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Legal Double Standards Keep Us in Shackles

Pulling back the curtain on unjust laws

By Oscar H. Blayton | 2/13/2019, 10:06 a.m.
In its most basic form, law, is a process of authoritative control whereby certain members of a particular community establish ...

Many cities and states maintain a specific public order that targets people of color for fines and the confiscation of property in order to fund local and state governments. Ferguson, Mo. was proven to use the disproportionate levying of fines on people of color to fund their municipal activities. That was the law in Ferguson. The state of South Carolina’s civil forfeiture law allows police to confiscate money and property from people merely suspected of having committed a crime. This is often done without a trial, and in some instances, without even an arrest. Black men are subjected to this law at a rate vastly disproportionate to their numbers in the general population. A statewide journalism project in South Carolina titled “taken” reports that while comprising only 13 percent of that state's population, black men represent 65 percent of all citizens targeted for civil forfeiture. This is still the law in South Carolina.

The slave codes, the Fugitive Slave Act, the Jim Crow laws of years past and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act just a few short years ago are all part of a process of authoritative control by certain community members to establish and maintain a specific public order that keeps people of color in shackles. There are many more laws that do this, but the list is too long to discuss in this short commentary.

We must pull back the curtain to determine the true public order purpose of each law governing our lives and to identify those community members who seek to establish and maintain them. Once we do this, then we can ask ourselves, if this is the America we want for ourselves. And if not, what are we going to do about it?

Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia.