African Americans In The Criminal Justice System Criminology Essay

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Since 1619 till today, African Americans have been oppressed because of the overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. African Americans have suffered brutal treatment in the hand of society and the law enforcements. African American has suffered from racism and negative stereotyping. However, African Americans have many coping techniques and strengths that help them overcome the negative stereotyping that resulted from the overrepresentation. Throughout this paper, I will use four journal articles that will help me provides evidence to my claim. The purpose of this paper is to provide evidenced on how African Americans are being oppressed because of the overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. I will also provide evidence of stereotypes and beliefs that are results from the overrepresentation of African American in the criminal justice system. Understanding how African Americans are still being oppressed will open up America eyes and see that society still needs some more changes.

Overrepresentation of African Americans in the Criminal Justice System

Since 1619, when African American was forces into this country, they have been victims of brutal treatment, including oppression. They were denied human and civil rights. In addition to being denied human and civil rights, the legal system law that separates whites from African Americans not only encourage a practice of racial segregation upon African Americans, it also encouraged the lynching of African Americans. Not only have African Americans suffered from racial segregation and brutal lynching, they also suffered from racism because of the overrepresentation of African Americans in the criminal justice system. The purpose of this paper is to provide evidence on how African American are being oppressed because of the overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. This paper will explore the history and current status of African American within the criminal justice system. First, I will discuss the socio-demographics of African Americans. Then I will discuss the history and current beliefs and stereotyping of African Americans in the criminal justice system. Finally, I will discuss the values, norms and strengths of African Americans and how they can use it to overcome the overrepresentation of the legal system.

Key Terms

Racism is the subordination of any person or group because of skin color or other distinctive physical characteristic (Jones, 2011).

Self-fulfilling prophecy is any positive or negative expectation about people that may affect a person's behavior toward them in a manner that causes those expectations to be fulfilled (Miller, 2012).

Socio demographics

The systematic oppression of African Americans is deeply embedded in the history and future of the United States society. The United States population is made up of immigrants from all over the world; however, African Americans are one group of immigrants that was brought to the United States by force and kept in the United States to become slaves for more than a hundred years. Ever since African Americans were forced into this country, they have suffered from racism. Racism is different from prejudice because it rises to the level of social structure, the tendency to use superiority as a solution to the discomfort about difference. Racism against African American is justified by racist beliefs that come from the history of slavery and a hundred years of the Jim Crow law, which has a belief of superiority of whites and the inferiority of people of color (Jones, 2011). Even though racism is hidden very well today, it still does not erase the inequality in the justice system that African Americans face every day. Phi Delta Kappa international was doing their annual report on socio-economic conditions of African Americans in America. While they were doing their annual report, they discovered that there is evidence that the criminal justice system have strong beliefs about young African Americans men and they use their beliefs to criminalize them in the criminal justice system.

For example, African American men who have been previously arrested are seven time more likely to be arrested again than whites who have been previously arrested. African Americans are also sentenced to death row four times more than whites. Also, African Americans are sentenced to twelve times longer prison sentences than white men who are being sentenced; even if they committed the same crime.

Out of the entire United States population, African Americans make up twelve percent of the population(weatherspoon, 2010); however, African Americans who are between the ages of twenty-five through thirty-four are five time more likely to die by being murdered than white men. The craziest thing that amazed me is that, according to weatherspoon (2010), two million people who are in prison in the United States, one million of those people are African Americans. Not only are African Americans are being imprisoned in a large number, they are also being stereotyped because they are now in the criminal justice system.

Beliefs and Stereotypes throughout history

Since 1619, when African American were forced into the United States till today, many people have used the stereotype term "criminal black man" to describe African American men as criminals and to be dangerous to society. The term criminal black man comes from the racial profiling of the criminal justice system. Davis (2010), described the term as a "racial hoaxes" in the criminal justice system. She continued to define the term racial hoaxes as someone who made up a crime and blamed it on someone else because of that person's race.

