America’s Illusion of a Free Country
America is supposed to be a free country, but its freedoms are restricted from people of color. It may seem counter intuitive that people of color migrating to America are coming here because of America’s freedoms, but find themselves living in a nation of imprisonment. For this country to be glorified as a free country, it has many ways to imprison people without them physically being imprisoned. America has crafted a tricky contract with many loopholes and fine prints for its so-called freedom.
If a person of color that is living in poverty was asked if they feel free in America, the negative answer might seem as a rebellion against America, but the evidence of their conclusion is right under our noses. America has pointed the finger at people of color blaming us for our situation but this evidence shows otherwise.
In America, there is a vast amount of unjust laws specifically created to unjustly send people to jail. More specifically, the Three-Strike Law, War on Drugs Act and the Stop-and-Frisk law, were designed to send people to jail, mostly whom are people of color. America don’t see anything wrong with these laws because people of color has been stereotyped as criminals. If it was possible to brainwash most people to place a negative stereotype on the minority, mistreatment of the minority will be justified. This has given the government and law enforcement the green light to harass, imprison, and abuse people of color with little to no consequence.
There was a law passed in New York called Stop-and-Frisk that goes against our 4th Amendment right. Stop-and-frisk made it legal for police officers to stop, search, and question any individual they thought had drugs, weapons, or other illegal contraband on their person. It is nearly impossible to see anything someone has on their person if it’s hidden by their clothing. To conclude that someone is possessing something illegal just by looking at them is a form of stereotyping. This law is a legal way to racially profile an individual. It is not a coincidence that, African-American and Latino communities located where Stop and Frisk is active are overwhelmingly targeted. Someone can be walking home innocently, and be stopped by police just because the police officer felt like it or stereotyped them as being a criminal. In the article “Stop-and-Frisk Campaign” on the “nyclu.org” they stated that “innocent New Yorker’s have been subject to police stops and street interrogations more than 4 million times since 2002.” This is a big problem that needs to be solved. This is a clear violation of rights, but America has let this law be active. Most Americans are not affected by stop and frisk so it is regularly ignored. On the behalf of the people living in the inner city, we feel like our rights are violated and we are discriminated against because of Stop and Frisk. In the Constitution, the 4th Amendment states that, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warren’s shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath of affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Being a person of color isn’t illegal, nor is it probable cause for the police to stop and frisk someone.
Stop-and-Frisk was designed to arrest people, mostly whom are people of color, who were deemed suspicious of being involved in illegal activity. Because of negative stereotypes on people of color, these police officers have preconceived notions that people of color are criminals. Acting on suspicions with preconceived notions that people of color are criminals, will prevent law enforcement from doing their job correctly. Some people who are on the outside of the Black community will say the police are doing their job correctly but they aren’t. For example, when talking about Stop-and-Frisk Donald Trump said, in the “Presidential Debate,” that “it worked very well in New York, it brought the crime rate way down but you take the gun away from criminals that shouldn’t be having it.” Donald Trump has been known to openly stereotype people and this shows that people who stereotype, don’t see that it is unconstitutional. People like Donald Trump will never know what it’s like living in America and getting discriminated against just for being Black and simply walking down the street. To target a group of Americans, and strip them of any rights stated in the constitution is clearly unconstitutional. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure Americans that their constitutional rights are protected. To allow stop and frisk, the government is not upholding the constitution. Even if it worked as a deterrent, there is very little way to tell if someone is involved in illegal activity, when relying on suspicion. Suspicions are opinionated and is not something that should be a basis for a law. Laws affect our country in its entirety and they must be based upon facts not opinions.
