As have all Americans, we have followed the trial in the tragic death of Trayvon Martin with great concern. The outpouring of emotion following the verdict this weekend is a strong statement of the degree to which this case has touched people and resonated with deep feelings about race in America today.
Unfortunately, we have been here before. The high profile cases of Rodney King, O.J. Simpson, the Jena 6, and others have all produced national conversations about race, justice, and politics. These dialogues have been constructive in many ways, but of course we need to do much more than engage in such discussions only when a single case rises to that level of understanding.
As we look back on recent decades, modest progress has taken place on these issues. In many jurisdictions attention to racial profiling has resulted in changes in policy and practice. In the court system, the excessive penalties often applied to defendants of color and others in drug cases have led to reforms in mandatory sentencing laws at the federal and state levels. In both the adult and juvenile justice systems, the number of incarcerated African Americans has begun to decline modestly in recent years.
Even so, we still are faced with a society and a criminal justice system in which one of every three African American males, and one of every six Hispanic males, can expect to go to prison in his lifetime if current trends continue. A shameful truth is that too often it appears that there is a different criminal justice system for whites and blacks, and for the wealthy and the poor, in our country. This is an unconscionable situation that can only be addressed through ongoing and comprehensive change.
At The Sentencing Project we are proud to have been one among many organizations and individuals who are advocating for reform and racial justice. This weekend’s events only remind us of the importance of continuing in these struggles, and we will welcome your active engagement with us in the weeks and months ahead.