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08 June 2008

My Art & My Passions

41 Shots is one of those moments that burns the soul. My husband was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s song American Skin when I snapped this shot. Jay is a British citizen, but he has been in the United States long enough to learn that if you are Black, you will be stopped for driving in the wrong neighborhood, when you are stopped by the police the first thing they ask you is “Is this your car?” (implying it may be stolen) and you will get shot if you make the wrong move (like reaching for your identification). The look on his face sums up the pain he feels as a result of discrimination. The prisons in the United States are filled to capacity, mostly with minorities, and mostly for drug offenses. Human Rights Watch reports the single greatest factor for the overall increase in the United States prison population is our War on Drugs. The number of drug offenders imprisoned has increased more than twelve time since 1980. In 2000, 22% of people in federal and state prisons were convicted of drug offences. The effect of a felony conviction is far reaching, legally, socially, and politically. Disenfranchisement is but one demoralizing factor of a felony conviction.
Thirteen percent of all adult black men -14 million- are disenfranchised, representing one-third of the total disenfranchised population and reflecting a rate of disenfranchisement that is seven times the national average. Election voting statistics offer an approximation of the political importance of black disenfranchisement: 1.4 million black men are disenfranchised compared to 4.6 million black men who voted in 1996 (Source).
But what impact does disenfranchisement of convicted felons have on the political system in the United States? Consider the following information:
  • An estimated 5.3 million Americans, or one in forty-one adults, have currently or permanently lost their voting rights as a result of a felony conviction.
  • 1.4 million African American men, or 13% of all Black men, are disenfranchised, a rate seven times the national average.
  • An estimated 676,730 women are currently ineligible to vote as a result of a felony conviction.
  • More than 2 million white Americans (Hispanic and non-Hispanic) are disenfranchised.
  • In five states that deny the vote to ex-offenders, one in four black men is permanently disenfranchised (Source).
Is there really racial disparity in the United States prison system? Human Rights Watch reports that the disparity in the number of Black men versus White men in prisons in the United States is "astonishing."

Since most inmates are adult men, an even more significant measure of the extent of racial disparities in state prison populations and of the sheer magnitude of black incarceration is obtained from comparing the racially disaggregated incarceration rates of men over the age of eighteen.27 In no state are black men incarcerated at rates even close to those of white men (Figure 4). Nationwide, black men are incarcerated at 9.6 times the rate of white men. In eleven states, black men are incarcerated at rates that are twelve to twenty-six times greater than those of white men (Table 5). Thus, in Minnesota, the state with the greatest racial disparity in incarceration, a black man is 26.8 times more likely to be in prison than a white man. In Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, a black man is more than fifteen times more likely to be in prison than a white man. In the District of Columbia, black men are incarcerated at 49 times the rate of white men.

The rate at which black men are incarcerated is astonishing. There are 4,630 black men in prison nationwide per 100,000 black men in the population, whereas the rate for white men is 482. In ten states and the District of Columbia, black men are incarcerated at staggeringly high rates that range from 5,740 to 7,859 per 100,000. In contrast, the range among the ten states with the highest rates of white male incarceration is 620 to 1,151. The highest rate of white male incarceration (1,151) is lower than the lowest rate of black male incarceration (1,195). According to Department of Justice calculations, if current rates of incarceration remain unchanged, 28.5 percent of black men will be confined in prison at least once during their lifetime, a figure six times greater than that for white men.2

