By James Kwak
How about this?
In Georgia, you can get a life sentence for a second or succeeding drug offense.
Right now, there are 375 people serving those life sentences. 369 of them—more than 98%—are African-American.
There’s no population base rate that can explain that discrepancy. One justice on the Georgia Supreme Court found that an African-American with two or more drug priors is 28 times as likely to get a life sentence than a white person with the same record.
On Monday last week, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Foster v. Chatman. In that case—a death penalty case—the prosecution struck every black member of the jury pool. The law says that you can’t strike a potential juror because of race, so the prosecution came up with facially race-neutral reasons for all of their strikes. Their notes, however, showed that they highlighted the names of the black jurors, marked them with a “B,” identified one of them as the best “if it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors,” and put the five black jurors at the top of their list of definite strikes—ahead of a white person who said she opposed the death penalty on principle. The all-white jury sentenced the African-American defendant to death. Even after the evidence came to light, the Georgia Supreme Court refused to overturn the verdict.
My favorite professor, Steve Bright, argued the case last week. Some of you may have heard him on NPR.
Adel Edwards pled guilty to burning leaves in his yard without a permit. He couldn’t pay the $500 fine, so he was sentenced to a year of probation. His probation was “supervised” by a private company—that piled its own fees on top of the original fine. A year later, he owed more than $1,000, mainly to the probation company, and he was sent to jail immediately.
If you want to do something about injustice and inequality, please consider making a donation to the Southern Center for Human Rights—today. The Southern Center, based in Atlanta, is one of the best organizations fighting inequality in the justice system by challenging unsafe prison conditions, the criminalization of poverty, unequal access to justice for poor people, abusive practices by for-profit companies, and the racially biased imposition of the death penalty. I am a board member of the Southern Center and its attorneys and staff are the some of the most talented, hard-working, dedicated, and selfless people I know.
The reason to give now is that today is Georgia Gives Day, and one of our foundation supporters will match any gifts from new donors and any increased gifts from existing donors. So if this is an issue you care about,now is the time to do something.
Thanks for listening.
Also posted on Medium.