Opinion: Criminal justice system needs to be reformed


"Demilitarize the Police, Black Lives Matter" by Johnny Silvercloud is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The United State’s criminal justice system is painfully flawed, resulting in the mass incarcerations of BIPOC across the nation and trials that take ages to be processed. Due to systemic racism in the criminal justice system, countless BIPOC lives have been lost at the hands of police officers over petty crimes and simple allegations. By further educating law officials and reforming the system as a whole, we can dismantle the racial bias decimating this nation.

By Rachel Laposka, Starr's Mill High School

This year, that “perfect” facade the United States has put forth is being dismantled one travesty at a time. Everything from the delayed response to COVID-19 that has left our country plagued in ignorance, to the ever-worsening prison industrial complex that thrives in racial divide, will add up to be this country’s downfall.

Systemic racism, also known as institutional racism, can be defined as the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another.

Our prison industrial complex has always been far from perfect. Systemic racism is so deeply rooted in the system to the point where a person’s race can determine the outcome of one’s sentencing, or in the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, lack thereof.

Rittenhouse’s name has been all over the news since August, following a protest for Jacob Blake, a black male that was shot seven times by a police officer in Wisconsin, and left paralyzed.

Kyle Rittenhouse is a 17-year-old white male “suspect” from the Aug. 25 shooting at the Kenosha, Wisconsin, Black Lives Matter protest.

Despite all of the footage and proof of Rittenhouse opening fire onto a crowd of protesters with an illegal firearm, the criminal justice system decided to take their sweet time with his trial. Eventually, Rittenhouse was charged with six felonies, including intentional homicide and illegal possession of a firearm.

Rather than seeing the complete devastation Rittenhouse has caused, some conservative people rallied to raise money for Rittenhouse’s $2 million bail, ultimately releasing him from police custody. These people defend Rittenhouse, praising him for “protecting” businesses from the destruction caused by protests.

The part about that that unsettles me the most is the fact that those people value businesses and material items more than human lives. They could not care less about the mass incarcerations of black/indigenous people of color. As long as our capitalistic society is still intact, they are happy.

Seeing the way the criminal justice system responds to Rittenhouse’s crimes compared to their reactions toward BIPOC is revolting. When a young white male is charged with alleged crimes, people sympathize with him, raising money and awareness for his cause. After all, he is just an innocent young man, and we would not want to ruin his future, would we?

Meanwhile, when a BIPOC is charged with an alleged crime, they are met with violence. People are divided as to whether they should promote the cause to quicken their trial. People hold back, because of all of those racial stereotypes that have been shoved down our throats. Rather than sympathizing with the person, people ask questions as a way to dismantle the urgency of the cause.

It is with a heavy heart that I can list countless names of BIPOC that have been shot and killed by the police over alleged crimes from this year alone. Names like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, Rayshard Brooks, and Daniel Prude have circulated the media in 2020 due to the police murdering them over petty charges that, if they were white, would have resulted in a slap on the wrist.

Take Daniel Prude, for example. Prude had a poor history with mental health, and during an episode one evening that caused him to run nude in the streets at three in the morning, the police were called. Prude was compliant. The police placed a spit hood over his head while officer Mark Vaughn pushed his head into the ground, ultimately leading to Prude dying of asphyxiation.

If Prude’s case could not convince you of the dangerous levels of racism in the criminal justice system, let us take a look at Kalief Browder. Browder was only 16 years old when he was arrested for allegedly robbing a man. He was charged as an adult and sent off to Riker’s Island, where he spent the next three years in and out of solitary confinement. Between the inhumane prison conditions and his lack of trial, Browder took his own life at only 22.

The fact that we still see cases like Kalief Browder’s in the courts all the time and no change has been made is absurd. A person’s skin tone can determine their freedom. The media judges as either an innocent person that has their whole life ahead of them or a malicious monster that needs to be locked up.

Too many innocent BIPOC lives are lost each year due to the systemic racism rooted in the criminal justice system, and it is time that those biases are eliminated.

We have tried to change the system before with the revamped Black Lives Matter and Civil Rights movements. In theory, raising awareness for these affected communities via organized protests seems like the ideal solution.

That is when other organized groups come into play. These people fabricate stories regarding most activist movements, denouncing not only the group as a whole but the cause as well. All they care about is property damage and material value, seeing as all of their main points derive from buildings harmed from the protests. If we want real change, we have to go to the root of all problems.

Change has to start somewhere, and it begins with the way the media portrays BIPOC. If we can rewrite the media’s narrative so that BIPOC are portrayed in a different light, then other changes can be made.

Without the media on our side, effective change is unlikely to happen, prolonging the racial injustice terrorizing our country.

This story was originally published on The Prowler on December 10, 2020.