warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

The Black Male: An Endangered Species?

Jacqueline Jackson |
January 20, 2014 | 6:55 p.m. PST


Nearly half of black men are arrested before the age of 23. (Beth Rankin, Creative Commons)
Nearly half of black men are arrested before the age of 23. (Beth Rankin, Creative Commons)
Dr. Martin Luther King shares a space in history that transformed the way we as humans communicate with each other about life itself. His consistent pursuit of a post-racial and post-poverty society brought out both the best and worst in people. Although his legacy helped to create a pathway for the future, it is clear that his work has yet to shift the troublesome fate of African-American men in the United States. Was his death—and the deaths of thousands of others—throughout history in vain?

In the early 1960's, law enforcement agencies across the nation were committed to the imprisonment of black bodies. This was true in Birmingham, Alabama as it was in Los Angeles, CA. There were mass beatings, incarcerations, killings and acquittals of Klu Klux Klan members responsible for these violent actions. During this period, the rates of African-American males incarcerated and away from home was staggering. Fifty years later, however, nearly half of all black men under age 23 have been arrested and one in three black American males can expect to be incarcerated in their lifetime.

SEE ALSO: Almost 50 Percent Of Black Males Arrested By Age 23

According to the press release, these arrests could prevent youth from furthering their education and finding sustainable employment. Robert Brame, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina said: "Criminal records that show up in searches can impede employment, reduce access to housing, thwart admission to and financing for higher education and affect civic and volunteer activities such as voting or adoption. They also can damage personal and family relationships." 

Which is correct. These facts, although unsettling, are not far-fetched and are the result of decades of racial profiling and the wars on gangs and drugs by law enforcement nationwide. The reality is that before there was a system committed to diversity, there was one riddled with hate and prejudice which trickled down into each position employed by the government.  The way areas stricken with poverty are policed, along with the media's role in demonizing these areas, have produced a society that fears black bodies and also black advancement. 

These findings also draw attention to how early black youth enter into the criminal justice system. Instead of coming in contact with counselors, after-school supervisors and community facilitators, black youth instead experience racial profiling and injustice at a young age. They are coming into contact with crime on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Communities across the country are suffering from drugs, violence and limited educational resources while city and state officials continue to say, "something must and will be done." The system has failed black and minority citizens for far too long.

As early as junior high school, I noticed law enforcement parked outside of school, engaging with administrative officials and arresting or questioning students for a variety of reasons. It is true: the inner city community has an issue of truancy, but constant police engagement and limited educational resources aren't ways to increase participation in today's educational institutions. It became clear to me at a young age that there were systems in place to enforce power and prevent advancement for minority communities. According to the NAACP, one million of America's 2.3 million prisoners are black and this number isn't showing a trend to decrease in the near future.

This statistic reflects the various issues that have plagued African Americans over time. The judicial system, although a crucial framework for American society, once enforced laws that enslaved Africans and legalized the use of human labor for economic gain. The greed and power which pulsed through politicians in the early development of the country bled into the systems born from it. Today, the education system remains a barrier between minorities and the highest rungs of the economic ladder. 

The arrival of crack-cocaine provided an economic benefit to the inner city which was previously controlled by the systems of the oppressive American political and economic system. During the 1960s and 1970s, the United States saw a surge in economic growth which caused the employment structure to shift. Instead of employing a high number of minority citizens in car, clothing and other factories across the country, the economy outsourced many jobs other countries where labor was cheaper. 

As jobs disappeared, urban communities sought another source of income. When crack-cocaine was introduced in the mid-1970s, an opportunity presented itself for the community to rise. Illegal as it may have been, it must be understood that all previous attempts to assimilate into American culture had failed. Attempts to produce quality educational facilities, banks, government parties and various other developments were literally shot down. Black blood was spilled in the streets, black owned businesses and homes were burned to the ground and millions watched as efforts to rebuild from times of slavery were presented as inadequate and subsequently denied. Drugs presented an opportunity for growth for minority communities throughout the nation, the illegality of which many Caucasian and law enforcement officials took advantage of. 

Naturally, this growth was short-lived. It was only a matter of time before law enforcement funded the war on drugs and hundreds and thousands of minorities across the country were stripped of their lives for jail. The pursuit of economic success—the American dream—had merely become a trap to enslave minorities, ultimately establishing a revolving door between the black community and prison. This pathway must stop. It has not only led to loss of life in jail, but also on the street as more than 1,000 black youth a year die due to acts of violence. The numbers remain staggering as Chicago sees over 400 homicides a year. Cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Philadelphia aren't far behind.

It could be argued that although many of this generation’s elders took this route, today's generation doesn't have to. There is no need to participate in illegal activity in order to foster a better environment for oneself and children. I do not argue with the need to remain out of illegal practices, out of jail and out of harm’s way, but I must, at the same time, be a realist and recognize that the promised resources to avoid this pathway are being threatened every day. The communities riddled with gun shots and drugs are also riddled with poverty.

It is no secret that millionaires enjoy drugs recreationally, possess firearms and even have doctors on hand to write illegal prescriptions if they desire. We've seen the news: they aren't in jail and most are able pursue expensive rehab and continue living. When millions aren't involved but your soul is in turmoil, the search continues for something to mask the pain. Youth today are masking the pain of what they are experiencing by participating in activities which would otherwise not be options if the resources in their neighborhoods grew, if teachers were committed and if community really meant unity. 

It's clear that these issues are ours as a minority community to fix. For jobs have become difficult to obtain for youth in the inner city. The unemployment rate of American youth out of school was at 15 percent last October. If this number grows as expected, it could cost the nation upwards of $18 billion  

The situation is even worse for minority youth. The unemployment rate among black youth is 393 percent higher than the national rate and shows no sign of slowing down.     

With limited employment options but a desire to make money, feed themselves and their families, where do they turn? One million lives have already been lost to the prison system and as states across the nation discuss building new prison institutions, the government won't have a problem taking one million more.   In recognizing that the government and activists have had 40 years to shift the fate of minority youth, something must be done beginning today. By tomorrow, there will be more in jail and dead. Summer 2014 could mean the loss of 200 or more black youth. A change must come.

On Tuesday January 22, 2014, members of the USC and broader Los Angeles community will come together to discuss not only the current issues but solutions for African-American families and the lives of youth throughout the nation. The event, organized by Students Organizing for Literacy, Inclusion, & Diversity (S.O.L.I.D.) will be held at the African American Museum in L.A.

Although the discussion can only provide a platform to talk about the issues, attendees will hopefully return home with a better understanding of what the African-American community faces and how we can change the current trajectory for African American males.


Reach Contributor Jacqueline Jackson here; follow her here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.