Furthermore, laws before this were designed with prejudices and were deemed reasonable. The war on drugs act was created by President Richard Nixon in 1971. In the article “The United States War on Drugs” it’s written that “He proclaimed, America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse.” In all actuality, he knew he had two groups of people who could hurt his presidency. On one hand he wanted to get rid of the Hippies, who were against the war, and on the other hand he wanted to get rid of the Black Panthers, who were protecting the Black communities against discrimination and police brutality at all costs. To extinguish the two groups, Nixon associated the Hippies with marijuana and Black Panthers with heroin. This enabled law enforcement to eradicate both movements. As the age of the Hippies went away, so did the need to eradicate them. After the Hippies were extinguished, Latino’s took their place as the second target group. As for the Black Panthers, the Black communities never could recover from the connection with heroin. Even after the Black Panthers were eradicated, the Black communities were still subject to mass incarcerations due to drugs. They had no one to protect them against the very government that is supposed to protect them. This way of being tough on crime extended too many presidencies after Nixon.
Bill Clinton signed a crime bill in 1994, which enacted the three-strike law. The three-strike law was implemented to ensure that repeat offenders are kept in prison to serve 25 years to life sentences after committing a third offence. This meant that fewer people were being released from prison in turn increasing the prison population. Clinton wanted to show he was tough on crime during his campaign so he acted. Clinton followed past presidents who wanted to show they were tough on crime so he passed laws which created a spike of mass incarceration. Coinciding with the war on drugs act, the three strikes law filled prisons with a population of majority Blacks and Hispanics. It can be said that Bill Clinton took a page from Nixon’s book when he signed the crime bill in 1994. In the leading state of California, the prison population reached unthinkable numbers following this bill. By 2011, the prison population rose to almost double the prisons’ designed capacity. This overpopulation is the primary cause for the unconstitutional conditions found existing in the California prisons because it goes against health and safety regulations. Matthew Cate said, on “CNN.com” that “the governor and I strongly disagree with this ruling.” In that same article in 2006, “CNN” stated that “implementing the court’s ruling would result in up to 58,000 prisoners being released.” These prisons are populated by mostly Black’s and it can be speculated that the reason this problem is being over looked is because the population is mostly Black.
Though slavery is illegal, prisons has taken its place to strip people of their freedom. African-Americans are the leading population in these prisons because they commit crimes. In order for them to get incarcerated, the courts have to prove that they broke a law. Once someone is convicted of a crime they get thrown into the new slavery system. African-Americans, descended from slaves, living in poverty, commit street crimes because of their poverty, illiteracy and heritage. The legacy of slavery lives in our streets. Now, four hundred years later, conditions for the descendants of slaves still create criminality. Uneducated and impoverished, living in desperate communities, African-Americans in today’s inner cities are destined to commit street crimes. Slavery gave birth to street crime.
According to “History.com”, in 1619, slavery started when the first slave ships landed in the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia. Slaves, kidnapped from Africa to work for their slave owners, were tortures, forced to live in impoverished communities, forced to work for free, and deprived of the basic freedom to learn. Slave owners had complete control over the slaves, and they made it nearly impossible to survive. Slavery thrived for an excruciating 245 years. The Founding Fathers of America created the constitution, which would later free slaves. Slavery would then be a problem for African-Americans for the next 89 years. Slaves were freed by the 13th Amendment that was created in 1865.
When comparing 1619 and present day, they are like fraternal twins to each other. Although they may look different they are very similar. Both times involves, slaving, or imprisoning an extreme number of African-Americans, illiteracy in the African-American communities and severe poverty in those communities. Viewing the horrific timeline from 1619 to present day, there is a chain reaction of slavery, illiteracy, Jim Crow laws, and impoverished communities that produced street crime.
After slavery, African-Americans lived in poverty because they worked for very little pay. African-Americans could not make sufficient money ironically, because the only way to make sufficient money was to own farms. They could not own land, so they found themselves working in the same farms where they were once enslaved. Farmers were the driving force of America’s economy. Africans couldn’t own land because they were not considered citizens of the US. This is like problems we have today with wages and living conditions. According to the “United Sates Census Bureau,” in a chart of the “median household income”, the “average African Americans household makes only $33,321.” This is a little more than half of White household’s income. African Americans will get paid less than Whites who are doing the same job. There is a similarity with the pay because in the past African Americans always made less than Whites. Black ex-cons and White ex-cons are receiving different pay as well. Bruce Western, in the table three chart in his essay, “The Impact of Incarceration on Wage Mobility and Inequality,” claims that the average wages of African-American ex-cons are documented at $5.33 per hour, which is less than white ex-cons at $5.77. Trying to survive in society with these wages for both Whites and Black is nearly impossible. Most ex-cons end up living in the same environment that lead to their arrest. Even though both Black ex-cons and ex-slavers are free, theirs living situations seems all too familiar.
