New York Law School

Why Education Access in Prisons Must Be Expanded

Studies show obtaining an education is vital in preventing recidivism. However, prisoners face many barriers in accessing education.

Prison may exist to punish people, but a prison sentence is also an opportunity to rehabilitate people. Rehabilitation is important to re-entry as it allows people to be productive members of their communities.  Rehabilitation can happen in many ways: drug programs, mental health services or obtaining an education, to name a few.  The New York State Legislature recognized the importance of re-entry by amending Penal Law § 1.05 in 2006.  The amendment required that courts take into account “the promotion of [prisoners’] successful and productive re-entry and reintegration into society” in sentencing.

One of the most effective ways to rehabilitate someone is through education. Under New York law, individuals under the age of 21, without a high school diploma or its equivalency, have a right to secure a high school education.  For those over the age of 21, DOCCS policy states that all individuals “who enter the system without a verified high school diploma or equivalency are required to attend an academic program.” Despite these provisions, 61% of newly incarcerated individuals and 43% of the total incarcerated population do not possess a high school diploma or a high school equivalency.

The Need for Educational Opportunities

On average, incarcerated individuals have lower levels of education achievement in comparison to the rest of the population. Nationally, state prisoners have completed only 10.4 years of schooling and those with more education are incarcerated at lower rates.  The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) has reported that approximately 28% of the prison population reads at an 8th grade reading level or less and only 59% had achieved a high school diploma or high school equivalency. Only 2% of people in prison are college graduates.

Even though men and women of all races who lack education are more likely to spend time in prison, the lack of education disproportionately impacts young black men. A black man without a high school diploma between the ages of 20 to 34, has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison. In comparison, a young white man, who also lacks a high school diploma, only has a 1 in 8 chance of ending up in prison.

The effect of race and education carries into post-release employment opportunities and affects economic security. Prior to incarceration, inmates made 41 percent less money than non-incarcerated people of similar ages. Once released, an individual earns 10 to 40 percent less than individuals with no criminal record. This creates a cycle of poverty that disproportionately affects minorities. A study showed that white job applicants were more likely than blacks to get a response from an employer, regardless of whether the white applicant had a criminal history. While there is a lot of work to address implicit biases and the policies that lead to the mass incarceration of communities of color, correctional education is an important tool for closing the gap in racial disparities.

Benefits of Correctional Education

Now more than ever, education is a vital part of the re-entry process. More than 100 occupations in New York State, such as a barber or nursing home administrator, require some type of license or certification. In addition, by 2020, 65 percent of jobs will require postsecondary education beyond high school. Obtaining an education or vocational training while incarcerated increases the likelihood of success when released.  A formerly incarcerated person who participates specifically in vocational training programs increases their odds of getting a job by 28%.

In the long term, correctional education programs save taxpayers money. Inmates who participate in correctional education programs have a 30% chance of recidivating, compared with 43% for those who do not participate. In New York State, as of 2012, the “cost to the state per crime prevented by offering education to incarcerated persons is about $1,600, while the cost per crime prevented by extending prison sentences is $2,800.” A 2015 study of New York prisons showed that “every $1 million spent on building more prisons prevents about 350 crimes, but the same amount invested in correctional education prevents more than 600 crimes.”

Nationally, the cost of correctional education programs is $1,400 – $1,744 per participant. Although a third of participants will recidivate, the average savings per person from reduced incarceration rates is $8,700-$9,700 over three years.  Studies have shown that even after assuming the highest average cost, $1,744, and the lowest average savings, $8,700, the three-year return on investment for taxpayers is nearly 400%, or $5 saved for every $1 spent.

Besides economic benefits to taxpayers and the incarcerated, the benefits extend to the communities both in and out of prison and families. A study conducted by Human Impact Partners in 2015 found that prison environments also benefit from college education programs. These programs produce productive leaders with strong critical thinking skills who have a positive influence on other incarcerated individuals.  Additionally, better employment opportunities for parents lead to higher family incomes, which is the top determinant of health and well-being of families.

Barriers to Accessing Education

Despite these positive benefits and results, incarcerated individuals still face many barriers to accessing educational opportunities primarily from the lack of funding for vocational and post-secondary education.

Access to post-secondary education for prisoners became more difficult after 1994, when the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was passed. The Act barred students in state and federal prisons from obtaining federal Pell Grants. Furthermore, in 1995, New York Governor George Pataki signed legislation that also banned people in prison from accessing the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).  As a result, there were college programs in 70 New York prisons in 1995, but by 2004, there were only four remaining.