Yes the reflection in the eyes of the man in Pride and Prejudice is a Ku Klux Klan cross burning. Racial discrimination is a pervasive and continuing evil in the United States. Racial profiling by law enforcement, stereotyping by society at large, and unequal treatment by the courts during trial and at sentencing continue to affect minority races, and especially Black Americans. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (hereinafter, CERD) has criticized the conduct of the United States justice system on its treatment of racial minorities. After reviewing oral and written testimony submitted by the United States Government, the committee urged the United States to address the “stark racial disparities” in criminal justice systems in States throughout the Country. The Bush Administration was criticized for its failure to address racism in several areas of society, including:
The Bush administration’s view that its human rights treaty obligations do not apply to laws or practices that are race-neutral on their face but discriminatory in effect; Racial segregation in housing and in public schools; Systemic inadequacies in indigent criminal defense, which have a disproportionate impact on racial minorities; The disenfranchisement of millions of US citizens because they have been convicted of a felony, even though they have fully served their sentences or have been released on parole (Source).
The United States' reports to the CERD, and blamed the disparity in the number of Blacks in prison compared to Whites is because Blacks are more involved in criminal activity (Source).
The United States has responded to the overrepresentation of African Americans in US prisons by suggesting that such racial disparities “are related primarily to differential involvement in crime by the various groups, rather than to differential handling of persons in the criminal justice system.”2 (Source).
Pride and Prejdice represents the weariness in the hearts of many minority people who struggle against the stereotypes and racial discrimination every single day. I know I am weary. It is a battle that I fear I will not live to see won. Perhaps my children will take up when I am gone. Can I Play Too is a photo I shot of my little baby in a park. He wanted to play a game with the other children, but he was rejected. I try to give my child a balanced view of his identity. The long history of social exclusion can not be overcome by a word or even an image. I do not fear that my child will be forced to choose his race because I will encourage him to acknowledge, to accept, and to celebrate his heritage. By acknowledging and accepting himself, he will have a positive influence on society as a whole, and move us all one step closer to acceptance of each other in all our differences. Inside, we are all the same. I'm not going to delude myself however. Racism is alive and doing very well all around the world. My child will face many challenges in this world. I intend to give him the tools to succeed. In the series, Strength Within, I sought to give visuals to the internal pain and anguish that results from domestic violence. The woman is reaching out to herself to find the strength within herself to escape. When she does leave, she and her children sleep in her car for a couple of nights. The little money she had is gone and the children are hungry. The baby is sick. She has no friends because he isolated her from the community. She has little or no education. She has no where to go, and just enough gas in the car to make it back to the horror she fled. Society simply does not understand that domestic violence is a cycle. Once you see the victim as a real human being suffering fear, pain, and desperation, the reasons she returns to her abuser make sense. She ran out of her home with her children in the middle of the night. She went to a women’s shelter, but they can only house her and the kids for two or three days. She goes to all the homeless shelters, but they are all full. Looking at her hungry and homeless babies, she sees no other option but to return to the home she fled. The mother in an abusive home thinks that she can hide the abuse from her children. She can't hide it. Even where they do not directly witness the beating, they see the bruises, the scrapes, and the screams of their mother. Between 80% and 90% of children know when their mother has been beaten (Source). Most men who abuse their partners will also commit violence against the children as well. Babies are often injured when the woman is holding her baby and is attacked by her partner. Older children are hurt when they attempt to intervene to protect their mother, and the father turns his violence on them. Children who are of school age may suffer from depression and anxiety, and they may act violently toward other children. Teens who have grown up in a violent home are at greater risk for continuing the violence they have endured. Strength Within II is the child who has been scarred, emotionally and physically by violence. Thirty-four percent of the women homicide victims over age 15 are killed by their husbands, ex-husbands or boyfriends. When in an abusive situation, especially where there are children, the woman feels trapped. She will stay where there is food and shelter and suffer the abuse. My work Nine One One, What's Your Emergency? demonstrates just how much violence the abused woman will endure because she can see no other option. Often she blames herself for the abuse. One woman is beaten by her husband or partner every 15 seconds in the United States (Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1991). The National Organization for Women, (NOW) reports that approximately 132,000 women report that they have been victims of rape or attempted rape every year. More than half of them knew their attackers. More likely two to six times that many women are raped, but do not report it. "Every year 1.2 million women are forcibly raped by their current or former male partners, some more than once" (Source). Of all suicides and homeless persons, abused women are disproportionately represented. Economic pressures result in the crimes of violence and abuse perpetrated against those who in most cases are least equipped to defend themselves - women with children. Strength Within IV is the woman's decision to leave. She has found enough strength to make this decision because she must protect her child. But unfortunately her strength wanes as she finds it difficult to find support from her family and from the community. Most women return to their abusers. According to the National Organization for Women:
Every day four women die in this country as a result of domestic violence, the euphemism for murders and assaults by husbands and boyfriends. That's approximately 1,400 women a year, according to the FBI. The number of women who have been murdered by their intimate partners is greater than the number of soldiers killed in the Vietnam War.
My work Forgive is the too often result of the cycle - her partner has murdered her. Because most domestic violence goes unreported, estimates range from 960,000 to more than one million incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend occur every year. As many as 3 million women abused by their husband or boyfriend per year (Source). Partner violence is five times higher in families living below the poverty level, and abuse is twice as likely to be committed by men who are unemployed. Abused women suffer twice the health care problems and expenses than women who are not abused. Violence against pregnant women results in miscarriages, still birth, and have low birth weight babies. Approximately 17% of pregnant women are abused by their partners. Domestic violence is a crime that includes emotional abuse, economic deprivation, and sexual assault. Abusers use threats, intimidation, and isolation from the community control their partners and to exert power over their partners. Although domestic violence impacts women in lower economic households, it can occur in any family regardless of income, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion.
By the time you finish reading this sentence one woman will have been violently beaten. Women who return to their abusers often end up dead. Help end the cycle of violence. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse and violence, please see the resources below for help and support. RESOURCES National Organization of Women Feminist Majority Foundation End Abuse Resource Center Safe Horizon

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