So It Continues...

[NOTE: Footnotes in this article are links to the source matierial.]

In 2001, the University of Texas law school received the sanction of the US Supreme Court to get rid of its affirmative action program, ruling that it discriminates against white students and that the university's goal of diversity is not sufficient justification for this discrimination. (We're going to ignore the fact that the standardized tests that most schools use as a main criteria for admission is biased in favor of whites, thereby making the general overall score of whites higher than that of blacks. So any extra "points" for being black are really just countering this built in discrimination in the tests.) Many people are coming to the conclusion that because there are now laws on the books that protect against discrimination, it is no longer necessary to have such a program as affirmative action. Since then, the most prestigious colleges in Texas have seen drops in enrollment by blacks from 14-58%. 1 Hispanics, who make up 32% of the population in Texas, account for only 12.3% of the enrollment in the University of Texas at Austin. This disparity has officials of UT at Austin considering adding race back into the admissions policy. 2 The drops in enrollment for minorities after the dismembering of the university's affirmative action program should be proof that despite laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, it still continues. But if those statistics aren't enough, let's consider a couple of recent court rulings that make it blatantly clear that discrimination is alive and well in the good ol' US of A.

Marcus Dixon was an 18 year old senior at Pepperell High School in Rome,Georgia, a multi-sport athlete with a 3.96 GPA and an athletic scholarship from Vanderbilt University awaiting him that fall. In February, 2003, Marcus was accused of rape by a girl who was three months shy of her 16th birthday. The jury acquitted Marcus, who is black (his "victim" was white and, depending on who you believe, was his girlfriend at the time until her father found out they were having sex and accused Marcus of raping his daughter), of all the charges except misdemeanor statutory rape and aggravated child sexual molestation. This latter charge carries with it a minimum ten-year prison term with no hope of parole. The law's author even calls the prosecution's use of this law a miscarriage of justice, stating that the law's intent was never to punish consensual sex between high school classmates: it was to protect children from adult pedophiles and sexual predators. In Georgia, the General Assembly made sex between teenagers less than three years apart a misdemeanor, yet Marcus, whose partner that day was 2 years, 7 months and 18 days his minor, was convicted of one of Georgia's "seven deadly sins" when the jury found him guilt of aggravated child sexual molestation. At least four of the jurors have said they did not expect Marcus to serve any jail time at all, not understanding the severity of the charges against him. No other case that's ever been appealed in the entire state of Georgia involving child molestation charges has ever involved two teenagers with less than three years between them. One would be hard pressed to prove that Marcus is sitting in jail right now because he's black. But in a state that flew the confederate battle flag as its state flag until 2003 and now flies a version of the Confederacy's "Stars and Bars", it is not hard to imagine that Marcus Dixon, by all accounts (except one) a model son, student, athlete and mentor, is the victim of racial bias.

One need only look at the statistics on prosecution of crimes broken down by race of victim and the race of the defendant. Blacks are not only prosecuted more vigorously, they also are given longer sentences, are far more likely to be sentenced to death in capital punishment cases, and the charges brought against them are usually more severe than against whites who commit similar offenses. Of the 124 prisoners from Philadelphia, for example, who are on death row, only 15 were white. In fact, a recent study found that being black was the third biggest factor in determining whether or not one was sentenced to die. This disparity extends to the race of the victim as well. While whites and blacks are the victims of homicide in roughly equal numbers, of the more than 500 people executed between 1977 and 1998, over 80% of them were executed for murdering a white person. This racial disparity in prosecution and sentencing is just another indication of the institutionalized practice (conscious or otherwise) of discrimination that still exists in our society and another reason why programs such as affirmative action are still necessary.

But blacks are not the only victims of this kind of unjust "justice". Women are victims of similar injustices and discrimination despite laws that are designed to protect them from such acts. Only one in about three rapes is ever reported to the police. Of those, an arrest is made in only about half the cases. If there's an arrest, there's an 80% chance of prosecution and a 58% chance of conviction. So of all the rapes out there, less than one in ten result in a conviction. And the real travesty of justice is that even with a felony conviction, only 69% of convicted rapists ever serve any jail time! So only one in sixteen rapists ever serves any jail time. The other 15 get off scott free. Women, when filing for a protection from abuse order, often have to demonstrate a pattern of abuse before such an order is issued, as if the first time she was beat either wasn't enough to demonstrate that she is at risk or it wasn't considered abuse in and of itself. It's not a protection from systematic abuse, it's a protection from ANY abuse order. In a recent study, a full ten percent of the top 500 companies in the US had no women in their top executive levels. Wal-Mart is facing a massive class action suit by its female employees, both past and present, alleging a pattern of discrimination against women. While they make up more than 70% of the work force, they account for only 15% of management positions. The four female VP's, despite having higher average performance ratings and greater seniority, average only 66% of a male VP's average salary. So despite the fact that women have had equal rights longer than even blacks, there is still discrimination going on against more than half the US population based on gender. Without programs such as affirmative action, this will only get worse.

