A History of Injustices Towards Black Youth In America

Many people hear the Judicial system as something called the “justice system”, however more commonly known to the African American community as the “injustice system” due to the way it seems to target members of that community and people of color in general. Due to racial biases law enforcements and the Judicial system treating people of color differently, leading to police brutality, harsher punishments for crimes, and the development of systemic racism. Many of the biases are held by the older white men that hold the majority of positions of power in the government allowing this to continue happening. Racial biases have no business being involved within our judicial system, however they have been there ever since the country’s creation. The only proper way to fight against this is to ensure we are educating today’s youth about the past in hopes that it doesn’t continue to repeat itself.

Throughout history there have been many cases that document the unfair treatment of members of the African American community, specifically the youth, in the judicial system. Cases like the Scottsboro Nine, Harlem Six, and Central Park Five are some of the most famous examples. Each of these cases are a group of colored youths that have been rounded up and accused of committing a crime of violence towards a white person, with no evidence that they were guilty. In Some of these cases the accused boys had been arrested for different reasons that happened at the time of the crime they are accused of committing. In each of these cases all boys accused of the crimes were under the age of 20, had no criminal records, and had no evidence that pointed to them having done the things they were accused of.

The Scottsboro Nine case took place in Jackson County, Alabama in March of 1931. Nine boys between the ages of 13–20 were traveling on a freight train when a group of white men rounded them up and accused them of raping two white women (Scottsboro Boys). The first trial resulted in an all-white male jury, voting to sentence all the boys to death. This case led to two landmark Supreme Court Cases, Powell V. Alabama and Norris V. Alabama (Scottsboro Boys). In the case of Powell V. Alabama it “is famous for mandating that, under the Sixth Amendment, counsel be provided to all defendants charged with a capital felony in state court regardless of that defendant’s ability to pay” (Ballotpedia.org). This meant that for anyone who was unable to pay for a lawyer to represent them in court for capital crimes, they were guaranteed right of counsel no matter what. On the other hand, the case of Norris V. Alabama dealt with the fourteenth amendment, “Exclusion of all negroes from a grand jury by which a negro is indicted, or from the petit jury by which he is tried for the offense, resulting from systematic and arbitrary exclusion of negroes from the jury lists solely because of their race or color, is a denial of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed to him by the Fourteenth Amendment” (law.cornell.edu). In simpler terms, this means that if there is no person of the same race as the defendant in the jury it then becomes invalid due to the impossibility of there being a true and fair outcome because of possible racial biases preventing it. It also means that someone cannot be dismissed from a jury just because of their race. Over the years there were many trials that took place, finally ending officially in 2013, “the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously to issue posthumous pardons to Patterson, Weems and Andy Wright, bringing a long-overdue end to one of the most notorious cases of racial injustice in U.S. history”(History.com).

A similar and slightly more recent example of injustice amongst colored youth is the case of the Harlem 6. The case of the Harlem 6 are great examples of the misjudgment of colored youth, and the brutality police officers exhibited on the young men. The Harlem 6 is also a great example of the influence media has on how public trials are viewed and reported about. In April of 1964, a woman by the name of “ Margit Sugar” (Suddler, 58) was murdered. During the time of the murder there was a riot going on near by at local fruit stands. Six young boys were eventually arrested and tried for her murder. While there was never any actual evidence that any of the boys had murdered the women, the trials and cases went on for over 2 decades. Through the years the cases went on very well documented and were followed nationally by the media as it became more evident that the boys were being accused of the crime mainly only because of proximity at the time and their race. In The Color of Justice without Prejudice: Youth, Race, and Crime in the Case of the Harlem Six by Carl Suddler, the author gathered quotes from many people involved in and around the case including the young boys. One of the boys arrested, Wallace Baker, recalled the time of his arrest. He says “some little boys were picking up fruit from the ground” when three policemen grab[bed] one between his legs and [got] ready to hit him with a stick.” Baker continued. “So I ran over and tried to stop him. And two of them jumped on me and beat me for nothing” (Suddler, 59). Baker was then arrested and put into the patrol car with another eventual defendant, Daniel Hamm, who had also intervened “to keep him [the policeman] from shooting the kids” (Suddler, 59). In the article it talks about the way the boys were treated when in custody of the police. Another quote from Wallce Baker says, “They beat us practically all that day, and they took us to Harlem Hospital to get x-rays”(Suddler, 62). This is one example of the police brutality that boys faced. Daniel Hamm later goes on to say “They beat us till I could barely walk and my back was in pain”…”they got tired of beating us they just came in and started spitting on us”(Suddler, 62). This example of the harsh and brutal treatment of young boys from the police is appalling. The fact that grown men, police officers at that, where abusing and treating young minors in this manor is disgusting. The mothers of the boys recall seeing their children in the hospital, Mrs. Baker having to sign for her son because they thought he broke his back, and Mrs. Hamm remembering seeing Daniel barely able to put his pants on (Suddler, 62). Eventually attorney Geroge Sena used this as evidence to appeal for the boys release. “Sena agrued to the presiding judge, Maurice W. Grey, that his clients were “beaten by police for asking an officer why he was beating another youth” (Suddler,62). Sadly the judge dismissed the charges and told Sena “to take his complaint to the police commissioner Michael J. Murphy” (Suddler, 62). Later the boys were arrested again, this time for the murder of Marit Sugar.

