Obama calls for soul searching over Baltimore

United States President Barack Obama has called on the nation to do some soul searching if the underlying tensions between African American communities and the police are to be fundamentally addressed.

Speaking at the White House a day after hundreds rioted on the streets of Baltimore on the East Coast, the President also slammed the ‘thugs’ and ‘criminals’ who infiltrated legitimate protests after the death of a black man while in police custody.

Scenes of chaos, looting and wanton destruction erupted soon after the funeral of a black man who died while in police custody nine days ago. A day later, the National Guard was made to bring order to the streets.

But this is a cycle that the President believes will take more than just sending in the cavalry.

The US has expanded the size of their criminal justice system over four decades to contain ethnic strife.

The American criminal justice system is dominated by racial disparities. Since 2002, the United States has had the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Although prison populations are increasing in some parts of the world, the natural rate of incarceration for countries comparable to the United States tends to stay around 100 prisoners per 100,000 population.

The US incarcerates 716 people for every 100,000 residents, more than any other country. In fact, the rate of incarceration is more than five times higher than most of the countries in the world.

The state of Louisiana is often called out for having the single highest incarceration rate in the world.

African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population, at nearly six times the rate of whites.

Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population

One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.

Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).

Obama says, “In those environments, if we just think we’re going to send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there, without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we’re not going to solve this problem and we’ll go through the same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities and the occasional riots in the streets and everybody will feign concern until it goes away and then we go about our business as usual.”

These are Obama’s first remarks after the death of Freddie Gray 10 days ago and he called for a rethink on education, criminal justice and economic development, particularly in poor communities.

The home of the rich, New York, is tied with Rwanda, which has the third highest national incarceration rate. Rwanda incarcerates so many people (492 per 100,000) because thousands are sentenced or awaiting trial in connection with the 1994 genocide.

Next comes the state of Washington, which claims the same incarceration rate as the Russian Federation.