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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

‘Blood on the leaves’


Where the American justice system fails

Lezley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown who was viciously murdered by a cowardly Ferguson, Missouri police officer in 2014, was on campus to discuss the Catholic Church’s role in social justice. The day before, the Black Student Union held a screening of “Stranger Fruit,” a documentary that chronicles the events of the day of Brown’s murder.

My blood boiled as I sat in Forum Theatre and was reminded about how blatantly the American justice system failed the Brown family and many other black Americans.

America’s legal and judicial systems have a history of failing black Americans in the face of racism. Lynchings were used during and after slavery to instill fear into the hearts of black people. It was and is a detestable form of domestic terrorism carried out by white supremacists.

Many times, black people were captured by lynch mobs and subjected to every form of torture possible, then hung and set on fire. Oftentimes, the white people would then dismember the lynched person and take pieces of their flesh and bones as souvenirs.

The most notorious case of this is Nat Turner who, after leading a slave rebellion, was hung, decapitated and skinned. His skin was used to make purses and his fat used for grease to oil people’s wheels. And the people who did this were proud.

Most importantly, the police, those who are in place to protect and serve, would let this slide. They would “accidentally” leave a black inmate unattended if it was rumored that a lynch mob was coming for them.

One of the most famous lynchings that happened within my parents’ lifetime was the lynching of 14-year-old Emmet Till. Till went from Chicago to Mississippi to visit his family, and he was lynched by adult white men because one of men’s wives lied and said Till had gotten fresh with her.

She admitted she lied after her husband and another man were tried and found innocent for Till’s murder by an all white male jury and could not be retried.

Till is not the only young black boy the system has failed. In June 1944, South Carolina made history by executing the youngest person in modern times. George Stinney Jr. was 14 years old when the police came to his home while his parents were away and arrested him for the murder and rape of two white girls.

He was questioned for hours without his parents or an attorney present. He was convicted after a two hour trial and a 10 minute deliberation and was sentenced to death by electrocution. During his “trial,” no witnesses were called and there was a severe lack of evidence. In 2014 a judge overturned his conviction because his trial and execution violated his constitutional rights.

And more recently, we have seen the Exonerated Five, formally known as the Central Park Five, finally receive some form of justice.

But I, for one, am tired of justice coming 40 years after or taking precious years off of people’s freedom. If the American justice system is what it says it is, it should do better to protect.

The police are supposed to be here to protect everyone, including black people. The Equal Protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment provides everyone equal protection of the law. Every time a police officer shoots before they think, someone’s constitutional right is being infringed upon.

It makes no sense that mass shooters like Dylan Roof could be arrested without being gunned down and later brought fast food by police officers, while 12-year-old Tamir Rice could be gunned down in a park.

America likes to claim we live in a post-racial society but we aren’t post anything. What has changed is that the blatant racist practices of Jim Crow have now been sneakily turned into institutionalized laws and practices. Instead of hanging black people from trees, our neighborhoods have become overpoliced by officers who would rather shoot first and ask questions later.

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