Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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The U.S. has opposite systems of justice – one for white people, one for people of color

Paul Butler writes:

On Friday the CNN journalist Omar Jimenez was arrested on live television as he covered protests of police brutality in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Jimenez identifies as African American and Hispanic, and when the cops confronted him, he did just what minority parents tell their kids to do. Jimenez cooperated; he was respectful, deferential even. He said: “We can move back to where you like … We are getting out of your way … Wherever you want us, we will go.”

It didn’t matter; the police officers put handcuffs on him and led him away, and then came back to arrest his crew. Jimenez narrated his arrest as they led him away. His voice is steady. His eyes, though. Jimenez is masked so his eyes are the only clue to what he’s feeling. His eyes are perplexed and terrified. I get it. When a black or brown person goes into police custody, you never know what is going to happen. You just know that when you leave police custody, if you are lucky enough to leave, you will be diminished. That is the point.

What’s most interesting is not that Jimenez and his colleagues were released shortly thereafter without any charges filed (or even being told why they had been taken into custody). That’s what class will buy a black man in America. You don’t get it quite as bad as your lower-income brethren. Jeff Zucker, the CNN president, talked to Tim Walz, the governor of Minnesota, and the crew was quickly released. With an apology from the governor, not the cops. Cops rarely apologize, especially to black men.

But what’s most interesting is what happened to Josh Campbell, a white CNN journalist who was in the same area as Jimenez and not arrested. Campbell said his experience was the “opposite” of Jimenez’s. The cops asked him “politely to move here and there”. “A couple times I’ve moved closer than they would, like, they asked politely to move back. They didn’t pull out the handcuffs.”

It’s a cliche that the US has two systems of justice, separate and unequal, but I prefer the word Campbell used. The US has “opposite” systems of justice – one for white people and another for racial minorities, especially African Americans, Latinx and Native American people. [Continue reading…]

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