Friday, September 21, 2007

Black Thursday Brings Attention to Racial Disparities

Thousands of people convened in the small town of Jena, Louisiana yesterday to support the Jena 6, six black teens who were initially charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate. Hip hop artists that traveled to Jena included Mos Def, Ice Cube and David Banner. Thursday, September 20th was dubbed "Black Thursday" as many people wore black across the nation in support of the march and to protest against unequal justice.

Radio personality Michael Baisden did an incredible job of organizing this march, mobilizing the nation on this important issue, which has brought attention to the racial disparities within the nation's judicial system.

Tina Jones, a mother of one of the Jena 6 youth said, "I hope that the D.A. will wake up and realize that he's doing the wrong thing, and to release these kids," she said. "It's not equal. The black people get the harsher extent of the law, whereas white people get a slap on the wrist per se. So it is not equal here."
It's not equal in many cities.

Let me introduce a term to you: Disproportionate Minority Contact, or DMC.

This term describes the degree to which youth and his/her family come in contact with public services (i.e. police, child welfare, etc.) experience fair outcomes and are held accountable based on their own circumstances, not based on their race/ethnicity, living conditions, income, or family composition. DMC exists when minority youth/families have differing outcomes, usually more harsh. Let me give you an example: A disproportionate number of black youth that are arrested by police are sent to juvenile services, as opposed to being referred to a diversion program. Once a youth is in juvenile services, it is likely they will go deeper within the system.

Although this issue has been studied by the federal government and several states, few cities have been able to reduce their DMC.

There are two organizations that are committed to addressing racial disparity within the judicial system.

In a previous post, I highlighted the work of the Sentencing Project, a national organization that works for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration. The organization has become a leader in the effort to bring national attention to disturbing trends and inequities in the criminal justice system. This past July, the Sentencing Project issued a report, Uneven Justice. In the report it cites that African Americans are incarcerated at nearly 6 times the rate of whites and Latinos at nearly double the rate.

Another organization that is committed to addressing this issue is the W. Haywood Burns Institute. Based in San Francisco, they are a leading national organization that works with cities to reduce the over representation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system.

One way to effect change is to be informed. That is just one of the reasons I began this blog. What laws and policies may unfairly target people of color? In some cities wearing saggy low slung pants, which is popular among African American males, means run ins with the law, stiff penalties and even a stint in jail. In a Baltimore Sun article, Benetta Standly, statewide organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia says, "In Atlanta, we see this as racial profiling. It's going to target African-American male youths. There's a fear with people associating the way you dress with crimes being committed."

Photo: Washington Post


Anonymous said...

I've never heard the terms: "Disproportionate Minority Contact." Where did it originate?

Tracey said...

DMC has been on the national public policy agenda for at least 17 years. To date, the federal government and several states have worked to analyze conditions which lead to DMC in the juvenile justice system; make changes in how decisions about youth are made; as well as increase community-based program alternatives.