African-Americans have always been deprived of access to proper education. During slavery, it was illegal for slaves to learn so up until the end of slavery African-Americas didn’t learn. If you have generations of illiterate ancestors, this will negatively affect the learning ability for future generations. After slavery, Blacks were not allowed to go to the same schools as Whites because of Jim Crow laws. The schools that were available to Blacks were barely functional. If people are placed in an environment filled with poverty and illiteracy, street crime will be the result.
Black impoverished communities where made during segregation because African-Americans were not allowed to integrate into White communities. These communities were designed to be placed away from white communities. This is like the way communities are structured in present day. The structure of today’s communities started when America shifted from an agricultural economy to a factory driven economy in the 19th century. As the industrial age grew, and the agricultural age declined, people began to leave the farming life behind and move to cities and towns with factory jobs. The nation’s wage earnings began to come from people who were formerly self-employed but now employed by major corporations. Blacks and Whites where living in segregated communities, but they were more often working in the same factories in their cities and towns. This increase in the industrial age also came to a decline at the fault of the great depression. In 1929-39, America along with many other countries suffered from the largest economic fall in history. This economic fall forced many companies to lay off workers, causing vast unemployment and hardships. After 1939, the economy recovered after the New Deal and World War II’s contributions to the industrial industry. While things were getting better for Whites, Blacks were not as fortunate.
Whites began to leave the cities and move to suburban areas where blacks weren’t allowed. Public Housing policies were still preventing Blacks from taking most opportunities that were available to Whites. In a broadcast on “Fresh Air,” Richard Rothstein said that “the second policy, which was probably even more effective in segregating metropolitan areas, was the Federal Housing Administration, which financed mass production builders of subdivisions starting in the 30’s and then going on to the 40’s and 50’s in which those mass production builders, places like Levittown for example, and Nassau County in New York and in every metropolitan area in the country, the Federal Housing Administration gave builders like Levitt concessionary loans through banks because they guaranteed loans to lower interest rates for banks that the developers could use to build these subdivisions on the condition that no homes in those subdivisions be sold to African-Americans.” In this same broadcast, he also said that “This was to ensure that public housing would only be used to house people of the same race in which it was located.” This pushed Whites out of the public housing communities and trapped Blacks in. The overpopulation and low-income of communities made poverty spread like a disease.
As poverty started to grow people started turning to drugs. Drugs began to find their way to these impoverished communities after WWII. After WWII, war veterans returned home to these overpopulated and impoverished communities with bigger problems than the war to deal with. One of these problems was drug addiction. Drugs such as morphine and heroin was used on a regular basis in wars as pain killers. According to an article on “narconon.org,” “morphine was the only thing that made the gunshot, amputation and recovery tolerable.” Many soldiers became addicted to the drug and even after the war ended, they couldn’t shake the addiction. Heroin started getting made in the 19th century by boiling morphine. According to the same article, “in 1898, the Bayer pharmaceutical company began an aggressive marketing campaign to sell its commercial preparation of heroin. Heroin was heavenly promoted as being non-addicting, and therefore an excellent treatment for morphine addiction. In 1906, the American Medical Association approved Heroin for general use and recommended that is be used in place of morphine.” Heroin flooded the bodies of the solders and they had to feed their addiction. Returning home unemployed and living in poverty made it hard for them to buy the drugs they needed. If someone needs money, but they are unemployed they will do anything to obtain the money. Street crime is the easiest way to make money for people living in impoverished communities. Getting a gun on the street and robbing someone is easier than getting a job. People turn to street crime when they don’t see any other way to get money.
