U.S. courts and black folks. Wow and whoa. Friend and foe. A blessing and a curse. What a tangled and complex relationship we have had with a judicial system set up to favor white, property-owning males.
African Americans, descendants of enslaved human beings, have managed to squeeze some justice out of the system despite its racist origins. What we’ve come to know with brutal certainty is that is a crap shoot – that facts, truth and circumstances have little to do with the pursuit of justice. Yet, we have no choice but to throw ourselves at the mercy of one of the most racist institutions in U.S. society.
John Punch is probably known as the first case of a black person to collide with the judicial system. The last name conjures all kinds of physical visuals of the brother “punching” his way to freedom.
In 1640, Punch was sentenced to a life of enslavement by the Virginia courts for running away to Maryland. Two white, European indentured servants ran away with Punch but didn’t suffer the permanent loss of their freedom. As part of their punishment, the white men merely had a few more years added to their servitude. This racial disparity in sentencing continues to this day, 378 years later.
President Obama’s lineage has been traced back to Punch, as has Ralph Bunche’s, the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. But I digress.
The impact of the courts on black life is indisputable and inescapable. Whether it’s Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 or U.S. Department of Justice v. Ferguson, Missouri in 2016, the judicial system can lift us up or smack us down. This goes for all levels of the courts, but the weight of the U.S. Supreme Court is so powerful, it’s frightening.
That brings me to who gets to hold such power for a lifetime.
Brett Kavanaugh’s track record speaks volumes as to why Trump nominated him. Kavanaugh will use the highest court in the land to carry out Trump’s racist, misogynistic, militaristic agenda. This is a Supreme Court nominee who questioned the release of the Watergate tapes that proved President Nixon was a corrupt criminal. Given the fact that many of Trump’s running dogs have already been indicted by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller and the investigation is getting closer to Trump, this is information worth illuminating. Kavanaugh would be expected to protect Trump should this corrupt and evil dictator be brought up on criminal charges. His nomination should be soundly opposed by all fair-minded citizens.
Clarence Thomas, the sole African American on the High Court, was a cruel gift from U.S. Senator John Danforth. Thomas is now the longest-serving justice with a bizarre record of being mum most of that time and unilaterally supporting the opinions of the right-wing justices. We never expected him to be a Thurgood Marshall, but we didn’t expect him to be no-good, anti-black justice.
Kavanaugh will not be a passive judicial participant. He will be aggressive and focused, deliberately crushing any viable liberty that he can. Like Trump, he’s extremely dangerous.
One year before the murder of Michael Brown and the Ferguson uprising, the Pew Research Center released a report on progress (or lack thereof) in America since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In “50 Years Later,” people were asked how fairly the courts treated black people. Nearly 70 percent of the black folks believe that we are treated unfairly, compared to 27 percent of whites. By the time Trump gets through seating his choice of judges, that percentage for blacks will jump to 90. The needle for white folks may even move towards grim reality.
All of us need to be paying more attention to who gets appointed to the bench and into whose hands we are putting the power to live or die (literally) and, if we live, what rights we will or will not have.
And while we’re at it, this lifetime term needs to be revoked. The only job for a lifetime should be parenting.