However, there is a movement to bring back college education to prisons. In 2016, the Second Chance Pell Grant Program was created and enrolled 12,000 incarcerated students. The program’s aim is to evaluate student outcomes and whether to restore Pell Grant eligibility on a permanent basis.The U.S. Department of Education selected 67 colleges and universities to partner with federal and state prisons for the experimental pilot program. Students who were selected were likely to be released within five years of enrolling in coursework.

In New York, as of 2012, 21 state prisons hosted college programs, up from four college programs in 2004. Recently, Governor Cuomo announced the creation of a $7.3 million to fund education and re-entry services at 17 state prisons.  The award is derived from large settlements obtained by the Manhattan DA’s office.

In conclusion, education is absolutely essential to successful re-entry and to preventing recidivism.  Educating incarcerated individuals not only rehabilitates those individuals but also helps create more productive and peaceful communities.

A poem about my frustration over racial injustice and the lack of empathy.

I’m so Tired
By Linda Valdez

I’m so tired.
I’m so tired of turning on my television, or opening my Social Media pages and seeing the killing of another Black Man!
I’m so tired of reading the posts of people disparaging the Black Community for their outrage, and for the way they protest…whether silently taking a knee, marching, or downright civil disobedience.
Civil Disobedience is a huge part of American History! Many of the gains that have been achieved, happened, in part, because of Civil Disobedience.
I’m so tired that on my Social Media feed there is nothing but silence when another unarmed or licensed to carry Black Man, or even a child, is killed. Just once, I was hoping that maybe someone would say, how awful, would question what’s going on, would offer sympathy to a family or a community. But none of that.
I’m so tired.
I’m so tired of their use of the word “ignorant” leveled towards protesters and those that have been killed!
I’m so tired that they think they can tell Black people in America how we should be responding to an outrage, that hasn’t manifested itself in their communities!
I’m so tired that these educated people so freely espouse their opinions, disguised as facts.
I’m so tired that so many think it’s ok to say whatever they want, without regard to others, yet let the reverse happen, and they lose their minds!
I’m so tired of hearing folks say that violence is not American, and not the way to get results, yet that’s what this America was founded on.
I’m so tired.
I wish they would take their blinders and rose colored glasses off, and see The Truth!
I took my rose colored glasses off a long time ago, and what I opened my eyes to, is reality; an ugly, but true, reality in America!
I am so tired.
I am so tired of smiling when I feel like yelling.
I am so tired of being the go to Black friend, when an associate calls them out on their racist views!
I am so tired of being silent!
My silence ends today.
The truth is, the New World, this United States of America, was formed out of ethnic and racial violence from the first time European settlers stepped foot on this land! A land that was already occupied by existing Native Americans! Yet, through violence, amounting to genocide, nearly an entire population of people was killed, and the land was suddenly “discovered” by someone else!
This violence is a part of America’s democratic history.
I am so tired!
The narrative that was spoon fed to all of us as children about the nice Pilgrims, helping the savage “Indians” and the wonderful celebratory Thanksgiving Dinner, is a fallacy perpetuated to maintain someone else’s supremacy.
I am so tired!
Violence in America is not the democratic way. Huh! That’s funny. Tell that to the many Black people dragged to this country in inhumane conditions in the belly of ships, forced to live and work as slaves! Slavery was violence.
That is a part of America’s violent democratic history!
I am so tired!
The origins of America’s own original homegrown terrorist group, the Ku Klux Klan, the night riders who threatened, maimed, hung, shot, killed, and burned Black people, basically for sport, while a blind eye was turned, is all a part of America’s violent democratic history.
I am so tired.
This country was built on violence, savagery and racism. Its gains were secured off the backs of those who they controlled through violence.
I am so tired!
I could mention the violence and Internment of innocent Asians, but I won’t, because, well at least there was an acknowledgment of a wrong, and reparations paid.
I am so tired.
I am so tired of folks talking about the low percentage of Black people owning property, yet they forget that blacks were shut out of that process for decades, through the systemic racism written into FHA and other documents.
I am so tired.
I am so tired of folks talking about the number of Black people in prisons, and the number of Black people residing in ghettos, yet they fail to talk about how the mass incarceration of non violent minor drug offenses sent millions of black men and women to prison, destroyed their families and eviscerated their communities, yet whites who did the same thing were not arrested or imprisoned at the same rate, or for the same length of time!
I am so tired.
I am so tired of hearing how Black people should get over slavery, the Civil Rights movement, and Jim Crow! That’s funny, because the fallout of all of that still exists today! Just because you don’t talk about it, or because you are not personally affected by it, doesn’t meant that it does not exist!
I am so tired!
I am so tired of reminding my sons of what to do to hopefully stay alive in this post Civil Rights America. But I still have to, because someone who carries fear, ignorance, or racism within them, may not see my sons for the well raised, well educated, young men that they are!
I am so tired.
This Southern born, 60’s child, with a radical spirit, is tired.
If you didn’t watch your Grandmother, who worked as a domestic, go in the back door of a home and hear the young child call her by first name, while she referred to him as Mister, then you can’t tell me how to act, react, or feel about anything!
If you haven’t been followed in a store and watched while shopping, you don’t have a right to tell me how to feel.
If you haven’t had the police watch you in a parking lot after your sons basketball game ended, for ten whole minutes, and as soon as the last white child left, zoom his car so close to you, that you thought he was going to run down your child, only to ask you, “what are you folks doing over here”, and interrogate you like you were a criminal, then you can’t tell me how to react to the police.
If you haven’t had to remind your kids that just because of the color of their skin, they may be perceived a certain way by some people, and that they can’t do the same things as their friends, because somehow if they do it, it’s criminal, though if their friends do it, it’s kids being kids, then you can not tell me how to raise my children!
If you never had a well-meaning friend tell you that her parent doesn’t like black people because of an incident that they encountered once with a black person, but he likes you, and somehow make that okay, then you can’t tell me about racism; you don’t hold an entire race of people in contempt because of the action of one.
If you haven’t had a supervisor on a work outing to the beach, try to reassure you that it’s okay that you can’t swim, because she read in a book that blacks can’t swim because of how they’re built, then you don’t have the right to tell me what is ignorant!
I am so tired!
I am so tired of the ignorance spewed by people who are more outraged at an athlete for failing to stand for an anthem, than they are when a person is killed!
I am so tired that they haven’t removed their blinders!
I can no longer remain silent!
Silence is blind acceptance, and I removed my blinders a long time again!

