by Demetrius Walker
I've never agreed with the American criminal justice system. Point blank, it is wrong and unfair on too many levels. Since a youngster in New York, I have observed how our current system has destroyed more lives than it has protected, reformed, and/or rehabilitated.
To be considered the land of the free, the United States certainly boasts a dynamic air of hypocrisy. We have the HIGHEST incarceration rate in the world. In fact, the International Herald Tribune (owned by the NY Times) recently reported that "The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners (READ HERE)."
Very few people seem to have a problem with this in middle America. More than likely because this alarming figure affects the Black community in widely disproportionate numbers. I would venture to say that most African Americans, myself included, can list someone within their immediate reach that is incarcerated. Yet ALL Americans turn a blind eye to the prison industrial complex that assists young brothers like myself in donning orange jumpsuits. In case you haven't realized it, there is an entire system set up to fill and build prisons to the economic benefit of corporations and private ventures.
So why haven't there been widescale protests and marches against this problem in recent history? It's because you've been tricked... hoodwinked... bamboozled into believing the overall American criminal justice system is fair. I agree that criminals should face adequate punishment for crimes that are committed against other Americans. However, I completely disagree with this nation's drug laws in respect to non violent drug offenders. When I challenge this notion with the average individual, they usually admit that our current system has some hiccups, but later defend its merit in keeping the United States a safe place. This is such a farce that it sickens me to even type their words: "What's the alternative D? How could we avoid locking up non violent drug offenders? They deserve whatever happens to them because they broke the law, etc." To these questions I ask you to look at the circumstances surrounding the incarceration of Clarence Aaron.
Mr. Aaron had no previous criminal record. He was a successful student and athlete, graduating from LeFlore Magnet High School in Mobile, AL. He scored in the 74th percentile on the ACT. He attended Mississippi Valley State University and later transferred to Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA, where he was attending on an athletic scholarship for football and was majoring in marketing. During college, Clarence held a summer job through his membership with the International Longshoreman's Association and participated in activities with his local Masonry Lodge. Clarence is the only son of Linda Aaron. In the summer before his final year at Southern University, Clarence was approached by a childhood friend from Mobile who asked Clarence if he knew of anyone who could supply him with cocaine. Clarence knew of people who dealt drugs in Louisiana and helped his old friend by arranging a meeting with a drug dealer from Baton Rouge. Distrustful of each other, the two parties insisted Clarence be present during their meeting. Clarence foolishly agreed. Following that incident, Clarence returned for his fourth year of studies at Southern University. The next winter Clarence was pulled out of a class by F.B.I. agents and arrested. He was charged with possession with intent to distribute nine kilograms of cocaine and attempting to possess with intent to distribute fifteen kilograms of cocaine. His first trial ended in a hung jury. Upon retrial, Clarence was convicted on the testimony of co-conspirators who got lenient sentences in exchange for their testimony against him.
Can you guess what kind of sentence Clarence received for foolishly introducing his two drug dealer friends? No, think again. THREE CONSECUTIVE LIFE SENTENCES. A young black man with infinite potential has been sentenced to sit in jail for the rest of his natural life for an adolescent mistake. Rapists and most murderers don't even get triple life sentences. Petey the pedophile is comfortable at home in your neighborhood right now. Amy the axe murderer just got out on parole last week. Yet this brother and many like him across the United States are trapped and ruined by our disgraceful "justice" system. How does that make you feel?
As I faxed my letter to President Bush seeking a presidential pardon for Clarence, (obtain a copy here), I couldn't help but to fume and boil with anger over this injustice that is all too common in this country. It gave me flashbacks of filming my college documentary on the incarceration of Marcus Dixon, a superstar football player acquitted of rape, but nonetheless given a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison for having sex with a high school classmate. I remember confronting racism in Marcus' hometown of Rome, GA, being asked to leave the office of my school's head football coach as I questioned why his Vanderbilt scholarship was rescinded before the trial even begun, and speaking at an Atlanta NAACP rally on Marcus' behalf. In all 3 instances, the anger of injustice flowed through my vains. Reading Clarence Aaron's story here reignited that fury.
I fault myself for not sustaining this level of outrage over the past few years. This displeasure previously sparked action that myself and others must seek in order to move the United States to that more perfect union. Therefore, I challenge you to get angry about the American criminal justice system. I encourage you to demand the downfall of the prison industrial complex. Barack better get plenty of paper for his fax machine ready because I will be leaning on him, as I leaned on Bush, to answer these inadequacies in American life. You should too.