Legal Right to Equality Before the Law It is out of the legacy of slavery that conflict between Afrodescendants and Western political and legal systems was born. Afrodescendants in the Western Hemisphere have historically been disenfranchised, targeted by law enforcement officials and denied recourse for injuries sustained at the hands of racist systems. After centuries of being denied legal equality before the law, and after generations of suffering beneath the weight of legal, economic and social oppression, many Afrodescendants have become apathetic and separatist in their leanings. Efforts at recompense to Afrodescendant communities for abuses and injuries suffered have been on the whole largely non-existent, and even when attempted are usually ineffective because of mistrust of the system, and due to cloudy intentions and protected interests on the part of various states.
Yet the most damaging inequality before the law may be with regard to international law that protects the right of minorities to enjoy their original culture, to profess and practice their original religion, and to use their original language. While other minorities are able to enjoy the protections offered in Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Declaration on the Rights of Minorities, Afrodescendants do not have equal protection under these laws, as their original language, culture and religion were taken from them by force during slavery and are denied to them in the lingering effects of slavery.
Haney and Zimbardo write that “At the start of the 1990s, the U.S. had more black men (between the ages of 20 and 29) under the control of the nation's criminal justice system than the total number in college. This and other factors have led some scholars to conclude that, crime control policies are a major contributor to the disruption of the family, the prevalence of single parent families, the number of children being raised without a father in the ghetto, and the inability of people to get the jobs still available.”34 Race-based discrimination affects nearly every portion of the justice system in the United States, and while Afrodescendants comprise approximately 13% of the total U.S. population, they make up over 80% of inmates imprisoned. These numbers make it easy to conclude that disparities do indeed exist, and that Afrodescendants are therefore not entitled to legal equality before the law.
In the U.S., Amnesty International reports that evidence of racial discrimination and ill treatment and bias by police has been widely documented. Abuses include racist language, harassment, unjustified stops and searches and arbitrary arrests, as well as racial disparities in death penalty rates and incarceration. Amnesty states that police and prison guards frequently abuse prisoners with racist statements such as “nigger, boy, porch monkey and coon,” and exhibit an excessive use of force, electro shock and tasering.35 In addition, there are numerous instances throughout U.S. history of Afrodescendants being targeted and even killed by police. In Chicago, of 115 civilians shot dead by police between 1990-98, 82 were black. The Sentencing Project states that an estimated one in ten Black males in America are incarcerated; if Black males in county and local jails are included in this estimate, the number rises to one in every seven. This is in stark contrast to the 1% of White males overall who are presently incarcerated in the U.S.36 These disparities begin in the courtroom: the Urban League notes that Afrodescendants receive on average sentences that are six months longer than those of whites; Blacks are also more frequently sentenced to death for alleged crimes. These numbers have had an enormous impact on relations between Afrodescendant communities and law enforcement officials, as is noted by former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno in the following statement in 1999: “For too many people, especially in minority communities, the trust that is so essential to effective policing does not exist because residents believe that police have used excessive force, that law enforcement is too aggressive, that law enforcement is biased, disrespectful, and unfair.”
In Canada, in the 1990’s, a major study was conducted by the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System concerning the impact of racism on Afrodescendant communities in Ontario. This commission was organized in response to the deterioration of the relationship between the Ontario Police Department and Afrodescendants in Ontario. “Blacks are over-represented in the prison population,” the study found. “In the six year period leading up to 1993, it was found that the Black population of Ontario increased by 36% while the number of Black prisoners admitted to Ontario prisons increased by 204%.37 Latin America
Disparities in sentencing and incarceration rates for Afrodescendants are present in Latin America as well. A State Department Human Rights Report for 2003 found that “discrimination against blacks and indigenous people continued unabated, and that “people of color were five times more likely to be shot or killed in the course of a law enforcement action than were persons perceived to be white.”
Amnesty further notes that Afro-Brazilians are disproportionately targeted by security forces and are routinely denied the advantages allowed to white middle-class criminal suspects. In 2000, Sao Paulo reported that in 1999 54% of criminal suspects killed in the area by police were Black. Experts have testified that of those detained in Brazil, the majority are Afro-Brazilian. A disproportionate number of Afrodescendants are also held in jails and prisons in Colombia and Guatemala.
Bermuda is known internationally as a country with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world and is also known as a world leader in imprisonment. Ninety-eight percent of Bermuda's inmates are black, and that means 148 out of every 10,000 black males in Bermuda is in prison. Disparities in sentencing and imprisonment in most Caribbean nations are difficult to prove at this point in the research.