Consumer Racial Profiling: The Crime without Redress or Repercussions

America has a very long and documented history of racial profiling against people of color. Discriminatory practices like stop and frisk and poll taxes have been present in this country since the dawn of our government. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 aimed to outlaw these forms of discrimination, many of these practices simply morphed into much “subtler” versions of themselves. In particular, the unfair treatment of Blacks by law enforcement and the judicial system has been as present as ever. This continued stain of Black enslavement and repression is evidenced by disproportionately high arrest rates and stricter prison sentences for Blacks, as well as targeted efforts to vilify the Black population. Thanks to the efforts of President Barack Obama, Black Lives Matter, Social Media, and activists throughout the country, many of these issues are now being brought to the political mainstream, yet there still is much to be done in the fight against racial injustice. This fight is especially challenging in the realm of retail and private businesses. You see, just as police and judicial abuse against Blacks represents a legacy of Black legal inequality, Consumer Racial Profiling represents a legacy of public and societal inequality.

Consumer Racial Profiling (CRP) is the act of storeowners and/or their employees following, harassing, or ignoring individuals while they shop in their stores simply due to the shopper’s apparent race. While CRP affects people of all colors and backgrounds, it is Blacks that are most frequently targeted. In a 2004 Gallup poll, 65% of Black respondents reported widespread racial profiling when shopping in malls and stores. Hence why CRP is also known as “shopping while Black”, drawing on the similarities to “driving while Black”. These racially charged interactions often lead to Black people being publicly embarrassed due to unfounded accusations of stealing, being searched for goods that they did not steal, or even being wrongly detained or apprehended by police officers.

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Profiting off of Black Bodies: Racial Prejudice a Major Factor in Denying Pay to Elite Collegiate Athletes

College sports have become an extremely lucrative business. The National College Athletic Association (NCAA) is contracted to receive $7.3 billion from ESPN for game broadcast rights between 2014 and 2026, and $11 billion from CBS and Turner Sports to broadcast “March Madness” basketball games over the next 14 years. In 2013, NCAA Football revenue topped $3.4 billion dollars, making it one of the most profitable sports, college or professional, in North America. To put that into perspective, the revenue generated by NCAA football comes relatively close to the NHL ($3.7 billion), the NBA ($5 billion) and the NFL ($6 billion). With all of this money being generated by college sports, especially basketball and football, the way colleges compensate their athletes has also come under great scrutiny.

