Inequality in the Legal System Essay

Inequality In The Legal System Essay

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In the United States, true equality has never existed. From the Declaration of Independence to modern times, the US legal system has failed at any attempt at equality. ‘...all men are created equal...’ may be what the Declaration says, but ‘some men are more equal than others’ is how the legal system interprets that phrase. The actual reality of the Declaration of Independence is that all free, white, landowning men are created equal. Therefore, inequality has always existed in the united States’ legal system and continues to exist today ;however, the inequality presently in the system is not as blatant as what it once was. Slavery continued in the United States for nearly ninety years after the Declaration, and African Americans still feel the sting of inequality today. If the US legal system is blind and just as it is supposed to be, why, then, is a minority, such as the African American race, the majority? One of the most controversial issues today is the act of racial profiling. The most common form is direct, meaning victims are directly profiled, usually by the police. In this form, individual officers act on racial stereotypes against racial minorities, especially African Americans. Recent studies in New Jersey and Illinois have confirmed that minorities are disproportionately targeted by police officers, although minorities are almost helpless in reporting ‘color of law’ attacks. It is their word against a legal official and, in most cases, the minority victim does not receive justification because the officers are cleared of charges. In 1957 President Eisenhower mandated that the United States Department of Justice prosecute civil rights violations, to include police misconduct, thus, allowing uniform application of civil rights law across the nation. Officers cleared of wrongdoing often do not understand the legal guidelines for police misconduct and feel unjustly targeted by the Department of Justice or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which have jurisdiction in this matter. That feeling of injustice is false, considering that out of nearly 10,000 color of law complaints received each year by the Department of Justice, only about thirty police officers are actually prosecuted (Schafer). Since 1957 approximately 74 percent of all civil rights investigations reported each year allege police misconduct (Schafer). In the rare case that a police officer is actually punished, penalties could range from probation all the way to the death penalty depending on the severity of the crime. According to a June 1999 study done by the American Civil Liberties Union, many states have denied that racial profiling occurs despite overwhelming evidence supporting it. The public wants to believe that police officers are doing their jobs righteously by protecting and serving ;however, according to the study, most Americans can recognize the difference between racism and assertive, effective policing (Worden). Millions of Americans watch television everyday for various reasons, but the most common one is to get the latest news. People like to stay informed, but what good is it when they are constantly being misinformed? The media tend to ‘profile’ just as much, if not more, than police, just in an indirect way, thus, the second form of racial profiling. The media fails to cover their own profiling, but are the first to criticize police racial profiling. When they actually do acknowledge their own profiling, they tend to try to cover it up more than give coverage. The number of African Americans involved in an issue are usually over-represented by the media, therefore further racializing the issue. This fact that African Americans seem to be so largely involved in so many issues is viewed as nothing more than unfortunate reality, so it is not viewed as racism. Certain issues constantly associated with African Americans include drugs, crime, welfare and the affirmative action policy. Indirect profiling by the media focused mainly on tow topics: drugs and crime. Public opinion polls indicated the overwhelming majority of Americans had ‘relatively little firsthand experience with the extent of the problems associated with drug use.’ Also ‘the majority of Americans report getting most of their information about the seriousness of the illicit drug problems from the news media, mainly television’ (‘Media Blackface’). An article written by Raja Mishra appearing in the Denver Post on March 19, 1998, reported how ‘doctors said the public has been misled by media accounts of certain issues’ (Media Blackface’). In March 1998 two studies on the United States drug policy were released by the Physician Leadership on the National Drug Policy. The first study concluded that drug treatment of drug addiction was not only an effective health measure, but that it was much more cost-effective than the criminalizing policies of the current ‘drug war’ (‘Media Blackface’). One section of the study showed how, contrary to popular perception, drug addicts are not primarily members of minority racial and ethnic groups. The research showed, conclusively, that drug addiction reaches across all strata of society. The most likely drug users and abusers are actually educated Caucasians. Last year over half of those who admitted using heroine and 60 percent of monthly cocaine users were Caucasian. 70 percent of regular marijuana users were reported as Caucasian, while only one sixth were reported as African American (‘Media Blackface’). Another study about the public misperception of drug use was ‘The Public and the War on Illicit Drugs’, a survey of fifty years of public opinion. It appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study found that although Americans did not think the so-called ‘war on drugs’ was succeeding, they did not want to abandon the criminalization approach pushed by the government (‘Media Blackface’). The PLNDP presented the JAMA study at its press conference to emphasize how public opinion and the judgment of physicians were at odds against each other and how the news media was playing a leading role in misinforming the public about the health and financial issues at the heart of the ‘Drug War’ policy (‘Media Blackface’). These findings were not covered by any of the three major newsweeklies including Time, US News & World Report or Newsweek. When the story was actually covered by CNN Today, Associated Press, and USA Today, the dominant media focused on the disconnection between the views of the public and the research of the physicians-but said nothing about the role of the news media in fostering the stereotypes fueling the bad drug policy (‘Media Blackface’). A crime study done by the UCLA professors Franklin Gilliam and Shanto Iyengar entitled, ‘Crime in Black and White: The Violent, Scary World of Local news’, appeared recently in the academic journal Press/Politics. It found through a content analysis of a local television station KABC in Los Angeles that the coverage of crime featured two important cues: ‘crime is violent and criminals are nonwhite’ (‘Media Blackface’). It revealed how television viewers were so accustomed to seeing African American crime suspects on the local news that even when the race of the suspect was not specified , viewers tended to remember seeing an African American suspect. Another crime study done by Yale University professor Martin Gilen entitled ‘Race and Poverty in America: Public Misperceptions and the American News Media’, was published in the Public Opinion Quarterly in 1996. The study found that while African Americans make up 29 percent of the nation’s poor, they constitute 62 percent of the images of the poor in leading news magazines and 65 percent of the images of the poor on leading network television news programs (‘Media Blackface’). On these news programs the poor were not only portrayed as African American, but they were also portrayed in the most unsympathetic fashion.
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