Daniel’s life has been plagued by abuse. During his childhood in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Bronx, he had to struggle constantly to survive his stepfather’s anger attacks. His mother did not know what was happening because she had no other option but to leave him at home at the mercy of her new boyfriend. She had to work for more than 12 hours a day to pay the rent that kept them off the streets.
Everything started when the police detained his father for the second time. His crime: possession of one gram of crack cocaine. The sentence: 10 years in jail. The consequences: immeasurable. When he was 13 years old, Daniel spent hours on the street after school. His father was in jail and his mother at work; nobody exercised any supervision over him; nobody checked his report cards. He joined a gang at the age of 15. At first, they only spent time walking around the neighborhood and drinking beers. But the situation quickly turned dangerous. A new rival gang wanted to occupy the same corner where Daniel and his friends were drinking. Soon, all the kids on the block would have a firearm to defend themselves.
Five years later, Daniel has been sentenced to seven years in state prison. His crime was carrying a firearm he never used. Daniel was another victim of the “stop and frisk” policy that allows New York police to stop thousands of young people who appear to be “suspicious” without any legal order.
Daniel’s story is real, because although this specific Daniel does not exist, this is the life of thousands of black youth in the U.S., where 1.5 million black children have at least one parent behind bars. This is where it is more likely for a black man to be in jail than to finish college: where one in every nine black men between 20 and 34 years old is in jail; and where from 1960 until the present, more than 1.3 million black men have been in jail at some point in their life, nearly seven times the number of white men.
This is the result of a massive imprisonment policy that has substituted in for the racial segregation policy of the 1960s. Nowadays, there are specific laws, made-up crimes, police strategies and urban policies whose purpose and result is the unfair and massive imprisonment of black individuals.
For several years, especially since Obama’s rise to the presidency, some people have been talking about a post-racial world where class has replaced race as the determinant factor in segregation. The Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin cases remind us that this is nothing more than an illusion. Murders by police, imprisonment and institutional discrimination: Welcome to the new Jim Crow system.