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Fri Apr 10, 2015, 10:10 PM

How the U.S. criminal justice system became an unforgiving machine

Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man killed by a South Carolina police officer during a chase that millions of people have now viewed on video, is the latest victim of a criminal justice system whose tentacles have reshaped the very nature of American democracy.

This latest shooting illustrates how the relationship between law enforcement and poor and working-class communities of color requires a fundamental transformation. The necessary political and policy changes will need to be amplified by a cultural shift that can stop the criminalization of black and brown bodies in the United States.

The simple reason why police officers can often routinely brutalize and, in certain horrific instances such as Scott’s, even execute black citizens is the consent they essentially receive from the U.S. criminal justice system and other political and civic institutions."

Over the past 35 years, America’s criminal justice system, swept up by the hysteria over the rise of crack cocaine and the broader War on Drugs, has transformed into a system of racial control, oppression and containment that has often turned the idea of black citizenship into an Orwellian nightmare. Racial disparities in death sentences between whites and blacks became glaring enough to help change former pro-death penalty Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun into a notable dissenter by 1994."

*Even as national crime rates declined throughout the 1990s, the federal government, through its Byrne grants, distributed billions of dollars to state and local law enforcement authorities. The resulting militarization of many police forces appeared to offer police another incentive to detain and arrest some of the most vulnerable citizens."


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