The Making of Mass Incarceration in the African Commmunity

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Freedom, equal opportunity, and safety. These are a handful of the things included in the all-American dream. This is the dream that Martin Luther King so eagerly sought out and generations later it’s still being denied in the African American community. The United States has been posing as if it’s the land of the free while forty percent of African Americans make up the prison population but only account for thirteen percent of the population (NAACP).

The African American community has suffered collateral damage dating all the way from slavery.

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This has left them an unfair advantage while still trying to fight through the racial caste system that constantly makes them seem like a nuisance to society. The African American community has suffered through the epidemic of injustice and mass incarceration due to institutionalized racism, economic hierarchy, and the war on drugs and poverty.

In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson called for a “War on Crime”. This began targeting of low-income communities across the United States. Presidents following him, such as Reagan and Kennedy began to expand the movement by including the war of poverty and drugs. “The targeted deployment of such crime control programs in urban areas began with Kennedy’s total attack on delinquency. The program was intended to provide- low-income citizens in sixteen cities with… social welfare programs as a strategery to prevent youth crime.

Johnson expanded Kennedy’s intervention on a national scale and reframed it as a “War on Poverty”, while also introducing more aggressive and exhaustive supervision in the black urban areas previously targeted by the Kennedy administration… When Richard Nixon took office in 1969 he disinvested from his predecessor’s more progressive programs and seized upon the punitive impulses of Johnson’s domestic policies, introducing draconian sentencing reforms, supporting the targeted deployment of aggressive local, state, and federal undercover police squads on the streets of American cities, and incentivizing prison construction” (Hinton).

It initially sounds great that Presidents took the time to specifically call action to tackle crime, poverty, and drugs but this damaged communities more than it helped. It was not the transformation the low-income communities needed but instead, a reaction to the potential disorder the urban community “burdened” them with. Policymakers fail to realize that being jobless and having a low- income are just side effects of poverty. One of the biggest factors is lack of opportunity. The first step in lowering mass incarceration is trusting in people’s ability to develop their own capabilities.

One of the main roots in the development of mass incarceration is the racial disparity in drug convictions. “Despite the fact that more than 66 percent of crack cocaine users are white or Hispanic, almost 85 percent of those serving federal sentences for crack cocaine are African American. For powder cocaine sentences, this disparity does not exist. The ADAA, among other things, created mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking crimes, including cocaine. As it stood under the new law, 500 grams of powder cocaine, but only five grams of crack cocaine, triggered a five-year mandatory minimum. Similarly, five kilograms of powder cocaine, but only 50 grams of crack cocaine, triggered a ten-year mandatory minimum.” (Issues).

Policymakers tried to slyly hand Caucasians shorter jail sentences by giving less jail time for powder cocaine. They did this fully knowing that it’s the type of cocaine that Caucasians heavily sold while African Americans predominantly sold crack. Powder and crack cocaine are both very detrimental to the body so just because a Caucasian chose to make profit using powder opposed to crack cocaine shouldn’t be a reason for law enforcement to release them any sooner. Until this law was revised copious amounts of African Americans faced jail time while Caucasians walked away with half the time at most.

The excessive amount of police force lacking adequate training in the black community also plays a huge role in the production of mass incarceration. “In 2016, black Americans comprised 27% of all individuals arrested in the United States—double their share of the total population. The rise of mass incarceration begins with disproportionate levels of police contact with African Americans. This is striking in particular for drug offenses, which are committed at roughly equal rates across races.

“One reason minorities are stopped disproportionately is because police see violations where they are,” said Louis Dekmar, the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police) the chief added: “Crime is often significantly higher in minority neighborhoods than elsewhere. And that is where we allocate our resources.” The War on Drugs as well as policing policies sanction higher levels of police contact with African Americans. This includes higher levels of police contact with innocent people and higher levels of arrests for drug crimes.

More than one in four people arrested for drug law violations in 2015 was black, although drug use rates do not differ substantially by race and ethnicity, for example, the ACLU found that blacks were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites in 2010, even though their rate of marijuana usage was comparable”(Sentencing Project). There is no explanation for the vast amount of the arrest the black community faces compared to other races when committing exact same crime other than racial bias and profiling.

If the authorities are already walking into a situation with a negative notation about African Americans it’s already setting up an opportunity for a violent encounter to occur. When police officers are already expecting a community to be more dangerous they are going to respond with a more deadly force. All this does is evoke anger and frustration from the community and raise tension. This starts an ongoing cycle of violence that results in jail sentencing or death.

However, most of this can be avoided by focusing on properly training troops in diverse settings so they are comfortable dealing with all races. This will limit preemptive contact and countless hours spent on ineffective policies. As said before, African Americans have been trying to fight through economic hierarchy since slavery. From picking cotton all the way from helping others profit while serving a jail sentence.

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The Making of Mass Incarceration In the African Commmunity. (2019, Jun 18). Retrieved from