It is shameful that so many black men are imprisoned in American jails and prisons, especially in the “Lone Star” state. In fact, Texas could be renamed the “Lock up Black Men” state based on the number of black men incarcerated here each year. The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) released a report in 2007 that said African Americans are incarcerated at 5 times the rate of Whites in Texas (3,734 per 100,000, compared to 694 per 100,000 Whites).
Most astonishing, JPI reported that there are more black men of all ages in prison in Texas than in the Texas higher education system and that nearly twice as many black men in their early 30s have prison records (22%) than Bachelors degrees (12%). Most of these young men are jailed because of drug convictions.
Nationwide, the picture is no better for black men. Roughly, a third of all black men nationwide are involved in the criminal justice system, i.e., awaiting trial, in prison or jail, or parole or probation. That same percentage is likely to serve time in prison. How can the black community thrive, even survive, when black men are under the control of the criminal justice system? This is a new form of slavery where the prisons are the new plantations and the wardens are the new slave masters. Excuse my harsh language but the comparison cannot escape any reasonable person. We cannot be silent any longer as young black men, the strength of the black community, are relegated to prison and powerlessness.
Racism, poverty and fatherlessness are huge factors in this dilemma. Racism plays apart because many of the cops who arrest black men are racist and target black men, e.g., racial profiling. There are plenty of racist prosecutors and judges as well who are responsible for everything from overcharging black men to handing down disparate prison sentences.
On the other hand, racism should not be blamed for all the problems facing black men since many young black men terrorize the black community and should be jailed. Poverty and racism are never legitimate excuses to rob someone, deal drugs or join a gang, although poverty is real for many black men. In my view, fatherlessness is the largest factor causing young black men to make self-destructive choices.
The question is—what are we going to do to help these young men? Will we do nothing and risk losing another generation of black men? In my ministry and law practice, I try to help many of these young men avoid these negative outcomes. I try to explain to them that even if they are never incarcerated, the damage a felony conviction or even a felony charge will do to their future job prospects will be lasting and difficult to overcome. Many of them are not violent, hardened or career criminals just young men without the firm and guiding hand of a father who made poor or stupid choices trying to make fast money.
The key is to step into their lives soon after their fathers step out. We cannot wait until they become ten or eleven. We must start reaching them at five or six. That is why I started the National Black Parents Association and partly why I, a social conservative, supported President Obama for president. In addition, I am constantly thinking of ways to get these young men in church. I know personally that having a relationship with Christ is the answer for these young men. Jesus saved my life and kept me from a life of crime.