As we commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King, I think about how far we’ve come, and how far we still need to go.
Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman notes in his column today in the New York Times that the dream that men and women would be judged by the content of their character, rather than by color of their skin, is becoming less of a reality. He writes:
“Yet if King could see America now, I believe that he would be disappointed, and feel that his work was nowhere near done. He dreamed of a nation in which his children ‘will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ But what we actually became is a nation that judges people not by the color of their skin – or at least not as much as in the past – but by the size of their paychecks. And in America, more than in most other wealthy nations, the size of your paycheck is strongly correlated with the size of your father’s paycheck.”
Michelle Alexander, the former director of the Racial Justice project at the ACLU, states on ‘Fresh Air,’ “My experience and research has led me to the regrettable conclusion that our system of mass incarceration functions more like a caste system than a system of crime prevention or control.”
“There are millions of African-Americans now cycling in and out of prisons and jails or under correctional control. In major American cities today, more than half of working-age African-American men are either under correctional control or branded felons and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives.”
Members of minorities experience race-based judgments by police and judges. But, it’s not just that. Whether you are black or white, once you get caught up in the bureaucracy of the criminal justice system, it’s difficult to get out. People are written off for sport. One judge said practically gloating, “It doesn’t really matter. He’ll be back.”
Happy birthday Martin Luther King.