Poor Treatment Of African Americans In The United States

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Context
  3. Race Relations in the 20th Century


In recent times Black victims of police brutality have become more than just a statistic, they have become another reason for Black Lives Matter to protest. With the rise of social media over the last decade, this has given the African American community a way to express their dismay over these violent murders. The outside world is thus able to gain another perspective which is not from the drip-fed media that can often be corrupted by rich, political socialites who silence people who go against their political beliefs, much like Donald Trump. Moreover, we gain a more balanced idea of the events and the police officers are now unable to pass off miscarriages of justice as just unavoidable accidents.


America is a country built on racial tensions and divide. The country which we recognise as America today was built on stolen land from the Native Americans and then built up off the wealth generated by the African slaves from sugar and cotton. Many of the racial issues seem to stem from early slavery in 1619 when Africans got taken against their will to North and South America. Africans were made to work the land under terrible conditions. They were lynched, whipped, raped, mutilated and sold.

Black people in America were seen therefore as commodities. Slaves were worth forty dollars to four hundred dollars, according to age, quality, and especially according to place. These pricings were most common in the South, in the early 19th Century. [1] In hindsight we see these buyers and sellers as loathsome, callous individuals. But at the time they would have been viewed as strategic businessmen making their way in the new world. Therefore, did slavery create a corrupted foundation of racial values in modern America?

In the wake of the civil war, on the 24TH December 1865, the Ku Klux Klan was formed. After this date, the KKK would go on to strike fear into African Americans, due to their notoriously vicious crimes. Interestingly, the KKK was formed 1 month before the thirteenth amendment that abolished slavery and involuntary servitude and was passed in December 1865. Does the formation of the Ku Klux Klan therefore, show a reactionary response to black people gaining their freedom in America? And thus, the KKK was formed to create a sense of white people having to be feared, by the African Americans.

Moreover, this helped to sustain a superiority complex within white America, as white Americans weren't going to be attacked by this Far right terrorist wing. KKK members didn’t just wear hoods to frighten African Americans, but they wore hoods to hide their identity. The KKK were not all uneducated, blue-collar workers, which some people believe. A proportionate number of members of the Klan had high positioned jobs such as, lawyers, judges, doctors and police officers. These members had duties of looking after all the citizens of the United States, yet they showed much hatred towards a group which they were meant to be serving.[2]

Police officers in the United States have to take an oath of “I, do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of constable with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, and that I will uphold fundamental human rights and accord equal respect to all people, according to law.” [3] Therefore, when they take the oath of the Klan, they are violating the oath of the police officer, because the oath of the Klan gets you to swear:

'You solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that you will never reveal the name of the person who initiated you… that you are not now a member of any organisation whose aim and intention is to destroy the rights of the South, or of the States, or of the people, or to elevate the negro to a political equality with yourself; and that you are opposed to all such principles, help you God.' [4]

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Due to the historical injustices, race relations in America have always been fraught. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s to the 1980’s was seen as a revolutionary time for politics, with figures such a Martin Luther King and Malcolm X rising and spreading the message, nationally that time was up on black people in America being forced to live in segregation under Jim Crowe laws which were predominantly applied in the south. In 1964 The Civil rights act was passed which meant that discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin were outlawed. It also prohibits unequal application of voter registration requirements, and racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations.

Furthermore, under legislation after 1964, African Americans were meant to be free from being discriminated against in a legal sense.[28] However, during the 1980’s the police still treated black people unethically. A prime example is the ‘Central Park 5’ in 1989, where the police framed, five African American teenagers for a woman’s rape and severe beating. The five boys spent 6-13years in prison and lost out, on experiencing their teenage years. Donald Trump said “Bring back the death penalty” to specifically execute these teenagers and even in 2019, thirty years after the injustice, he still refuses to apologise or take back his comment. For the ‘Central Park 5’, injustice was only rectified after the true rapist came forward. Otherwise five innocent men would have had to carry around the shame of being labelled rapists. Thus, even though black people gained rights legally, the police department and justice system, still found ways to discriminate racially against black people.[30]

In the modern-day superpower that is America, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ (A quote from Francis Scott Key in 1814 before slavery was abolished in America). I would argue that America has always had a democratic facade in the world, particularly in relation to this well- known quote. Moreover, this quote sums up the complex racial issues with America, because it shows the subtle delusion the country is under. Just this quote alone makes African Americans the ‘other’. It writes them out of history and as many historians would say 'Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.' (George Santayana). America seems to be stuck in a time warp, as refusing to accept the past means they are unable to overcome the issues in the future. Black Lives Matter are a group that have decided to take a “call to action” and to make sure that future generations will live in a world where black lives really do matter.

Currently, there is a large consensus within the African American community that black lives are being mistreated, leading to countless unjust murders by the police. A study done in 2017, states that 92% of African Americans believe that discrimination against African Americans exists in America today. Additionally, 60% of African Americans say they or a family member have been unfairly stopped or treated by the police because they are Black.[29] The police force was created to serve and protect the civilians against crime. However, there is a strong belief that the police are only trying to serve and protect the Caucasian part of the population against the African Americans. Moreover, the rise in police call outs over small neighbourhood disputes, for example, the 2015, Texas pool party incident, where the police were called out, for a group of black teenagers using a local pool.

