LatinaLista — The popular saying of “If you do the crime you must pay the time” is a fair statement. But what if the people who are doing the time didn’t commit the crime? Aside from being punished for something they didn’t do, they also have to suffer the consequences of having their voting privileges revoked until they get out of jail.
In most cases, judges, lawyers, law enforcement officials and even the public agree that revoking someone’s voting privileges is the right thing to do for people serving time for crimes against society.
Yet, in a surprising decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled that in a case brought by several Washington inmates, the judges found that:
black and Latino Washingtonians faced arrest and prosecution at rates far higher than could be explained simply by increased criminal activity.
The judges’ findings give the right to vote back to these inmates.
Though the decision will be appealed, and expected to be overturned, the greater message from this ruling is that there is finally an official acknowledgement that one city’s criminal justice system is biased against blacks and Latinos.
Attorneys for six Washington state prisoners, Circuit Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote, “have demonstrated that police practices, searches, arrests, detention practices, and plea bargaining practices lead to a greater burden on minorities that cannot be explained in race-neutral ways.”
If the proof is there to see in one city, chances are it exists in many cities and towns across the country. Dallas’ District Attorney, Craig Watkins, has become famous for overturning wrongful convictions and seeing that innocent people finally get released from jail.
It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that the majority of wrongfully convicted in Dallas County are people of color.
Yet, attorneys like Watkins, continuously battle against the long-held bias that people of color are naturally guilty of committing crimes. The fact that Watkins is black helps in his quest for justice because he’s not hindered by that false assumption at the outset of his investigations like so many of his colleagues.
No one argues the point that the guilty need to be punished but there should be outrage and disgust with a system that has institutionalized racism to the extent that it automatically dismisses claims of innocence by inmates of color and the assumption of guilt leads to a deprivation of rights when going through the judicial process.
It’s time for the Justice Department to evaluate just how deeply ingrained racism is in our judicial system by establishing a set of benchmarks to determine if racism makes a person more guilty than the crime they are being accused of.