Incarceration: the New Jim Crow Laws
Vischer also pointed out that “there are financial incentives for arresting more drug users.” Federal grants to local police departments were tied to the number of drug arrests. “Research suggests the huge surge in arrests from increased drug enforcement was due more to budget incentives than to actual increases in drug use.” This had immediate effects on the prison population. In 1980, the total prison population was 350,000. In 2005, the population swelled to 2.3 million. The U.S. now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. “We imprison a higher percentage of our black population than South Africa ever did during apartheid,” Vischer emphasizes.
Having a drug conviction on your record is far reaching, too, especially for black men. For instance, you are barred from public housing, ineligible for food stamps, and required to identify yourself as a convicted felon when applying for jobs. A criminal record is shown to decrease the likelihood you’ll get a call back on a job application by 50 percent. But the negative effect of a criminal record on getting a job is twice as large for African American applicants.
The sheer number of incarcerated black men compared to white men is staggering. In 2006, one in 106 white men was behind bars. For black men, it was one in 14. For black men between the age of 20 and 35 (the age where families are built, Vischer adds), it’s one in nine. Vischer also explains that this disparity is not explained by higher drug rates in black Americans versus white Americans. Overall, he says, white Americans and black Americans use drugs at the same rates. However, the imprisonment rate of black Americans is almost six times that of white Americans.
“It may be true that there isn’t explicit racism in our legal system anymore,” Vischer concludes, “but it doesn’t mean justice is blind.” He gave the following example of a study done in Georgia as evidence. A law in that state permitted prosecutors to seek life imprisonment for a second drug offense. Over the period of the study, the law was used on one percent of white second-time offenders and 16 percent of black second time offenders. “As a result, 98 percent of prisoners serving life sentences under this law were black.”
Another study looked at African American youth, which make up 16 percent of all youth. However, African American youth make up 28 percent of all juvenile arrests, 35 percent of all youth sent to adult court instead of juvenile court, and 58 percent of youth sent to adult state prison.
Vischer then turned his attention to Philando Castile, the black man from Minneapolis who was shot and killed by police in 2016 after being pulled over for a broken tail light. It was the 49th time Castile had been pulled over by police. Vischer also included statistics from New Jersey, Florida, and Oakland, California showing that black drivers are much more likely to be pulled over by police than white drivers.
Discrimination in School
Unconscious bias shows up in the school system, too. Vischer argues white teachers often assume black students are less intelligent than they actually are. For instance, gifted students have to be recommended by a teacher in order to move into a gifted track. When a teacher is black, an equally gifted white student and black student have comparable chances of being recommended. However, when the teacher is white, black students’ odds of being recommended are cut in half. Vischer takes a moment to say that this does not mean that white teachers are racist. Rather, they are affected by bias.
Vischer admits he doesn’t have a solution to offer for this disparity. But he’s asking viewers to do one thing: Care. “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)
If you’d like to know more about the studies and statistics cited in Vischer’s video, these are the sources he lists at the end:
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
How the GI Bill’s Promise was Denied to a Million Black Veterans by Erin Blakemore
Miss Buchanan’s Period of Readjustment (Podcast) by Malcolm Gladwell