Monday, January 19, 2009

Hey Martin, Happy Birthday! From the White House And The Big House

There was a heightened buzz about the prison population when the stats came out that over 2 million people were in American prisons.

Then I think American Idol came on a few hours later, and led us into the evening news of lottery numbers and tomorrow's weather. I think there was a small warehouse fire that night as well that made the top stories.

So anyway, about 10.4% of the entire African-American male population in the United States aged 25 to 29 is incarcerated. Hispanic men make up 2.4% and 1.2%, white men.

According to a report by the Justice Policy Institute in 2002, the number of black men in prison has grown to five times the rate it was twenty years ago.

Today, more African-American men are in jail than in college.

In 2000 there were 791,600 black men in prison and 603,032 enrolled in college. In 1980, there were 143,000 black men in prison and 463,700 enrolled in college. reported in 2006 that "about 16 percent of black men in their twenties who were not college students were either in jail or in prison. African Americans are seven times more likely to go to prison or jail than whites. Almost 60 percent of black male high school dropouts in their early thirties have spent time in prison. The percentage of young jobless black men continues to increase, part of a trend that generally hasn't abated in decades. In 2000, about 65 percent of black male high-school dropouts had no jobs, either because they couldn't find work or because they were in jail. By 2004, the studies found that number had grown to 72 percent. The numbers for young black men were higher than for whites and Hispanics similarly affected.

A study of nearly 1,500 private employers in New York City, found that black job applicants with no criminal records weren't any more likely to get a job than white applicants who were just out of prison.

So today we bar-b-que, we stay home, we "take the day off." We "celebrate" the birthday of a man who said this:

"But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.'

Well, we don't have segregation anymore, not legal segregation anyway. But we have a problem. Things are getting worse, and other than lip-service, we really don't care, do we?

As a great friend told me years ago, "racism is economic." I understand that. It's not just being "scared" of or "not liking" black people. It's taking that fear and dislike and turning it into a lack of desire to integrate. When we take our fears or dislikes of people and translate them into economic hardship, it kills our society.

This is the response to those that say more black people are in prison because they commit more crime.

People commit crime for various reasons, but one is that they have to. You can make all the arguments you want, but when a young black man can't get a job and needs to eat, he will find a way to eat. If that way is stealing, robbing, selling drugs, or even killing, he, like whites and hispanics, will eat.

You say blacks should "get a job like everyone else." Are you hiring black people, or do you expect "us" to do it?

The face of America will change tomorrow with the Inauguration of the first African-American President. I hope this change trickles down to the neighborhoods of American and into the hearts and minds of all Americans.

We need to stop ignoring our growing prison population, our willingness to accept the hoards of black men shackled and taken before judges each morning. It is a disgrace, it is economic based, and it is "our" responsibility to grow up and not only usher a black man into the White House, but into our house, or business.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit

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