Don’t think so? Ask Chris Hayes, who recently said this about his experience with drugs and law enforcement officials
“I can tell you as sure as I’m sitting here before you that if I was a black kid with cornrows instead of a white kid with glasses, my ass would’ve been in the back of a squad car faster than you can say George W. Bush.
It’s not just with drugs, however that this disparity in justice between black and white is evident, it’s also about perception. There is this notion that crime is only committed by people of color and only they deserve the attention of the justice system.
On April 29, 2012, I put on a suit and tie and took the No. 3 subway line to the Junius Avenue stop in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville. At the time, the blocks around this stop were a well-known battleground in the stop-and-frisk wars: Police had stopped 14,000 residents 52,000 times in four years. I figured this frequency would increase my chances of getting to see the system in action, but I faced a significant hurdle: Though I’ve spent years living and working in neighborhoods like Brownsville, as a white professional, the police have never eyed me suspiciously or stopped me for routine questioning. I would have to do something creative to get their attention.
As I walked around that day, I held a chipboard graffiti stencil the size of a piece of poster board and two cans of spray paint. Simply carrying those items qualified as a class B misdemeanor pursuant to New York Penal Law 145.65. If police officers were doing their jobs, they would have no choice but to stop and question me.
I kept walking and reached a bodega near the Rockaway Avenue subway station. Suddenly, a young black man started yelling at me to get out of Brownsville, presumably concluding from my skin color and my suit that I did not belong there. Three police officers heard the commotion and came running down the stairs. They reached me and stopped.
“What’s going on?” one asked.
“Nothing,” I told them.
“What does that say?” the officer interrupted me, incredulously, as the other two gathered around. I held the stencil up for them to read.
“What are you, some kind of asshole?” he asked.
I stood quietly, wondering whether they would arrest me or write a summons. The officers grumbled a few choice curse words and then ran down the stairs in pursuit of the young man. Though I was the one clearly breaking a law, they went after him.
Eventually the writer of the piece above was arrested and inordinately punished for bringing attention to the differences people of color face when confronted by America’s judicial system. But this isn’t news….merely an affirmation of what has been said repeatedly and unfortunately hasn’t changed very much since.