, police, government officials, and policymakers alike work together toward establishing a society that upholds the value of all its citizens’ lives - not only in theory, but also in practice.


“By affording criminal suspects substantial constitutional rights in theory, the Supreme Court validates the results of the criminal justice system as fair. That formal fairness obscures the systemic concerns that ought to be raised by the fact that the prison population is overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately black” (Cole, 1999).

Slavery has had a lasting, damaging impact on the African-American experience in the U.S. Modern law enforcement in the south originated from Slave Patrols, which primarily functioned to capture and return runaway slaves and instill terror to deter slave rebellions (Potter, n.d.). After slavery was abolished, new systems meant to control and exploit black bodies were immediately ushered in. Following the Civil War, the south was decimated, with fields being destroyed from fires, floods, and neglect during the war. Whites, who had established homes, businesses, and customs prior to the Civil War, were teetering on the brink of poverty. Newly freed blacks, who had no assets or foundation as citizens, were freed into very perilous economic conditions. In desperation, many newly freed blacks began stealing food from whites to get by.

Historically, southern whites had already associated blacks with criminal behavior. Slaves routinely stole from their masters, deeming it recompensation for their exploitation or merely a “recycling” of the master’s property. Racist views of blacks’ biological inferiority caused many to accept such actions as “natural to the Negro” (Oshinsky, 1996). The difference now was that rather than an offense being perceived as committed against the slave owner, who would then privately punish the slave and move on, such crimes were now seen as offenses against the state. As such, it increasingly became law enforcement’s job to regulate the behaviors of former slaves (Oshinsky, 1996). Additionally, numerous laws were passed that specifically targeted black, leading to tens of thousands of African Americans being “arbitrarily arrested” and “hit with outrageous fines,” leading to further arrests when they were unable to pay such extreme fines (Blackmon, 2012). Convictions against blacks rose, and the demographic composition of Southern jails and prisons changed rapidly. It what seemed to be overnight, “the jailhouse had become ‘a negro preserve’” (Oshinsky, 1996). Thus marked the beginning of racially targeted arrests and the disproportionate incarceration of people of color that persist today (Blain, 2020). The southern prison infrastructure was not designed to accommodate this influx of people. One state official observed “Emancipation will require a system of prisons,” citing that prisons were nearly at capacity prior to the end of slavery and blacks’ involvement in the criminal justice system (Oshinsky, 1996). The solution for these overwhelmed jails and prisons was convict leasing.

Edmund Richardson, a southern businessman who had lost much of his fortune during the Civil War, struck a deal with Mississippi's federal officials. He convinced them to ease the burden of the jails and prisons by leasing some of the convicts, who were overwhelmingly former slaves, to him, as he needed cheap labor to work his land. Richardson assured authorities he would feed, clothe, protect, and treat them well. Not only did officials agree, they even paid him $18,000 annually for the maintenance and transportation of the inmates. In addition to this stipend, Richardson pocketed all of the profits earned off the grueling, free labor of the convicts. Richardson’s bargain marked the beginning of an era of convict leasing, during which “a generation of prisoners would suffer and die under conditions far worse than anything they had ever experienced as slaves” (Oshinsky, 1996).

As convict leasing expanded after reconstruction officials left the south, southern government officials began leasing out falsely incarcerated blacks to local businessmen, farmers, and numerous corporations, including U.S. Steel, who were looking for a cheap and plentiful labor supply. Freed from slavery, black Americans found themselves entangled in a neoslavery system, where they were repeatedly bought, sold, and tortured with beatings and grueling physical labor, doing “the bidding of white masters for decades after the official abolition of American slavery” (Blackmon, 2012). Individuals who were convict leased were racially segregated, with black convicts doing the “nigger work,” dangerous, labor-intensive work in coal mines, sawmills, cotton fields, swamplands, and railroad camps. Reports of the farming conditions blatantly lied and casually mentioned the deaths of dozens from gunshot wounds and disease. Meanwhile, southern government treasuries generated millions of dollars, once again orienting the southern economy around free black labor (Blackmon, 2012). Ultimately, convict leasing “was a system that pitted rich people against poor people, whites against blacks, and ex-masters against former slaves. Its profits would be widely resented and narrowly shared” (Oshinsky, 1996). As the prisons and convict leasing systems filled with black bodies who had typically committed minor, often arbitrary crimes, white Democrats rallied around white supremacism, fear, and outright violence to suffocate the newfound rights of blacks and regain political control. They “launched an ‘indiscriminate assault on blacks,’” killing dozens “in broad daylight, without the slightest hesitation of disguise,” since “white opinion strongly supported these crimes” (Oshinsky, 1996).

In the north, the genesis of the modern police force emerged in the 1830s in response to disorder as a means of social control, particularly those with economic power. “Disorder” is not to be confused with “crime.” There is little evidence to suggest crime was spiking during this time. Rather, it was economic interests that drove the creation of a contemporary, public police force. Urbanization and inequality were on the rise, with factory workers heavily exploited and exposed to inhumane working conditions and compensation. Unrest within the working populace catalyzed the creation of “an organized, centralized body of men...legally authorized to use force and maintain order, it also provided the illusion that this order was being maintained under the rule of law, not at the whim of those with economic power” (Potter, n.d.). These departments were “notoriously corrupt and flagrantly brutal,” pawns of local politicians and routinely participated in ballot-box-stuffing, vote-buying, and strike-breaking. Some historians have gone so far as to refer to these early police departments as “delegated vigilantes” that used “overwhelming force against dangerous classes’ as a means of deterring criminality” (Potter, n.d.).

Even after the 14th amendment was passed and afforded blacks equal protection and citizenship privileges, Jim Crow laws swept the nation, restricting these rights. They were passed on the untrue premise of facilities being “separate but equal.” Noncompliance to Jim Crow laws was responded to with police brutality and vicious violence by white vigilante groups that police turned a blind eye to. More disturbing is that racial terror lynching, often facilitated by police, was used as a vehicle to enforce and ensure racial segregation and Jim Crow laws. In May 1866, white Memphis police officers began firing into a crowd of black men, women, and children. The events culminated in white mobs ransacking black neighborhoods, seeking to kill and drive out all black people from the city. After three days of violence, 46 blacks were killed, 91 houses, four churches, and twelve schools were burned down. Additionally, at least five women were raped and many blacks permanently fled (Equal Justice Initiative, 2017). Then, less than three months later in New Orleans, black men attempted to attend a state constitutional convention to discuss furthering voting rights and the eliminating Black Codes. There was a confrontation between black supporters and white opponents in the streets, and the white mob started indiscriminately shooting blacks, convention supporters and bystanders alike. White police officers did not defend the black victims, but instead participated in the attacks, using various weapons to arrest and kill several blacks. Ultimately, there were 48 black casualties and 200 wounded. Lynchings, often organized, claimed the lives of thousands of African-Americans. Often, they were public spectacles, in which thousands of white spectators came to watch victims be tortured, dismembered, whipped, and burned before ultimately being killed (Equal Justice Initiative, 2017).

A 1919 newspaper announcing a planned, public spectacle lynching (National Archives via the Equal Justice Initiative, 2017).

Spectators smile and pose for the camera after witnessing a lynching (James Allen et al., via the Equal Justice Initiative, 2017).


FCLNY 2020 Full Systemic Racism Report
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