Freedom, Liberty, & Justice For All

by Emilio da Costa, ’12

Panopticon

I’m not shocked that a white man killed a black boy and that the deliberations of the American judicial system resulted in that white man serving no jail time. I’m not shocked that there exists a Florida self-defense statute, colloquially known as the “Stand Your Ground” law, which not only encourages acts of violence founded solely upon suspicion, but also effectively pardons white-on-black killings. When I read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, a book that makes the case for mass incarceration of lower-class minorities being a calculated mechanism of mass disenfranchisement, I wasn’t even shocked that the United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid or that black males are five times more likely to spend time in prison than white males.

What does have me utterly appalled is that so many people are just now waking up to the fact that our injustice system is carefully designed to opiate and exploit us through the basic tactics of divide and conquer. It’s marvelous strategy to keep one group down so they can never muster up the power to fight back and, more importantly, so that every other group feels comfortable and complacent thanks to their relative status and privilege. But, it isn’t a new concept. We might have a reputation for being innovative but we sure didn’t invent empire.

The federal government and media conglomerates have fused together to form a stronger bond than our country has ever seen. Together this propaganda and manipulation machine (in which I include the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches as well as the FCC and companies such as Walt Disney, News Corp, Time Warner, Viacom, and let’s not forget my own ‘public institution’ UC Berkeley’s favorite: Hearst Corporation) is broken beyond any sort of reform, negotiation, or change in personnel. And don’t even get me started on how much faith I have in the freedom, liberty, and justice for all that is provided by the honest, hard-working men of the FBI, CIA, and NSA.

When we have our largest wealth inequality gap since 1928, a thriving private prison industry (which legislators are helping to artificially stimulate), as well as a societal acceptance toward indefinite cruel and unusual punishment for humans at the Guantanamo Bay torture center, I’m a bit appalled that one man getting off scot-free for homicide is what drives the people of this country to voice their outrage toward this government and take to the streets in protest. Drone bait like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden may have lit the torches, but it is the masses that must pick them up and lead the charge for real change.

Corporations have bought the government, the fruits of capitalism are long spoiled, and even  our literal fruits and vegetables are doomed to never be the same (see the Monsanto Protection Act that even ‘liberal champion of the people’ Elizabeth Warren voted in favor of). Perhaps this perspective classifies me as a treasonous subversive, but once you start to see an intentional, finely crafted, and well thought out strategy, it becomes increasingly difficult to unsee the elements of strategy in every one of the seemingly obtuse and arbitrary components of the institution of control that is the United States government. To elucidate this affliction, I’ll offer my own brand of perception regarding a certain bunch of media darlings that our society has been most grateful for in recent weeks: the Supreme Court.

I’ve been a supporter for LGBT rights, respect, and equality for many years so I’m as happy as any other heterosexual ally that DOMA was struck down and Proposition 8 was dismissed three weeks ago. However, isn’t it convenient that this decision came both three days before the pride events in New York and San Francisco and one day after the decision to gut the Voting Rights Act of 1965? The Supreme Court has removed federal regulation over redistricting and even more blatant techniques of disenfranchisement such as the voter ID laws that emerged last election but the media has already erased that from our public conscience because, tax benefits aside, gay people can have weddings now. It’s a great feel-good story, but ask yourself: is it really so monumental that it justifies totally disregarding the gutting of the Voting Rights Act to the extent that national media outlets have? The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. is being shredded before our eyes but no one is up in arms that the black unemployment rate still tends to be double that of whites because we have a black President so everything must be alright. I’m not saying a celebration wasn’t in order after DOMA was struck down. Small victories are important, too. But let’s be honest. Our country is working a lot harder to subjugate lower-class minorities than they are to bring equality to historically persecuted populations. For many, all this decision symbolizes is another dream of something they will never have, because the sad truth is that millions of lower-class minority couples, gay or straight, will never be able to afford a white wedding.

Back to the point, the worst string of events that could ensue would be Obama issuing a heart-warming statement on national television, the Zimmerman case being reopened, and the murderer receiving a punishment that satisfies the American citizens’ appetite for justice. I fear it would send our country back into its slumber, and I would chalk up this whole orchestrated charade as yet another elaborate ruse manufactured to appease us back into our collective national state of complacency. With all of the heinous crimes that go unpunished and other wider-reaching global crises out there to battle, one white man getting off the hook for murdering one black boy (i.e. business as usual) is not that significant to me, but I’m optimistic that this is the type of emotional issue that can get enough people passionate to build the momentum necessary to effect real, lasting systemic change. Ta-Nehisi Coates expressed my initial reaction best in his incredible piece for The Atlantic when he wrote, “Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended.” Let us not sit idly by and watch this abominable system continue to feed us the same freedom, liberty, and justice we’ve been instructed to regurgitate since our daily elementary school recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Emilio da Costa is a master’s student in the Department of City and Regional Planning, UC Berkeley. His most recent affiliation with Stanford was over the summer of 2012 when he spent the summer living in Chi Theta Chi after graduating from the Urban Studies program that June. He is currently in New Jersey where he is working in the City of Newark’s Planning Department. He would like to wish you a happy belated Bastille Day and he can be reached at emidac@gmail.com

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