Many people in the United States have so many stereotypes and beliefs about African Americans because of the image that the criminal justice system created from racial profiling in the past and today (weatherspoon, 2010). Many stereotypes about African Americans are negative; however, there are some positive stereotypes. The reason why people do not recognize the positive stereotypes is because the negative stereotypes are over powering the positive ones. For example, historically, many people labeled African Americans as servile, primitive and simple-minded people. According to Cynthia (2011), this type of stereotyping created a negative stigma for African Americans and now it has expanded into the twenty first century. Now, the new modern stereotypes about African American are related to crimes and poverty. One thing that people do not realize about that type of stereotyping is that, it impacts young African American children. The reason is because, when they grow up under the stigma of negative stereotypes, their mind will begin to think that is how they are supposed to act and then they will fulfill the expectations of the negative stereotyping; which is called self-fulfilling prophecy. The worst thing about fulfilling the expectation of a negative stereotype is that, it can continue to raise the statics bar on how many African Americans ends up in prison. Not only does it raise the statistics bar, it also increases the level of poverty among African Americans. The reason is because when Africans Americans are released from prison, they are ten times more likely to not find a job than whites who have just been released from prison because of all of the stereotypes about are surrounding African Americans who have been in the legal system (Miller, 2012). Without the proper job, African Americans turn to committing crimes, such as robbery, in order to provide for themselves or their families; that is why African Americans are seven times more likely to return to prison. According to Cynthia (2011), stereotyping about a specific race can have an impact on the hiring rate in that race.

Because of all the stereotypes and the image that the criminal justice system portrays about African Americans, it causes African Americans to suffer from racism. The United States criminal justice system techniques that are racist to convict African Americans. For example, the death penalty is what many people might call racist. According to Miller (2012), the death penalty represents lynching of African Americans, but in a modern way. The criminal justice system uses the death penalty to kill African Americans because that is the only legal way that they are able to satisfy their racist beliefs of African Americans. Instead of the criminal justice system lynching every African American the way that they did many years ago, in a world today, where there are many laws protecting African Americans from hate crimes, such as lynching, they resulted in the death penalty; where they are able to kill as much African Americans as they can and still be able to get away with it without ever being accused of murdering someone because of someone's race.

Values and Norms

African Americans have many values that they cherish. For example, African Americans values family. Family is all African American had during the time of slavery and the time of the civil rights movement. African Americans also values religion. African Americans believe that religion is what can make you get through any difficult situation in life. They believe that God will solve anyone problems, if you just pray to him. They also values education. They believe that education is the most important thing in life because, they was denied an education. Now their children have the opportunities for an education, they want to make sure that it is not taken for granted (Cynthia, 2011).

African Americans also have many norms that they want their families to follow. One of those norms is not having a child without being married. African Americans believe that having a child without being married is the biggest sin in the world. According to Davis (2010), thirty-three percent of young African mothers who have a child of wedlock is disowned from their family and is thrown out of their homes by their mothers. Another norm in the African American culture is that every man must take care of their children. They believe that a child life is better when the child has their father, especially young boys. If a man does not take care of his children, they will be labeled as a "dead beat father" (Davis, 2010). Having that label in an African culture will decrease your social interaction with others in the group. The reason is because, when you have a negative stereotype about you in this group, many people will not want to associate with you because they do not want to receive the same label.

Strengths and Resiliency

Even though African Americans have been through many years of brutal treatment, including racism, they have several strengths that helped them overcome many years of difficult situations. The first strength that African American has is strong work orientation. According to Davis (2010), African Americans have a stronger work orientation than white people. In an African American home, women work in order to help with their family income; on the other hand, many white women do not work and rather stay home and become a house wife. The reason is because, during slavery, when the wife's husband have been killed by the slaves holders, the women would have to work twice as hard in order to help their families.

Another strength that African Americans have is strong adaptability of family roles Davis (2010). For example, a grandmother can play a role of a mother and the father at the same time. The reason is because sometime the parents are too busy or the parents have died. By playing different roles, that can help the family members overcome economic necessities. For example, when a family member cares for other family member's children when the parents are at work, that will save the parents money on day care and also they have less worries about who is around their children.

A strong religious orientation is very important in an African American culture. African Americans use religion to overcome difficult situation, including racism and slavery. For example, during slavery and the civil rights movement when African Americans was getting beaten by law enforcements or the slaves holders, they will get together and sing religious songs that will empower them to put what happened in the past and move forward with their lives.

According to Davis (2012), many African Americans families think that racial identity and a spiritual life are crucial for resiliencies. For example, having a positive racial identity and a positive self-identity will devalue the negative stereotypes that are out there about African Americans. When it comes to emotions, African Americans need to be more aware of how their emotion expressions resonate across situations. Coping with their emotions not only help their self-esteem, it also improves their mental health. One way that Africans American copes with their emotions is by using their religion to understand the situation that they are going through and to cope with it. Another way that Africans Americans cope with their emotions is with family support. With family support, the individual will have a better chance in controlling their emotions. Family is there to give extra advice and to give support to where it is best needed,


African Americans will continue to overcome the brutal treatments in the hands of society and the law enforcements. They have suffered from racism, negative stereotyping and beliefs of others. Even though African Americans have suffered such a brutal treatment, they have tried to overcome the difficult situations by using their strengths, values and their norms. African Americans have a long journey in defending their image that was portrayed by others.