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Letter to the Editor: Justice system marginalizes minorities

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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

For the last several hundred years, people of color have fought long and hard for freedom and equality. The system has learnt how to modify its method of social control from the unacceptable to the more acceptable. Slavery and Jim Crow have fallen out of favor. A new way of enforced segregation has to be found that is acceptable to the general population, blacks and whites alike. Ironically, the justice system is just such a tool.

Reagan’s “war on drugs” was the legalized method of segregation and social control of the black and brown population. Arrests for minor infractions, racial profiling, ‘zero tolerance’ in schools, exorbitant bails all continue to fill detention centers making it a thriving business. The prison population has increased to over 2 million, the highest in the world. Yet statistics show just as many white people are engaged in drug-related behavior.

For those who have a “prison” label to their names, their lives are hellish especially after getting out of detention. They are ostracized, stigmatized and deprived of some basic rights like employment, housing, public benefits and voting rights. Many in the community who still have blind faith in the laws of the land become unwittingly participants in shaming their old friends and relatives. How can rehabilitation happen when one cannot even get the basic means of living? This is especially egregious for convictions for minor infractions.

The justice system can be intentionally cruel. Recently, the request of a transgender woman to be relocated from an all-male to an all-female detention center in North Carolina was denied. I am unable to see how this would increase the cost to the penal system or cause an unnecessary hardship to enact this change. So why didn’t it happen?

State laws claims to support the rights of the LGBTQ population on paper. It fails to live up to its promises in reality. Meanwhile, LGBTQ detainees are forced to live in fear and humiliation.

People of conscience have called the mass incarceration of mainly black and brown folks the New Jim Crow. Ex-detainees continued their lives as outcasts in their own community, invisible and marginalized. It is time to demand for fundamental changes in the criminal justice system, and for LGBT folks to be treated with the same respect, in or out of detention centers.

Dr. Kim E. Koo

Rocky Mount

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