In his 1999 book, Dr. Ben Carson wrote that our nation's history on racial injustices made it impossible for the black community to think of the judicial system in anything but racial terms and that white Americans were only able to view racial violence in a modern context.
In his book, The Big Picture, released by Zondervan, Carson argued white Americans had "no grasp on the history of racial violence in this country." Carson wrote of a time his mother was thrown in jail for a minor traffic violation as an example of personal history of the racial injustice in criminal justice system.
Carson, who talked about how the incident shaped his own view of the Black Lives Matter movement in an interview with BuzzFeed News earlier this month, was writing about the different racial reactions to the O.J. Simpson case.
"Black Americans, on the other hand, find it almost impossible to think about 'fairness' or 'justice' in anything but racial terms — because of our nation's historical record of unfairness and injustice to our race," wrote Carson. "As I said in the previous chapter, no matter how often we are told we need to 'get over' the past, white people need to understand these things are not easy for us to forget."
Carson noted white Americans view racial violence only in a modern context.
"White people think of racial violence in a modern context — such as the black riots that erupted in the wake of the Rodney King verdict," he wrote. "They have no grasp on the history of racial violence in this country — as illustrated by their total unawareness of what Newsweek (Dec. 8, 1997) admitted were 'two [facts] that every American should know. Between 1885 and 1900, at least 2,500 blacks were lynched or murdered as the KKK consolidated its hold on the post-Reconstruction South. In 1741, 14 slaves were burned at the stake and 18 others were hanged because of fears of a slave revolt— in New York City.'"
Carson cited an example of his own personal history with racial injustice, an arrest of his mother for frivolous charges.
"Too many other incidents of injustice are not merely ancient history, but personal history, even current events, for the majority of black people. I remember in Boston when I was a child, my older cousins, sons of the aunt and uncle who took our family in, were arrested and thrown into jail for some minor infraction of the law. When one of my cousins protested that abuse, he was beaten so severely by the police that he almost died. I vividly remember seeing the results of that beating. A few years ago, when my own mother questioned a policeman who stopped her for a routine traffic violation in a Detroit suburb, the officer angrily told her she met the description of a woman wanted for abducting an elderly couple. He promptly arrested her, had her car impounded, and threw her into jail. I had to call a lawyer friend of mine, a fellow Yale alumnus, who used his contacts as a senior partner in a major Detroit law firm to get her released and to see that the bogus charges were dismissed.
Asked about how that personal history shaped his view of the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this month, Carson told BuzzFeed News the criminal justice system could be "improved upon."
"Well, I recognize that there are, you know, inappropriate actions done by policemen, just like there are inappropriate actions done by doctors, nurses, teachers, even journalists. It doesn't make all of them bad, and it doesn't create an overall impression of them all," Carson said.
"And I think it's probably not the most reasonable position to take — that because you have a police officer that does something bad that all the police are bad," he continued. "Having said that, do we always need to always be vigilant and pay attention to the justice system? Absolutely. Do we need to look at, you know, mandatory incarceration of people involved in nonviolent crimes? Of course we do. We don't want to send them to a university to make them into more hardened criminals. So yeah, all of these things are things that could be improved upon."
In 1999, Carson noted most black Americans could cite similar personal experiences of injustice.
"Most black people can cite similar personal experiences of injustice. President Clinton's commission on race specifically cited the injustice of 'racial profiling,' which many police use to identify potential criminals," wrote Carson. "It is employed most often in traffic stops, for a crime sometimes derisively referred to in the African-American community as 'driving while black.'"
"Statistics support what many blacks have never doubted, that our justice system metes out different treatment to blacks and whites," Carson continued. "The disproportionate percentage of black murderers versus white murderers who receive the death penalty is just one example. The 1998 race commission report cited another when it urged the president to reduce the disparity in sentences for crimes involving powdered cocaine and its concentrated form, crack. The board said longer sentences for crimes involving crack, largely involving poor, black, or Hispanic offenders are 'morally and intellectually indefensible.'"
Andrew Kaczynski is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Andrew Kaczynski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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