The dangerous effects of stereotyping in crime and punishment

Chloe Ragsdale, Reporter

Our words have the power to shape people’s lives, whether it’s through the pounding of white supremacists’ marches or our President’s hateful tweets. Stereotyping has become a dangerous force in our world today, leading to the innocent deaths of thousands of individuals just because of their race, religion, gender, or sexuality. The bias behind stereotypes unconsciously stems from our childhoods, morphs into the monster of racism that it is today, and needs to be controlled.

On February 5, many people around the US commemorated the 23rd birthday of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American boy who was wrongly shot and killed by George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012. His death sparked the Black Lives Matter movement, an organization focused on defeating police brutality against innocent African American people today.

Stereotypes not only affect our youth, but highly influence our justice system. According to the Huffington Post, police officers are proven to search three times as many people of color than white people, and are more likely to use methods such as tasers, dogs, pepper spray and physical force against them.

As reported by the Prison Policy Initiative, the US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with about 500 arrests for every 100,000 people. Out of the 2.3 million people imprisoned in just the US, 40% of those are African Americans, and 65% of them are arrested and sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent offenses.

The origin of these statistics branch from a form of entertainment used commonly in the 1800s called Blackface. Blackface was the cruel imitation of African Americans by caucasian people painting their faces black. From Blackface, figures such as Jim Crow and Zip Coon emerged, who were “typical, ragged slaves” who represented the African American race in a callous way.

The images of Jim Crow have carried all the way from the 1800s to modern day media, literature, and cinema, all of which contribute to the heavy biases against African Americans. These biases, the actions we take due to stereotypes, have lead to police brutality, innocent deaths, and unequal sentencing against people of color.

Our words double the chances that an African American will be arrested as compared to their caucasian counterparts, and therefore double the chances of devastating their futures. We are controlling the lives of African American youth with these stereotypes, making them fear for their lives while simply listening to music, wearing a sweatshirt, or even just driving. African Americans populate 13.3% of the United States, and we are setting them up for failure and a life of uncertainty.

Not only are these stereotypes dominating the lives of African American children, but they are forced to wallow in them. According to the United States Census Bureau, about 40.6 million people are living in poverty, and 22% of them are African Americans, which further adds to the stigmas against them due to the stereotypes linked with poverty. Gangs, drug use, and violence are generally associated with low-income neighborhoods, and therefore strengthen the predisposed thoughts police officers have against African Americans that lead to violence.

In 2017 alone, 147 unarmed people were killed by police, and 48 of those were unarmed African Americans and 34 were Hispanic. Stereotypes have reached the point of innocent people being murdered; they are the triggers waiting to be pulled before a situation is even examined.

To add to the growing presence of stereotypes in the US, President Donald Trump has instilled an atmosphere where they poison the mind’s of our law enforcement officials.

“America must fix its lax immigration system, which allows far too many dangerous, inadequately vetted people to access our country,” President Trump commented after a bombing in Manhattan committed by an immigrant injured several people. By stereotyping all immigrants as dangerous and untrustworthy people, President Trump has threatened the “land of the free” rhetoric of the US, where people from all over the world are welcome and celebrated.

Frustratingly enough, President Trump has yet to discuss the major factor of white mass shooters and criminals in the US, but instead decides to focus on the presence of illegal immigrants, who have yet to cause our country’s deadliest mass shooting in history.

The Las Vegas shooting on October 1, 2017 is a prime example of how the media generates stereotypes by labeling criminals based upon their ethnicity.

“This was a sick person… ” said President Donald Trump about Stephen Paddock, the man who shot and killed 58 people and injured over 500 at a concert in Las Vegas. Just like most white mass shooters in the US, the media and our president has portrayed them as “mentally ill” or “lone wolves”, instead of calling them terrorists, like they truly are.

Our words are the most powerful thing that we can control in our society today, and we are using them for all the wrong reasons. We have to teach the youth of our world that stereotypes do not define themselves or others, and that they are more than just simple phrases waiting to be judged by first glance. After all, we are all human beings who should have equal rights to be treated as individuals, no matter where we come from or what we look like. We must be aware of how commanding our words can be, and how they can penetrate with the force of a gunshot or create a change to better the future.