Mrs. Sugar was the owner of a shop near where the fruit stand riot had occurred and was later found and pronounced dead from a stab wound, “was committed by one stroke of a knife in a human heart by one bloody hand”(Suddler, 64). In the article it is noted that a witness saw only three boys assault the shopkeeper. Truman Nelson, a novelist in support of the boys said “it seems that it must always be resolved by a frenzied hue and cry, brutal arrest, and hysterical trial of multiple black defendants accused of a crime”(Suddler, 64). Here he is saying that they choose groups of colored boys because when shown to the public there is less disbelief because it creates fear and makes it somehow more believable that they did it. The media played a large role in the public perception of boys, “counter to their advocates, the media’s portrayal of the Harlem Six were able to convince many members of the community “that they were killers because they were black””(Suddler, 66). At this time the media had created a story about an “anti-white” hate group in Harlem that they claimed the boys were a part of, that played a role in their questioning during arraignments, however the gang was never proved to be real. Conrad Lynn was an attorney brought in by the Mothers Defense Committee, which was started by the mothers of the accused boys. “Lynn also informed the mothers of the six that actual proof of the crime by the boys is missing, and “the prosecution is depending on the existing state of prejudice to obtain conviction” (Suddler, 68). After many years of trials the boys had realized that they had spent the majority of their formative years held up in the judicial system for a crime they did not commit. In a poem by Willam Craig he talks about his perspective of the justice system, it reads “The residing judge promises justice, but the moment his mouth opens there’s a great contradiction [sic] and all motions are denied under the color of justice without prejudice” (Suddler, 71). Through this quote, it seems that Craig’s view on justice is that it seems to be promised to everyone, but when the time for it comes its denied because of the color of their skin. After nine years of trials and before another retrial, the defendants decided to plead guilty to manslaughter and were finally freed (Suddler, 71). After that they released a statement that reads “We’ve said all along that we are not guilty and what we feel the world should know is that we’re still not guilty” (Suddler, 71). Craig later said “I’m well aware that it’s not justice. And I’m sure it’s not equality.”…”But through it all the ‘Harlem 6’ will maintain strength to fight the struggle against racism, facism, oppression, injustice, and exploitation” (Suddler, 73). The Harlem Six is yet another sad story of the unfair treatment from law enforcements and media that colored youths face when they are accused of a crime. Sadly, sometimes law enforcement officers seems to make accusations way too early, leading to them prematurely acting with violence, which much to commonly ends in the death of a child at that hands of the law.

In today’s media driven world, there is an abundance of information that almost everyone has access to. With the technological revolution we are in today, the immediate access to information has allowed things that were normally hidden to be brought into the light providing much needed attention to under attended causes. Police brutality is not a new concept or something the nation didn’t know was happening. However, with the invention of smartphones and with the help of security cameras, traffic cams, and even handheld HD cameras, allowing everyone to have a camera on them and access to the internet at all times, it made documenting and sharing these situations much easier.

Tamir Rice was a 12-year old boy from Cleveland, Ohio that was shot and killed by a police officer while playing in his neighborhood park in 2014. Records state that officers were responding to a call requesting officers come to Cudell Rec Center stating “there is a black male sitting on a swing…pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people” (Mowatt, 55). In The Case of the 12-Year-Old Boy: Or, The Silence of and Relevance to Leisure Research By Rasul Mowatt he examines the relationship between leisure areas in communities and the poverty level of the community. In the article he talks about how in areas where poverty is high there are less public leisure places due to the belief in a higher chance of illegal activities happening within them. “According to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor and Sheriff Office’s 224-page five-month investigative report of the City of Cleveland Division of Police use of deadly force, the marked police department vehicle accessed the park area, moved passed the playground area (“swing set”), and then “came to rest between the gazebo and wooden vehicle barriers located on the grass between the gazebo and the parking lot” (Mowatt, 55). In the video from the Rec Center its shows the officers approaching the gazebo in their vehicle and Rice walking up to it. When he stretches his left arm upwards the officer notices the toy gun he has in his pants, begins to draw his weapon and release shots (Full Video). “Within two seconds, two rounds were fired into the abdomen of the 12-year-old boy at a distance between than 4.5 feet and 7 feet. 3.5 minutes after the officers’ initial arrival, a request for Emergency Medical Service was sent by one of the two officers, although no medical assistance was given by the officers on the scene prior to the paramedics’ arrival. The 12-year-old boy, Tamir Elijah Rice, “expired” at 12:54 am on November 23, 2014” (Mowatt, 55). This quote is saying that the officers that have just shot a 12-year old boy, did not perform any kind of medical assistance before paramedics arrived. At the moment it is not a law that officers are required to perform any kind of assistance after shooting someone, however if it was it can be concluded that it would most likely be beneficial in lowering the number of victims from police shootings. In many cases like this its noted that most officers do not provide medical assistance to a person after having shot them.

