Hinton, Henderson, and Reed start at the beginning, showing how the abolition of slavery led to a certain insidious ingenuity for Southern lawmakers, who devised “unique forms of policing, sentencing and confinement” in order to “capitalize on a loophole in the 13th Amendment that states citizens cannot be enslaved unless convicted of a crime.” The resulting Black Codes, Vagrancy Laws, and Convict Leasing ensured that law enforcement would aggressively target newly freed Black people. The Northern States were much more subtle about it, resorting to the “disparate enforcement of various laws against ‘suspicious characters,’ disorderly conduct, keeping and visiting disorderly houses, drunkenness, and violations of city ordinances” which created “new forms of everyday surveillance and punishment in the lives of black people in the Northeast, Midwest, and West.”
Following the implementation of these policies, when data was collected for arrests and incarceration rates in the United States, the prevalence of black offenders was used as evidence of their inherent criminal proclivities, a narrative perpetuated over the ensuing decades and found at the heart of current stereotypes and implicit bias.
The War on Crime was one of several political justice strategies implemented in the 20th century that eschewed the explicitly discriminatory language of past laws in favor of seemingly neutral phrasing and selective enforcement that produced different outcomes according to race. The report lists Drug laws, Habitual offender and three strikes laws, Hot Spots Policing, the Zero Tolerance policy, and the “Broken Windows” model as the main culprits of modern attempts to disproportionately criminalize Black people.
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