Last night I attended the keynote address at Yale Law School's 11th annual Rebellious Lawyering Conference. Paul Butler
, professor of law at GW, had some very intelligent things to say about racism in the criminal justice system, critical race theory, and a response to injustice based on listening to what the Hip Hop Nation is saying.
Butler used to be a governement prosecutor in DC. He had the best conviction record of anyone in his office. He opened his talk by reflecting on his role as a black prosecutor in the criminal justice system, how his skin color reassured black jurors that these criminal cases, drug cases mostly, were about justice and not about another black man or woman being locked in prison.
Sometimes, black juries would refuse to convict. This refusal amounted to an act of rebellion, a desperate cry from a people that sees more black men in prison than in college. The inequality built into this system is staggering.
Black people account for
13% of drug users,
35% of those arrested,
55% of those convicted,
75% of those in prison for drug crimes.
This is why Hip Hop, an extremely diverse genre, with views all over the map on most issues, speaks unanimously on the criminal justice system. The war on drugs has created an underclass in this country. Black and Latino communities have been devastated by this war. Butler explained that Hip Hop does not attach a stigma to crime because crime and prison has become a rite of passage for so many young black people. Butler quoted (and played clips from) KRS-ONE, DMX, and Public Enemy to illustrate his point.
I think this is a central issue facing this country. If we in the 'progressive movement' are so concerned with winning the country back, we must take this on. Butler stressed this as well. Our national voting trends are racialized. The Republicans continue to get away with demonizing black people, and now gay people and lesbians as well.
This is why poor and working class white people so often vote Republican. They are voting for the white party.