Although the revenue generated by college football rivals that of other professional sports, the difference is those leagues have unions, and their players get a large piece of the revenue, while collegiate athletes are “paid” with scholarships that cover tuition, room, and board. When you add up all of the time a collegiate athlete spends practicing, training, playing in games and participating in team events, it is evident that they “work” the equivalent of full-time hours for the universities they play for. The value of these scholarships, when compared to the hours worked and revenue generated, would be considered an insignificant compensation in any other industry or setting. Additionally, the opportunity to obtain a college degree for free, one of the major justifications for not paying collegiate athletes, often takes a back seat to the sport itself.

However, despite the above facts, there is still strong opposition against paying collegiate athletes wages comparable to their work and revenue generated. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, 64% of people oppose paying collegiate athletes. To add insult to injury, the NCAA actually restricts athletes from receiving other forms of compensation (such as selling their own merchandise, working at a job that pays them more than $2,000 annually, and accepting monetary help from coaches). Yet this lack of adequate compensation is not considered exploitation in the eyes of the general public. So what could be the reason society feels that these dedicated and hardworking athletes should not receive all of the fruits of their labor? It turns out that reason just may be racial prejudice. Read more

The Flint Water Crisis

When my siblings and I were younger, we each imagined ourselves growing up and becoming someone important. We were always taught to dream big. My sister Syrita always pretended to be a doctor, always pretending to perform life saving surgery. Today she is one. I, on the other hand, imagined standing before a jury giving the closing statement of all closing statements. Today, I am months away from realizing my dream.

Despite the fact that the only black lawyers and doctors my sister and I saw growing up were on TV, Syrita and I, like our other three siblings held onto our dreams, refusing to be woken up or deterred. We relentlessly envisioned ourselves being that next great lawyer or that next great doctor. Little did I realize at that time how lucky my siblings and I were by having the ability just to dream because for the thousands of black children in Flint, Michigan, who for the past two years, have drank, bathed and consumed food cooked in water from their home’s pipes, and the thousands of children yet to be born, State and Local officials may have poisoned those dreams.

Let me shed some light on the situation. Over the past two years, due to the inaction of State and Local officials, children, along with all other residents living in Flint, have been exposed to toxic water. This situation has been coined The Flint Water Crisis. Read more

Black Youth in the Special Education System: Overrepresented or Underrepresented?

For years it has been a truism that, due to over-identification and racial bias, school districts have disproportionately funneled Black students into the special education system. Racial justice advocates, education leaders and researchers have asserted that school districts often use special education placement as a way to segregate black students from their peers. When these students are placed in special or remedial education programs, students of average or above-average intelligence quickly fall behind their peers, creating a wide education gap and obstacles to success that will persist for many years. Read more

New Orleans: 10 Years after Hurricane Katrina

 

Silence filled each and every one of the 72,000 seats, seats in which fans once sat. The turf, once home to gridiron titans competing for glory and excellence, was covered by cots, tables and sleeping bags.   Players replaced by evacuees. Football helmets and shoulder pads replaced by damp clothes and bags filled with priceless memories. The blood, sweat and tears of athletic gods supplanted by the blood of the now homeless, the sweat of the living, and tears for the dead. When stillness finally rested upon the city, more than 1800 lay dead, scattered around the city. Eighty percent of the city was submerged beneath water. Ten years ago, New Orleans was the city of all cities. The best jazz, the best seafood, and the best southern style cooking one could find east of the Mississippi.   It was the place where the native New Orleanians made you feel as though New Orleans was your home too with their warm southern hospitality. Ten years ago the warm smiles and sweet sounds of jazz faded away and were replaced by the sound of howling winds, cries of hunger, and weeps of desperation. Ten years ago, we saw, and I say “we” meaning the people of this country, what the United States government and the State of Louisiana really thought about its people, specifically, its Black residents.

