“We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”
45 years ago yesterday Martin Luther King Jr. delivered “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” his final speech, to a crowd at the Mason Temple in Memphis Tennessee. Todd Chretien writes on the socialistworker.org, “Each time I listen to it, I stop, I’m captivated, and I’m forced to try to come to terms with what it means to fight for a better world.” The day following this speech, April 4, 1968, he was murdered. While we have come a way since 1986, there is still much work to be done. As Michelle Alexander argues in her critical book The New Jim Crow, “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Staring with the school to prison pipeline African American children are being disproportionately siphoned into the justice system, disproportionately sentenced as adults, and then saddled with criminal records.
Research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation demonstrates that at virtually every stage of the juvenile justice process, youth of color– Latinos and African Americans, particularly– receive harsher treatment than their white counterparts, even when they enter the justice system with identical charges and offending histories. As Ms. Alexander states, “it is perfectly legal to discriminate against convicted criminals in nearly all the ways in which it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans.”
45 years after the fact, Mr. King’s speech resonates truer than ever: “We have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them.”