Understand the Risks, Avoid Incarceration, & Change the Negative Narrative for Men of Color

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In many metropolitan areas across the country, if you watch the local news, you will often see stories painting a very negative storyline of men of color. It is almost as the local news vans and their local stations do not miss an opportunity to show the adverse challenges within urban communities or communities inhabited by people of color. This trend is very concerning, as representations of crime in the media shape public opinion, particularly through the frequency in which crime is reported and the characterizations of criminal participants and victims (Bjornstrom, Kaufman, Peterson, & Slater, 2010). Similarly, previous studies suggests that when overrepresented in the media as perpetuators, racial and gender stereotypes may be reinforced within society and raise public hostility toward groups like men of color (Dixon, Azocar, & Casas, 2003; Dixon & Linz, 2000).

Unfortunately, older research from 1997 does suggest the lifetime risk of African-American men going to state or federal prison from birth is 28.5%.  A special report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (1997) estimated 1 of every 20 persons (5%) can be expected to serve time in prison during their lifetime. The lifetime chances of a person going to prison are higher for men (9%) than for women (1%) and higher for blacks (16%) and Hispanics (9%) than for whites (2%) (Bonczar & Beck, 1997).  Thusly, at the time of the report, if incarceration rates were to stay the same, newborn black males in this country have a greater than a 1 in 4 chance of going to prison during their lifetimes, while Hispanic males have a 1 in 6 chance, and white males have a 1 in 23 chance of serving time (Bonczar & Beck, 1997).  WE CAN CHANGE THE NEGATIVE NARRATIVE!

If men of color are being targeted by the criminal justice system, that is even more reason to be intentional about avoid criminal circumstances…even when we are enticed by others who we know. Let’s be clear, in many communities, being a man of color within the United States of America means there is a need to act with extraordinary caution and sensitivity in these manners. Collectively, we must work to avoid committing felonies, the most serious of crimes such as intent to commit heinous crimes, causing grievous injury, or destroying property. We must put down the guns and reduce incarceration due to drugs. Although less serious, misdemeanor crimes are punishable by jail time of one year or less per misdemeanor, a fine, or alternative sentencing like probation, rehabilitation, or community service. Infractions and violations are minor offenses like jaywalking and motor vehicle offenses that result in a simple traffic ticket. Still, any of these offenses can be more serious trouble for men of color.

Proverbial wisdom suggests men of color, all persons really, should refrain from criminal activity…PERIOD. Among many reasons, one rationale to avoid criminal activity is because ultimately criminal actions will lead to state or federal prison…or worse. So, let’s focus our efforts on living with honor and integrity. Work to be honest in words and deeds and advocate for the less fortunate. And let’s vote to support those who experiencing targeting by the criminal justice system, while helping us all to KEEP OUT of jail and prison.

Readers, offer your comments here. What do you believe is the risk for young men, specifically men of color, for going to jail or prison? What are ways young men can avoid committing criminal offenses? Specifically, what young men (& women) do to prevent criminal activity when it may be all around them (i.e., in their homes, neighborhoods, family, friends)? Leave encouraging comments here.

Bjornstrom, E. E., Kaufman, R. L., Peterson, R. D., & Slater, M. D. (2010). RACE AND ETHNIC REPRESENTATIONS OF LAWBREAKERS AND VICTIMS IN CRIME NEWS: A NATIONAL STUDY OF TELEVISION COVERAGE. Social problems57(2), 269–293. https://doi.org/10.1525/sp.2010.57.2.269

Bonczar, T.P. & Beck, A.J. (1997). Lifetime Likelihood of Going to State or Federal Prison. Bureau of Justice Statistics. U.S. Department of Justice.

Dixon Travis L., Azocar Christina L., Casas Michael. The Portrayal of Race and Crime on Television Network News. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. 2003; 47:498–523.

Dixon Travis L., Linz Daniel. Race and the Misrepresentation of Victimization on Local Television News. Communication Research. 2000a; 27:547–573.

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