 

Ten years later; the Big Easy has grown, in some ways unrecognizable. As the city’s once darken image has grown lighter due to Whites and Latinos pouring into the city building town­houses where hous­ing pro­jects once stood, New Orleans has watched for the past ten years as the combination of rising housing costs and government policies push the poor, Black res­id­ents that returned and remained to the outskirts of the city in search of cheap­er rent—or to home­less camps un­der the city’s high­ways. Blacks, who once accounted for two-thirds of the city’s pop­u­la­tion be­fore Hurricane Kat­rina, now make up slightly more than half of the city’s pop­u­la­tion. The thousands of Latino im­mig­rants re­cruited to clean up and re­build the city remained in New Orleans increasing the size of their population. Ac­cord­ing to a study by pro­fess­ors at Tu­lane Uni­versity and Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia, Berke­ley, an es­tim­ated 10,000-14,000 Latino work­ers moved to New Or­leans with­in a year of Kat­rina.

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Mr. and Mrs. Irrelevant: Foster v. Chatman and the Problem of Jury Exclusion

2015’s Mr. Irrelevant…do you recall his name off the top of your head? No? Let me give you a hint; his name is essentially two first names. Give up? Gerald Christian. Does that name ring a bell? Do not be alarmed if it does not. His name probably does not mean anything to you unless you are an Arizona Cardinal fan and even then it probably still does not mean that much to you

Gerald Christian was the last pick in this year’s National Football League (“NFL”) annual’s draft which is probably why you do not recognize his name. See, as the last pick, Gerald was given the facetious title of Mr. Irrelevant. That title is bestowed each year on the last player picked in the NFL draft. The evolution of the title developed from the fact the last pick typically failed to make the selecting team’s final roster, thus rendering the player ultimately irrelevant.

In our justice system, sometimes, potential jurors are given the title of either Mr. Irrelevant or Mrs. Irrelevant because like the players in NFL, these potential jurors typically fail to make the “team” as they are routinely excluded from serving on juries. Naturally, the follow up question is: “what do I mean that potential jurors fail to make the team?” Let me explain. In our legal system, lawyers have a tool called a peremptory challenge — a device through which either side in a case can strike a set number of would-be jurors from serving, based not on any demonstrated “cause” or “prejudice” on the part of any potential juror, but on a mere hunch or a feeling that the stricken juror would not be good for that lawyer’s side. But, the right to use peremptory challenges is not without limitations. In Batson v. Kentucky, the United States Supreme Court made it unlawful to strike a potential juror on the basis of race.

So here is the problem, some lawyers and courts have ignored Batson, allowing lawyers to strike potential jurors based on race. As a result, many criminal defendants are appealing their convictions arguing that the prosecution violated Batson in striking people of color from the jury. One of those cases, Foster v. Chatman, will be argued before the Supreme Court this fall. This Georgia case has the ability to reshape future juries throughout the country.

 

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Criminalization over Education: The Disproportionate Enforcement of Truancy Punishments and Suspensions on Low-Income and Black Youth

Around the country school systems have criminalized truancy, encouraging their counties to penalize students that miss too many days of school with fines, court fees, and in some cases even charging them, their parents, or their guardians with misdemeanors and pursuing jail time. These punishments often put an already struggling low-income family in an even deeper economic hole. Additionally, many school systems are attempting to remedy their student’s minor behavioral issues with out-of-school suspensions. This removal from the classroom causes students to miss out on valuable instructional time, resulting in students lagging behind their classmates due to a lack of understanding for the materials covered during their suspensions. Furthermore, a substantial amount of these suspensions are being sought for even the most inconsequential of incidents and school infractions. However, these truancy punishments and out-of-school suspensions are being pursued and enforced disproportionately against low-income and Black children with absolutely no regard for the long-term consequences of these actions.

The disproportionate enforcement of harsh disciplinary measures against low-income and Black youth is ground zero for what has been called the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The ACLU defines the school-to-prison pipeline as ”…policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice system. This pipeline reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education.” In order to reverse this trend, school systems must come to the realization that truancy and behavioral issues can be symptoms of more serious problems, rather than simple rebelliousness. In addition to being signs of a larger problem, much of this behavior is often age-appropriate, but deemed punishable due to racial discrimination. Read more

Searching America’s Heart

Americans hear about domestic terrorism in the news everyday. We discuss it in our homes and offices. Since September 11, 2001 we have been taught to live with vigilance and have legitimate fear of terrorism. We are encouraged to be on guard at all times. If we see something that gives us pause, we should say something. What about the fear of violence that Black Americans have lived with for hundreds of years? I was deeply struck when I read Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy. He wrote about the day an older Black gentleman urged him to educate the public. The man reminded Stevenson that terrorism is nothing new to Americans; Black Americans have been terrorized by white supremacists for generations.