But there's one class of people who face an even more insidious discrimination because it is legally sanctioned by the US and various state governments: gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendereds can still be fired, refused employment, housing, health care and protection from the government for being who they are. Yes, I said "who" not "what". I don't care what your faith says about whether being gay is right or wrong, moral or immoral. Gays are human beings and as such, we deserve to have the same rights given every other human being in the US. That includes the right to a fair trial and to the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment based on the gender of who we love. But like Marcus Dixon, gays quite often are on the receiving end of unequal justice when it comes to sentencing. Until the US Supreme Court's decision to overturn Texas sodomy laws, the only sodomy that was illegal was that between those of the same gender. Like every other state with sodomy laws on the books, Texas' legal definition of sodomy includes oral sex— which would make virtually the entire population who is sexually active guilty of sodomy. At one point in time, all sodomy was illegal in Texas. But in 1974, the state legislature not only legalized heterosexual sodomy (leaving gay sodomy illegal) but it also legalized bestiality. What kind of message does this send to citizens of Texas? That gays deserve less protection than animals? That gays are lower life forms than animals?

Just last week (this is being written February 3, 2004), the Kansas Court of Appeals upheld the 17 year sentence of Matthew Limon who, at the age of 18, had engaged in oral sex with a 14 year old male. Had either Matthew or the 14 year old been female, the sentence would have been 13-15 months. The court's reason for upholding the sentence was that such a harsh sentence reinforced traditional sexual mores of Kansas society. To make matters even more ludicrous, Mr. Limon and the 14 year old were both residents of a home for the developmentally disabled, which suggests that while Mr. Limon may have been chronologically 18 years old, developmentally, he was not. The case will most likely be appealed again, up to the US Supreme Court if necessary.

In Washington, DC, in 21 months, there have been 27 murders of members of the transgender community. Of these 27 murders, arrests have only been made in 7 cases, just over 25% of the cases, compared to the normal 60% for similar crimes in the community at large. The trans community in DC is one of the largest— a recent survey found over 4000 residents of the metropolitan area who identified as transgendered. A full 17% of these individuals say they have been assaulted with a weapon because of their gender identity. Yet transgendereds face discrimination from not only the heterosexual community but from the homosexual community as well. There are some lesbian groups that will not allow transgendered lesbians (ie, lesbians who were born male) into their ranks. Then there are those (in both the gay and straight community) who believe that a lesbian, born into a male's body, can still love women and doesn't need to change genders. They see members of the transgendered community as "choosing" to become targets of discrimination since, if they had just stayed male, they could have all the protections offered heterosexuals. Many transgendereds are upset at one of the foremost gay rights advocates, the HRC, suggesting that the HRC is selling out the transgendered community and is not advocating for the inclusion of transgendereds (many (if not most) of whom are not gay) in the struggle for equal rights for gays.

The truly sad thing is that these are just the cases that make it into the news. The Southern Poverty Law Center maintains one of the most vigilant watches on hate groups of all kinds. They also document hate crimes from all over the US. These are the crimes that don't make the news. The ones that don't get all that much publicity. Hatewatch listed 105 incidents between April 5 and June 29 in 2003. In Washington, DC alone, there are more than 20 calls to hotlines from just transgendereds who have been assaulted or harassed. None of these make it onto police blotters because police all over the country are (or in some cases were) notorious for their lack of "enthusiasm" in investigating or following up on crimes against minorities and the disenfranchised, like the homeless. Anyone who thinks that the laws that are on the books are sufficient to protect those who don't fall into the straight, white, Christian male category has their head in the sand and is ignoring the reality of life as a minority. So the next time you hear someone arguing against affirmative action, send them to the Hatewatch or HRC or the Matthew Shepard Foundation and let them read about how hate impacts the lives of not only the victims but their families. Or better yet, educate yourself and then you tell them about it. It's much more convincing that way.

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