Fyodo Dostoyevsky once said “You can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners.” I think you can judge a society by the racial composition of its prisoners. The United States prison population constitutes 25 percent of the world’s prison population. We have 2.3 million prisoners, one million of whom are black. In fact ,according to both census and FBI crime data, a black person is eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than an individual who is white. That statistic seems to imply that blacks are utilizing more illicit drugs than whites. However, this isn’t the case.
According to a 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 38.2 percent of the white population aged 18-25 has admitted to the use of illicit drugs, in contrast to the black population, of which 30.6 percent of individuals aged 18-25 has admitted to the use of illicit drugs. This means that although more white people are using drugs than black people, they are incarcerated at much lower rates.
Before President Barack Obama passed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, there was an enormous sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine. There was a minimum sentencing of ten years for the possession five grams of crack whereas there was a minimum sentencing of ten years for five kilograms of powdered cocaine. That is literally a thousand times as harsh of a punishment for the same drug in a crystal state. Seventy nine percent of crack offenders are black, whereas ten percent are white and ten percent are Hispanic. That is evidence of the racial skew that exists between crack and cocaine. However, the reason this disparity exists is because of the disproportional targeting of police officers.
A study on police shootings in St. Louis conducted by University of Missouri Criminology professors shed light on some haunting information. They examined each of the two hundred and thirty instances where St. Louis police officers fired their weapons in the span of ten years. And out of the three hundred and sixty suspects or victims, ninety percent were black, even though they constitute less than half of St. Louis’s population. Things only get worse. Two thirds of the officers who fired those weapons were white, which is similar to racial composition of St. Louis’s very own police department.
It is horrifying that in the twenty first century, so long after Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington, this is the state of race relations in this country. It is even more terrifying that people are afraid to talk about race. Race is something that affects every single person in the United States. It is absurd that people have almost labeled race as a “taboo” topic. For those that say the days of racial prejudice and racial profiling are over, read the news.