In 1990, five teenage boys referred to as the “Central Park Five” were sentenced to prison for a heinous crime they did not commit. The basis of the conviction? Racial profiling.
The stories of the wrongfully convicted, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Kharey Wise, are re-told in the recently released series When They See Us. The film is a reminder that our criminal justice system is plagued with racism, implicit bias and a lack of police accountability, and while this case was tried more than 30 years ago, the underlying issues of prejudice and harassment by law enforcement are still an unwelcome reality for our community. Is it any wonder that one in every 10 Black men in his 30s is in prison or jail on any given day?
Too many Black men can relate to the trauma and pain depicted in When They See Us. Research shows that Black people make up a disproportionate sum of wrongfully convicted people, and are more likely to wait longer for an exoneration. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, African Americans make up 13 percent of the population, yet 47 percent of known exonerations.
Policies like stop-and-frisk, three-strikes laws and mandatory minimums add to the practice of racial profiling and the disproportionate incarceration of communities of color. The NAACP has continually fought to roll back these policies, and since these practices are fueled by implicit bias, I have called for implicit bias testing and training to be a mandatory procedure for public officials.
Many have voiced frustration with the system after reliving the story through When They See Us. But we can turn that anger into action. Contact your U.S. Representatives and your Senators and urge them to enact a law which:
- Clearly defines racial profiling and other discriminatory policing practices
- Prohibits discriminatory policing
- Requires data analysis of racial profiling by police
- Provides funding for police training and re-training
- Holds law enforcement accountable
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