Cops have been able to hide their abuse of African-Americans because this street crime. Because of racism, African Americans have been getting slaughtered since the beginning of slavery and America have let cops who are slaughtering Blacks get away with it with little to no consequences. The slaughtering of Blacks has been normalized in America since slavery. During the time of slavery, Blacks were beaten, hung from trees, and abused, even by police. Blacks have always had trouble with police brutality and even in present day this hasn’t changed. Police officers get away with murdering people because their badges protect them. At the end of the day, it’s our word against theirs. America has always stereotyped Blacks as criminals, so if there is no one around to witness the murders cops will get away with the brutality of African-Americans. There have been frequent videos of police wrongfully killing unarmed Black people and they still seem to get away with it. There have been a gruesome number of police killings of unarmed Black people in the past decades. According to the article, “Mapping Police Violence” on “Mapping Police Violenc.com” in 2015 alone, there was over 100 murders of unarmed Black people. This is unacceptable and it needs to change. We as Americans must figure out a way to undo all the wrongs done to African-Americans in the past and present. It is easy for America to blame African Americans for what we go through in America, but it’s not our fault its America’s fault. Connecting street crime and police with slavery is a long process but when you connect the dots they add up. After looking at the evidence, slavery is the only clear explanation for street crime. The evidence provided can no longer be over looked. It must be fixed before we find ourselves in a deeper hole than we are in currently.
Throughout American history the government has attempted to get our country out a hole but it always produce a shiny penny to mask the continuing problems. Although it looks appealing, it’s not worth much. For people at the bottom of the economic chart who are living in poverty, the government has provided the shiny penny that is welfare. According to Welfareinfo.org, the government created federally funded assistance programs in the 1930’s during the Great Depression. The Great Depression affected families financially in great numbers. Families with little to no income were the main beneficiaries of these welfare programs. Families are given money and food stamps to take care of their families. If a family has a low-income limit, these food stamps helps families save their money for other needed resources. These are all attempts to help struggling Americans. Even though this helps many poor families, it also encourages them to be dependent on the government. Blacks are the largest beneficiaries of welfare. According to “Seth Harden” in the chart “Welfare Demographics” on “Statisticbrain.com” Blacks account for most of the welfare recipients at 39.6%. It is hard to break a cycle of a dependent generation so many poor people of color find themselves in the same position as the generations before them. Depending on the government will keep those Blacks in poverty.
Every American has the right to be free and chase the American dream. This dream is to take advantage of the opportunities that our country has and work hard to achieve financial stability. For America to pride it’s self on being the greatest country in the world, we should not feel that we are slaves to our home country. It is illegal to discriminate against someone’s race, gender, and sexual orientation; therefore no one should feel oppressed in America. America is the land of opportunity and it’s up to the government to provide equal opportunity to its citizens. These shocking truths of unjust laws are showing that freedom in America depends on political views and ethnicity. It might be criticized as being un-American when people of color say they don’t feel free, but experiencing life from their perspectives might show why they question freedom in America. People of color have been living in a freedom restricted America since slavery and that needs to change. There shouldn’t be any poverty, illiteracy, or unjust laws preventing any American from receiving equal opportunity.
New York Civil Liberties Union. http://www.nyclu.org/issues/racial-justice/stop-and-frisk-practices. NYCLU n.d. Web. Accessed 31, Oct, 2016.
CNN. “California May Have to Cut Prison Population by 40 Percent.” CNN. Cable News Network, 10 Feb. 2009. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.
NPR. “Historian Says Don’t ‘Sanitize’ How Our Government Created Ghettos” NPR.org. Fresh air. 14 May, 2015. Web.6 Nov.
Western, Bruce. The Impact of Incarceration on Wage Mobility and Inequality (n.d.): n. pag. Scholar.Harverd.edu. Harvard University, 1 Aug. 2002. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
“Police Killed More than 100 Unarmed Black People in 2015.” Mapping Police Violence. Mapping Police Violence, n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.
History.com Staff. “Slavery in America.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 09 Dec. 2016
Harden, Seth. “Welfare Statistics and Demographics.” Statistic Brain. Statisticbrain, 27 Sept. 2016. Web. 09 Dec. 2016.