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Another Trayvon Martin Is Killed Every 28 Hours in This Country

A racist mindset infects our criminal justice system, our schools, and our politics in ways that have had disastrous consequences.

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And, as we know, stop-and-frisk policies are routine nationwide. In New York City alone, more than 600,000 people are stopped and frisked every year, overwhelmingly black and brown men, and nearly all are found to be innocent of any crime or infraction, and are harassed simply because they seem out of place, seem like they’re up to no good. The same kinds of stereotypes and hunches that George Zimmerman used when deciding that, you know, Trayvon Martin seemed like a threat in his neighborhood, law enforcement officers employ all the time.

I believe that Trayvon Martin’s life might well have been spared if many of us who care about racial justice had raised our voices much, much sooner and much, much more loudly about the routine stereotyping and profiling of young black men and boys. It is because we have tolerated these practices for so long that George Zimmerman felt emboldened, I believe, to act on a discriminatory mindset that night.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about this case of Marissa Alexander. She’s the 31-year-old African-American mother of three who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing what she maintains was a warning shot at her abusive husband. She has insisted she was defending herself when she fired the gun into a wall near her husband. Alexander had turned down a plea bargain that would have seen her jailed for something like three years. She attempted to use Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in her defense, but in March 2012 the jury convicted her, after only 12 minutes of deliberation, and she was sentenced to 20 years behind bars under a Florida law known as "10-20-Life" that carries a mandatory minimum for certain gun crimes regardless of the circumstance. This was an Angela Corey prosecution, the special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case who ultimately brought the charge of second-degree murder against George Zimmerman. Michelle Alexander, can you talk about this Florida law and the issue of mandatory minimums, in general?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Absolutely. You know, the case you just described is, you know, a stark example of the discriminatory application of the Stand Your Ground law itself. You know, here is a woman firing shots in the air to protect herself from what she believed is an abusive spouse, and she winds up getting 20 years, while George Zimmerman, you know, is released scot-free after pursuing someone based on racial stereotypes and assumptions of criminality. She received a 20-year sentence because of harsh mandatory minimum sentences, sentences that exist in Florida and in states nationwide.

Mandatory minimum sentences give no discretion to judges about the amount of time that the person should receive once a guilty verdict is rendered. Harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses were passed by Congress in the 1980s as part of the war on drugs and the "get tough" movement, sentences that have helped to fuel our nation’s prison boom and have also greatly aggravated racial disparities, particularly in the application of mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine.

It is the Zimmerman mindset, the mindset that some people, viewed largely by race and class, are a problem that must be dealt with harshly and just locked up and, you know, the key thrown away, that has helped to drive the adoption of many of these mandatory minimum sentence laws. And if we are serious about ending the Zimmerman mindset, we must be committed to much more than ending vigilante justice. We must be committed to repealing all of the mandatory minimum sentence laws that reflect that kind of Zimmerman mindset, the mentality that some people can simply be disposed of, are a problem—not people who have problems, but who are the embodiment of problem—that can be treated like mere throwaways.

 
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