The teenagers were subsequently not breaking any laws or rules. The incident lead to a teenage girl’s being body being slammed by a police officer onto the floor, the family is now suing because this was an illegal practise on a minor. The police officer also threatened the teenagers with a gun. This incident was all filmed by a local white teenage boy, who was not being threatened even though he was also at the pool. In addition, these “less serious incidents” paired with fatalities has led to a new wave of a new civil rights movement because African Americans rights have been continuously dissipated. In the pool party incident alone, you can see the different treatments of the races. The white boy who was filming the incident had very little trouble with the police even though he was doing the same things as the black kids. [5] Moreover, you could argue that in this context, white skin is seen as innocent and black skin is seen as guilty. In the pool party incident, the black kids were deemed to be guilty until they had CNN, lawyers and social media backing them up and fighting for the truth. [6]

Race Relations in the 20th Century

Race relations in the 20th Century, in America were very troubled. Even into the later part of the 20th Century, race relations lead to mass violence for example the Los Angeles riots of 1992. The riots of 1992 are the deadliest that America has ever seen, in fact the para troopers who were sent to try and sort out the calamity, compared the riots to the Gulf war, and some actually described it as worse, as who the enemy was, was unknown. The 1992 riots, all started when Rodney King was beaten 52 times with batons and other assault weapons by the police, for fleeing the police and also because of speeding and drunk driving. Nevertheless, the brutal assault was captured on someone’s home video camera. Unsurprisingly, in the corrupt justice system in America the officers who beat Rodney to the point of fracturing his skull, got off with no punishment even though people agreed that you wouldn’t even treat a wild animal in the way that they treated Rodney King.

The African American LA citizens, were already restless after the murder of Latasha Herlins, after a Korean shop owner shot her in the back of the head, for supposedly shop lifting, however the security footage clearly depicts Latasha going to the till and moments way from paying for orange juice. The shop keeper however, grabbed her ruck sack and then the pair had a brawl, after Latasha managed to get her bag back she started to walk away and then tragically the shop owner lifted a hand gun and shot her. The people were outraged that a 15 year-old girl could have her life ended over orange juice.

When it went to court the Korean shop owner got charged with voluntary manslaughter that can have a sentence of 16 years. Furthermore, the judge however decided to change the woman’s sentence to five years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and a $500 fine because; “she wasn’t a danger to the community.” Latasha’s family and friends and the African American community were rightly outraged with the verdict and had to ask the question, why was the worth of the African American life so low in the United States of America? So low that the judge would not send someone to jail even after 2 witnesses and footage showed the defendant shooting a teenager, who had so much to live for. The justice system had once again failed the African American people.

Latasha Harlins case and Rodney King’s case were the straw that broke the camel’s back. The African Americans of LA were no longer prepared to peacefully protest for justice, and then again and again have their pleas ignored by the local government and by President Bush, who at the time purposely cut off most conversations with the civil rights sector of the congress. The first mistake of the system was to be corrupt and broken, the second mistake was to underestimate the anger of the people. The angry Los Angeles citizen’s, new mantra was now “No Justice, No peace.” Gone were the days where African American LA citizens lived by Martin Luther King’s nonviolent protests and peaceful speeches such as “I am convinced that even violent temperaments can be channelled through nonviolent discipline, if they can act constructively and express through an effective channel their very legitimate anger.”

The riots started with 300 people protesting outside the court house, which Rodney King’s case was held at after the verdict. On the same day at 6:46 p.m. a crowd of mostly black residents started to pull white people out of their cars and then beat them up, most famously Reginald Denny a white truck driver who was beaten nearly to death and it was captured on live TV. The police could not handle the problem, because there were so many different issues happening throughout the city, moreover they had no clear direction. By the time they began to think about helping the people being dragged out of their cars the rioters outnumbered the police. The will of the people hit the city like an unforgiving tsunami. How quickly the unrest escalated shocked the nation. The African Americans wanted to show white America, what it was like to be them, to live in fear of being stopped in your car, wrestled to the ground and then beaten up within an inch of their life, and then the police officer who committed the crime almost always gets away with it. Downtown LA was turned into a ‘No go’ zone for any white Americans.

After the violence, LA was in anarchy, and eventually the rioters turned against the Koreans in the area, the first reason is because of the Latasha Harlins case and the second reason is because the African Americans in the area felt like the Koreans were preying on their economic difficulties. African Americans tried to make the point that most of the other races don’t have to go through what they have gone through or are going through; and thus turn a blind eye or make things worse, therefore they were going to force you to notice them by destroying their livelihoods and making them feel the despair of Latasha Harlins family. Furthermore, many shops in Koreatown were looted and then set on fire. This caused a race war in that area, as Koreans armed themselves to protect their shops. Eventually the Koreans prayed and pleaded for peace, mainly because their businesses were getting destroyed. Rodney King later made a speech trying to ask the rioters to stop; and for “everyone to get along.” And with time, the city was cleared up and things began to resolve themselves. President Bush later made a speech trying to rectify the actions of the justice system, by ignoring the reasons for the riots and just putting it down to mindless violence.

However, the riots were not mindless, they were premediated and were targeted. Moreover, after all of the rioting nothing changed. The verdicts were not changed, the racial climate eventually went back even after the death of 63 people. [7,8] Therefore, that is why in the 21st Century African Americans are still treated poorly by the justice system and the state.

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