The assumption of black criminality bears out in a variety of ways. Blacks only make up about 13 percent of the American population, but account for nearly half ofthe country’s prison population. Blacks are six times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, and they are sentenced for longer periods and put to death at much higher rates than whites who commit the same crimes. The penal system aspires to be a state-sponsored reform program, but prison doesn’t exist in its current form as an attempt to rehabilitate black people so much as to remove them from society altogether.
Things like learning how to read, pissing in the wrong trough, and not stepping off the sidewalk when whites pass have all at various times been seen as acts of defiance meant to subvert this country’s caste system, the ghosts of which still infect our legal process today. Any misstep a black person makes can be used not just to affirm their innate criminality, but as a tool with which to remove that person from society, crippling their future as well as those of their family and their community.
University of Virginia student Martese Johnson misstepped earlier this year when he tried to enter a bar while underaged. He was beaten bloody. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice misstepped last year in Cleveland, Ohio when he was playing with a toy gun in a park. He was executed at close range. John Crawford III misstepped in Beavercreek, Ohio when he picked up an air rifle off a shelf in Wal-Mart. He, too, was executed at close range. Jonathan Ferrell misstepped in Charlotte, N.C. two years ago when he banged on doors for help after a car accident. He was shot 10 times. Less than two months later, Renisha McBridemisstepped in Detroit, Mich., when she got in a car accident of her own and also sought assistance. She was shot in the back of the head.