Global Independent Analytics
Panagiotis Papargyris
Panagiotis Papargyris

Location: Greece

Specialization: Greece, Crisis of the US hegemony; Israel / Occupied Palestine, Oppression of Black people in the US

Revisiting Freddie Gray’s murder by US police and aspects of Jim Crow’s legacy

Racist police killings are by no means unusual in the US.

Nevertheless, the murder of Freddie Gray by the police last April sticks out for its savagery and cannot be forgotten easily. The 25 year-old African-American, who died at the hospital on April 19, 2015, had been arrested on April 12 for the “crime” of making eye-contact with a police officer and then, according to the police, running away. Six police officers arrested him, beat him severely and threw him into the back of a police van with his hands tied behind his back. They did not tie his seatbelt, as they should have done according to police rules; during the ride they stopped and shackled his feet as well. Although he repeatedly asked for medical assistance, he was not given any. His arrest turned into a half hour ride around Baltimore – which almost certainly worsened the injuries he had suffered from as a result of the beating. Only after the ride did the police call medical personnel. Freddie Gray was transported to the hospital with a broken neck and a severed spine, went into a coma and died a week later.

On Wednesday, December 16, the presiding judge in the trial of one of the officers involved in the incident declared a mistrial, as the jurors appeared unable to reach a verdict. It is not clear whether a new trial will be held, but in any case experience shows that killer cops are rarely convicted or punished in any way, therefore one should not have high expectations from the judicial system. I will not go into further details on the subject, as it has already been covered by the GIA.

A very interesting piece by Margaret Kimberley discusses the reality of the racist treatment of black people by the US justice and jail/prison system, where slavery is still alive and kicking; the history of slavery, Jim Crow laws and legally sanctioned racism and discrimination that officially ended only in 1965 still cast a heavy shadow. A valuable and extensive study entitled “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences” [Travis, Western, Redburn, 2014] provides some striking insights on the issue.

The study shows that the US has the highest percentage of detainees in the world. In 2012, the number of ratio of the prison population was 707 detainees per 100,000 of the total population. In order to get a sense of the magnitude, one may compare this percentage to the respective percentages of inmates in Finland (58/100,000), Sweden (67/100,000), Germany (77/100,000) and even a more authoritarian regime, such as Turkey (188/100,000).

The report underlines the vast racial disparity that exists in the US prison system. The following chart is more than indicative:

The following statistics indicate the severity of the problem:

- Around 60% of those behind bars in 2011 belonged to a minority (858,000 blacks and 464,000 Hispanics).

- African American men born since the late 1960s are more likely to have served time in prison than to have completed college and a 4-year degree.

- African American men under the age of 35 who failed to finish high school are now more likely to be behind bars than employed in the labor market.

- 62% of children with black parents who have not completed high school have experienced a parent being sent to prison by the age of 17 (the comparable percentage for white children is 15%).

- Compared to white people, black people have higher chances of being kept imprisoned until their trial (which raises the possibility of being convicted) and to receive higher sentences.

Although this may surprise those who regard the US as a beacon of democracy and human rights, cheering every time that the US exports these ideals on the wings of the NATO bombers, this is the gloomy situation in the “land of the free.” At this point, the percentage of Black people in US prisons and jails is higher than the respective percentage of blacks in South African prisons during the Apartheid. Black people in the US are subjected to oppression on various levels and their struggle against this reality is just.

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