I’ve always been captivated by big moments in history — the Underground Railroad, Lincoln’s assassination, World War II, the hippie movement against the draft, and Vietnam.
I like to picture what I would have done in those moments had I been alive. Would I have been brave, risked my own life, spoken truth to power? Would I have been like the cowards who buried their noses in the sand because they were not directly impacted, or who were silenced by their proximity to power and their desire to not lose their position?
Even worse, what if I had been the villain? Motivated by power, money, and my own prideful assumption that my judgement and worldview were infallible. Somewhat scary to think about.
No one ever believes that they’re the bad guy. But as time advances, history always sharpens the lens through which we see the players in major historical events, and it judges them quite harshly.
It is unconscionable to imagine my grandparents complicit in a system that segregated people based on their race. I struggle to wrap my mind around the millions of people responsible for Nazi Germany. How could anyone — anyone — stand by while these atrocities were happening, much less participate in carrying them out?
We are living through a crisis right now that will be judged by future generations. In one hundred years, I believe the United States’ current criminal justice system will be looked at with disgust and shame. Our grandchildren will wonder how we allowed it to happen, and the history books will not look kindly on those who perpetrated it.
Our criminal justice system is a blight on humanity, and the roles we are all playing in it at this moment in time will increasingly be viewed in one of three camps: are you working to fix it, are you silent because it doesn’t affect you, or are you one of the people responsible for it? The time to choose is now.
The United States incarcerates more people than anywhere else in the world — more than frequent human rights violators like China and India, and more than totalitarian regimes like Russia and North Korea. Right now, about 2.2 million people are locked up. If that population were a city, it would be among the largest in the country.
We’ve seen a 500% increase in the prison population over the past 40 years, even as crime has consistently plummeted. This drop in the crime rate coincided with improvements in our economy, an aging population, and better policing policies and is not the result of mass incarceration. In fact, studies have found that mass incarceration leads to more crime. And it’s notable who we’ve imprisoned in the process.
People of color are grossly overrepresented in the prison population, and that has a lot to do with flooding their communities with police. The ironic thing is that crimes against people of color have been far less likely to be solved.
Not only do we find substantial racial bias in the justice system, we also find what has essentially become a warehousing industry, where the country locks away its poor, mentally ill, and vulnerable.
It’s unethical to deprive people of their life and liberty in this manner, especially when on biased grounds, and particularly when the defendant is at a higher risk of being taken advantage of. Most of the rest of the world figured this out decades ago and moved to justice systems that actually address violence as a complex social problem and seek to rehabilitate people.
Not so in the United States. Instead, we continue to subject human beings to inhumane living conditions, abuse, assault, forced sterilization, and even death. Despite thousands of wrongful convictions discovered thus far, including one exoneration from death row for every ten executions, the country continues with the archaic practice of capital punishment that literally every other western country has abandoned.
I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of the base and vile practices taking place in our justice system within the space I have here. The corruption is bottomless, the evil omnipresent, and the inhumanity repulsive. There is no excuse for it. The defenders of this system cannot even hang their hats on the tired excuse of public safety, as data conclusively shows the policies of the “tough on crime” era have failed.
When your kids and grandkids ask you what you did about this system, I hope you have an answer for them that you feel good about.
Hannah Cox is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Hannah was previously Director of Outreach for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank. Prior to that, she was Director of Development for the Tennessee Firearms Association and a policy advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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