Another victim of senseless police shooting is Atatiana Jefferson. Atatiana was in her home with her nephew when a police officer shot her through her window. In a video clip released by WFAA, it shows officer Aaron Dean’s body-cam footage. He first walks up to the front door of the house, which was open, then proceeded to walk around the house to a back window. At no point does officer Dean announce his presence, which is against his training. Once at the window he shouts commands, then within seconds proceeds to shoot (Atatiana Jefferson shooting). “The video shows Dean fired less than a second after yelling for Jefferson to show her hands, and without ever identifying himself as a police officer. Police said Dean drew his gun after “perceiving a threat” but that there was no sign he or the other officer who responded ever knocked on the front door” (Texas cop). WFAA interviewed Assistant Chief James Hawthorne in the video, and he explains that by the officers not announcing themselves, goes against their training because “when officers don’t do that homeowners are startled” (Atatiana Jefferson shooting). The CBS News article says that Jefferson’s nephew told police that she heard a noise and went to grab her gun from her purse. She had it pointed at her back window when officer Dean shouted his commands and shot. This could have been avoided if the officers had followed their training and announced the presence upon arrival at her open front door instead of making presumptions.

While the officers blatantly went against their training, it doesn’t dispute that fact that officer Dean probably had these preconceived notions long before that night. These notions can be attributed to influences like media, environment, and even parenting. The environmental someone grows up in is a large contributing factor to forming racial biases. Things like the schools children go to and the things they hear from parents and teachers contribute to racial biases. It’s widely known that many public schools still have large margins when it comes to looking a diversity statistics in some areas. The reason for this is because of the divide in wealth and race. “Whiteflight” was the term given when white families started moving out of neighborhoods in the 1950s and 60s where more black families were moving in. This allowed a racial divide to continue by the white families moving to more expensive areas where black families could not afford.

In places like Ohio there are many public schools that are known for having a majority race amongst its students. However it happens amongst administrators too. To young students they can look around their classrooms and sometimes there can only be 3 or 4 colored students in a class of 23. Chesapeake High school in Ohio has a 93.9% White students populations, as compared to having 1.7% African American students (Chesapeake High School). Miami Trace High School has a 92.5% white student population, and 0.8% African American student population (Miami Trace High School). A way to fight back against forming racial biases from a young age is for parents to teach children about racial equality had informing them about what can happen when people allow biases to control their decision making. Parents and teachers should also be encouraging children to make friends with people from other races. It will help children be more understanding about different cultures and educate them as well. Education in all forms is really the only solution to helping the racial problems that are still vastly flowing throughout America.

Another answer for solving racial inequality problems is educating children more in depth about the inner workings of our government and the nations history. For most American students, they are given a base level education about the formation of America and its democracy. Typical public high school U.S History courses do not give children enough knowledge about the history of oppression that people of color went through. For some it lightly skimms past slavery, some schools showing the movie Roots to the children, until it gets to the civil rights movement and then from there on out its mainly Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, segregation of schools, and sometimes Malcolm X. However, students are rarely taught about the achievements of African Americans and the large contributions they’ve made to the county. From inventions that are still used to this day, to war heroes, there are so many positive black figures that children are never taught about. Most government courses only focus on the facts of how the government was formed and what the laws are. However students are not taught how to interpret laws and are not taught how the laws and practices out into place over 100 years are are applied in today’s society.

The traffic light was invented by an African American man named Garrett Morgan. “Garrett Morgan came up with several significant inventions, including an improved sewing machine and the gas mask. However, one of Morgan’s most influential inventions was the improved traffic light” (Morgan). A black woman by the name of Shirley Ann Jackson invented caller ID. “The first black woman to ever earn a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jackson led research to develop caller ID and call waiting functions while working at AT&T Bell Laboratories in the 1970s” (Morgan). There are countless more inventions and incredible people of color whose actions and ideas are still large parts of today’s society, but children don’t know these things because they are only taught about the bad things that happened to minorities.

If people are more properly educated about other cultures, religions, and ways of life and are taught about tolerance and acceptance amongst all people, there will be no more having to put children on trail and suffer punishments for crimes they did not commit. Children and parents won’t have to lose their lives to avoidable mistakes by ignorant people, and people can hopefully find understanding through differences. As a nation, the people of the United States need to come together to agree to educate the youth about tolerance, and fight against inequality on all fronts.

Works Cited

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I'm a student from Cleveland Ohio writing about social injustice and education for the black community