Valley Voices

Stephen Sacks: Here’s why ‘Black Lives’ movement spotlights injustice

The Rev. Dr. Floyd Harris Jr. addresses those gathered at New Light For New Life Church of God for a rally in west Fresno in August.
The Rev. Dr. Floyd Harris Jr. addresses those gathered at New Light For New Life Church of God for a rally in west Fresno in August. Fresno Bee file

As an older white male who has spent 50-plus years living in north Fresno, I have to confess I did not fully understand the ideas behind the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Of course, black lives matter but really, all lives matter. However, recent events and education have helped me understand.

First, there has been a lot of publicity about black people being killed by the police. Thanks to video, we are now seeing that some police routinely lie about what happens. Officers typically report that “the person had a knife and lunged at me.” Then the video shows the defendants had their backs turned to the police and, in reality, they were executed.

Interestingly, this happens to black people at nine times the rate of white people, according to a study by the British newspaper The Guardian. Most likely, killings like this did not just recently begin … they have been going on for years. Even with visual evidence, most of these killings are not prosecuted. It’s time for justice to be done.

I recently read “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. This book tells how the “war on drugs” has been used as a way to discriminate against black people and primarily young black males. While studies have shown that the amount of illegal drug use is about the same in various ethnic populations, black youth are more likely to be targeted and face harsher penalties.

For example, when crack cocaine became the drug of choice of black youth, the sentencing for the same amount of crack cocaine compared to regular cocaine (which is used primarily by affluent whites), was 100 to 1. That is, a black person using crack cocaine could get life imprisonment for a first offense. Read The Washington Post story about Sharanda Jones, by far not a unique case.

Are black people unfairly targeted by the police? In 2011 in New York City, there were almost 700,000 incidences of “stop and frisk.” Of those, 9 percent were white. That is, certain people were stopped and frisked for no apparent reason other than where they lived and the fact that they were minorities. A young black male could go to the store to buy some milk and be stopped and frisked coming and going.

One student in a ride-along with the Chicago police reported that when a police car stops in the projects “every young black man in the area would almost reflexively place his hands up against the car and spread his legs to be searched.” Rap artists and black youth refer to police action in ghetto communities as “The Occupation.”

As we learned from the events in Ferguson, Mo., black people also can be targeted because they are DWB (driving while black). In Florida, the Highway Patrol cautions troopers to be suspicious of “scrupulous obedience to traffic laws,” effectively giving them license to stop whomever they want.

When people are released from prison, they find that their sentence is forever. With a felony conviction, they cannot apply for a job without “checking the box” on the job application which asks if they have ever been convicted of a felony. With the competition for jobs these days, it would be rare that a person with a felony would even be considered.

With a felony conviction, some are not eligible for food stamps, public housing or any other public assistance. So when people can’t get a job, have no money and cannot afford a place to live, is it surprising that that they turn to crime?

Another huge issue is that since the war on drugs began and with private corporate prisons, there is now a prison-industrial complex. The U.S. has more prisoners and prisons per capita than any country in the world and prison beds need to be kept filled for corporate profits.

So “Black Lives Matter” is a movement that is important for equality in our society. Two years ago, The Bee’s Mark Grossi wrote that the life expectancy of people in southwest Fresno is 20 years shorter than that of people in northeast Fresno. Clearly, we still have a long way to go.

Stephen Sacks is a resident of Fresno.