I believe that Americans have a duty to search within our collective hearts. The seed of white supremacy planted by slave traders in 1619 has grown into what we see today, white privilege. This can be just as dangerous because it is less overt and more challenging to identify by both individuals who enjoy certain privileges and individuals who do not. White supremacy and its progeny, white privilege, is the scourge that we bear as one nation. We must, therefore repair this ill, as one nation.

When pondering the issue of race and inequity in America I think of something my mother used to say, “You are only as sick as your secrets.” Pervasive white privilege and Black discrimination is America’s, not so well kept secret and it has made us sick. In The Case for Reparations Ta-Nehisi Coates posits that the racism Black Americans endure today began with slavery but did not come close to ending with abolition. Americans must reconcile with our racist history and confront the truth; today we all carry the burden and responsibility to make amends.

Making amends does not mean we attempt to go back in time and change the past. We first admit that we have done wrong. Together, as one nation, we must say to those who have been injured, you were treated unfairly and we are sorry for ignoring your pain and suffering; by ignoring your pain you have further been injured.  The deliberate action of making amends begins first by recognizing that the actions of our founding fathers and predecessors have real and lasting consequences today and with deliberate intention, will begin to heal. This nation must begin the uncomfortable and difficult task of introspection to realize that our history of enslaving Africans has clear, existing consequences today.

One of the first ways we can begin the work of repairing our nation’s communities is by passing a bill in Congress, introduced in 1989 by Congressman John Conyers, Jr. The bill, HR 40, whose formal title is, “Commission to Study the Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act,” allows the federal government to undertake an official study of the impact of slavery on the social, political and economic life of our nation. If passed, this study would examine the lasting effect that slavery has had on Black Americans.   After the publication of “The Case for Reparations,” in 2014, the bill gained some press and momentum but not enough support to pass.

Congressman Conyers explains that the bill would do four things. First, it would acknowledge the fundamental injustice and inhumanity of slavery. Second, it would establish a commission to study slavery and its subsequent racial and economic discrimination against freed slaves. Third, it would study the impact of those forces on today’s living Black Americans. Finally, the study would make recommendations to Congress on appropriate remedies to redress the harms inflicted on living Black Americans.

This would not be the first time the American government attempted to apologize and make reparations for the wrongs of our predecessors. During WWII, 1942 through 1946 the American government sent over 110,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps. In 1980 Jimmy Carter opened an investigation, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Eight years later, after the commission found that these camps were driven by racism, $1.6 billion in reparations were paid to 82,219 Japanese Americans and their heirs. One year after, the federal government admitted that the choices made by their predecessors were grave enough that reparations needed to be made they were unable to do the same for the Black community; HR 40 was and continues to be ignored.

By ignoring HR 40, our government, year after year, sends a clear message: the heirs of the millions of Black people who were enslaved throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, segregated during the 20th Century and today, imprisoned at a rate three times that of white Americans, are not worth the energy it takes to study such undeniable injuries. In tort law we look to the responsible party, the party who had a duty to the injured in order to attempt to measure the amount the injured party is owed.

Those who govern, the elected officials who take the oath to support and defend the Constitution and speak on our behalf, they are the responsible party. It is our government who has made the choice to be held accountable for the actions of their predecessors and therefore must take responsibility. I fear that the ignorance to white privilege keeps our government from assuming this responsibility. There can be no other reason HR 40 has been continually ignored for 26 years.

The problem of white privilege is pervasive; we need only look at the Criminal Justice System to find a case in point. Americans should seriously consider the extent to which incarceration has become a fixture in the life cycle of so many racial and ethnic minorities: 9% of Black adults are in prisons, jails, on probation or parole, as opposed to 4% of Latinos and 2% of White adults. Crimes are committed evenly across all ethnicities. Black Americans are being targeted by the criminal justice system.

President Obama sang the words of “Amazing Grace” during the eulogy of South Carolina State Senator, Rev. Clementa C. Pinkney as a testament to the forgiveness Rev. Pinkney’s family extended to his killer. His family and the families of the others who were slain demonstrated the courage of their convictions to extend such forgiveness. Where is our courage to reconcile with our past? Why do the majority of Americans ignore the need to fully recognize the horrible deeds of our past? Our silence is deafening. America is better than this. We are a country that cares about our fellow brothers and sisters and we do seek out to identify the wrongs of our past as we work to correct those mistakes. Our call to action begins with demanding HR 40 be openly debated and passed.