Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Injustice along the Color Line

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Injustice along the Color Line

Article excerpt

In the Dred Scott decision of 1857, the United States Supreme Court turned down a petition for freedom from an enslaved African American. The author of the court's ruling, ChiefJustice Roger B. Tawney, declared that Blacks could never be granted equal protection under the law or civil rights, because they were inherently inferior to Whites, and forever would be.

Tawney observed that "the unhappy Black race" had always "been excluded from civilized governments and the family of nations, and doomed to slavery. Negroes were beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the White race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior that they had no rights which the White man was bound to respect,"

The infamous Dred Scott decision reaffirmed the fundamental legal condition of African Americans, not as citizens or human beings, but as property. Black people were to be treated by law enforcement officers and the courts primarily based on the color of their skin. Despite the nearly 150 years since the Dred Scott decision, African Americans still encounter nearly identical racist attitudes from the police and the courts,

Among thousands of cases in recent years that make this point, one of the best is provided by certain bizarre events in Oneonta, New York, in 1992. A 77-year-old White woman phoned the Oneonta police to report that she had been attacked by a burglar. She was unable to see the man's face, but she thought the assailant was a Black man who may have cut his hand or arm with the knife used in the robberY.

This was all the "evidence" the police needed. Every African American mate in the town was to be stopped and checked.

African American men and boys waiting for public transportation were all stopped and interrogated. Black men found riding in automobiles were pulled over and questioned. Local and state police then demanded that academic officials at the State University of New York at Oneonta campus turn over a list of all Black male students. Students were interrogated, and checked for wounds. Finding no suspects, the cops began questioning every African American they could find both in and around the city of Oneonta. Everyone stopped was innocent, and the assailant was not apprehended.

Civil rights and civil liberties groups were appalled by these police state tactics, and the state's Governor at that time, Mario Cuomo, apologized for this official misconduct. Several Black people filed a legal suit, charging that cops had blatantly violated their civil rights. …

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