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?

One comment

  1. […] straight priv­i­lege, cis priv­i­lege, and so on. And they all inter­sect in ways: for exam­ple, CeCe McDon­ald, as I posted, was dis­ad­van­taged and oppressed both as a trans woman and a black woman. And most peo­ple are aware […]

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