A recent op-ed in the Washington Post explored racial inequalities rampant in the U.S. criminal justice system. And they used an Arizona case as a prime example. While Arizona may be no worse than any other state as far as injustices within the system, we may not be any better either.
The article was penned by U.S. Representative and civil rights leader John Lewis and Bryan Stevenson, executive director and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. The two spoke on what so many people dare not address—the obvious racial factors at play in who goes to prison and who goes free. For their example, they used Louis Taylor.
Taylor was 16 years old when he decided to have an adventure, attending a happy hour he saw advertised at a fancy Tucson hotel. When he was there a fire broke out. Despite helping people get to safety and being there through it all, Taylor would be blamed for the fire that ultimately killed 29 people. Why? He looked out of place.
Forensic evidence pointed to faulty wiring, but the prosecution pointed to Taylor, and arson. He was black and young, and “didn’t belong”. The public called for the death penalty. He was convicted and sentenced to several life sentences. Forty-two years later he would be released and exonerated with the help of the Arizona Justice Project and the National Academy of Science who proved the fire was not an arson.
His case is an example of many others—where someone’s race or the neighborhood they come from works against them in the criminal courts. For many, the presumption of guilt is so strong, proving their innocence proves too trying or near-impossible.
Lewis and Stevenson write that one out of every three black boys born in 2001 will serve time in jail or prison at least once during their life. And these aren’t hardened criminals; the vast majority of people within the system are there for nonviolent drug offenses. As evidence: our violent crime rate is about the same as it was in 1968, but the prison system has grown by 500%.
The two mention the school-to-prison pipeline that serves to indoctrinate children into the justice system while they are still young—setting up a path that will eventually lead to an adulthood spent in and out of the courts. The war on drugs and the war on communities of color only feed into this cycle.
No matter your race or where you come from, you have rights under the law. And when you are accused of a criminal offense, it pays to have someone on your side who knows about those rights and how to move within the Arizona criminal courts.
If you are charged with a crime, either a minor misdemeanor or even a violent offense, contact our offices today to discuss your case.