Keep Each Other in Check

“The disproportionate incarceration of black men has been normalized and that’s disgusting…that’s appalling,” said staff attorney Vanessa Hernandez of American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

Last Saturday, I attended the 2015 Seattle Race Conference in Piggott Auditorium, a full-day conference with workshops, keynote addresses, and presentations about implicit racial bias and how perceptions kill. One of the workshops I attended, presented by Hernandez, was about implicit bias in the criminal justice system.

Nothing Hernandez said struck me as new. I know we live in a society where it is normal for vast numbers of people to be incarcerated. I know that we aren’t locking people away just for dangerousness, but there are many more political, economical, and social factors at play. I know that we do not distribute our criminal justice evenly.

And yet, with all this knowledge, my blood boiled when I listened to her speak unsettling truths: that our criminal justice system is fiscally irresponsible, that people of color get charged with more serious sentences for the same crimes as Caucasians, and that people of color are generally given worse deals for their plea bargain—most of which they are railroaded into taking.

Sure, incarceration rates in Washington are generally lower than in the rest of the nation, but that doesn’t say much. It makes me sick to know that criminalizing people, especially people of color, is so mainstream that there is even a Sesame Street episode explaining to kids how to deal with their parents being in jail. As much as I want to call everyone to action to tackle the injustices in our criminal justice system, I know that we must first understand how we perpetuate injustices ourselves. Especially as someone in the media, I am constantly checking myself to make sure I am not spreading untrue notions that may be damaging to certain groups of people. And I ask that, while you hold us accountable for what we do, hold yourself accountable, too.

–Melissa Lin, Editor in Chief