Christopher Truman a 39 year old white male was sentenced to 118 years for molesting four young boys by an Indiana court this year. No media outlets or protestors were seen disputing his sentence or asking for his release, a foul crime was committed which resulted in a lengthy warranted sentence. 118 years is about 42 years more than the average life expectancy of a male in the U.S. according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention latest report which also placed age expectancy at 72 years for black males. I mention the number 118 for a specific reason, 118 is how many years 15 year old Travion Blount was told he would spend behind bars as his family stood stunned on March 12, 2008 at a Norfolk, Virginia Court for a non-homicidal armed robbery at a local house party.
Blount, along with two other friends with armed weapons (which were never fired), committed a Virginia State felony offense that permits minors to be sentenced to life in prison without parole. One parent could never imagine seeing their teenage child sent to jail without putting up fight, but even a heartbroken mother looking at her son guilty of a crime could grasp and understand a sentencing fitting of the offense. “Fitting!” the keyword here is as it appears to be for the majority of recent U.S cases seems to be absent from the real definition. (Fitting: suitable or appropriate under the circumstances)
Of those recent cases where appropriateness is absent, Trayvon Martin’s case seems to resonate the most when discussing Blount’s particular situation. Martin and Blount both have distinctive elements which make their court cases different, but there is a significant correlation which I hope is clear as you dig deeper to their own stories and formulate opinions. Martin, a 17 year old African- American male, was shot and killed by now highly publicized neighborhood watch coordinator, George Zimmerman while walking back from purchasing Skittles and Arizona Ice Tea from a convenience store; Martin committed no crime and was unarmed. Martin’s punishment was death and Zimmerman’s punishment was freedom.
The two wronged in these trials ,two teenagers, African-American males, with their twenties untouched both receiving unjustifiable punishments handed down by the U.S. justice system. Has our legal system deteriorated so much to the point where an unarmed 17 year old black male is killed and his murderer is acquitted? Or so much so that a 15 year old black male who fired no shots in a trivial house party robbery won’t see outside of a jail cell until his 50s? These questions are being asked not only in the urban communities concerned for their youth, but by an entire country desperately searching for answers and some sort of steps towards change. [While I refuse to be one of those journalists who think that every wrongful action done by the legal system to African-Americans is racially motivated, as a young African-American male myself I also cannot blindfold myself to the evidence and statistics that continue to reveal themselves every day.]
That cry for “Change” that Obama promised now seems to have become a scream from a megaphone that the public refuses to be silent about. Of course the blame should not be fully placed on Obama’s shoulders, as we know that the government and its distribution of powers are way more intricate then Obama just calling the shots. The question is; Who is listening? Who can we hold accountable if anybody? Even artists like the 18 time GRAMMY winner Kanye West who could continue to make radio friendly records like “All of the Lights “and “Good Life” an collect stress-free royalty checks feel the need to make racially charged and critically attacked songs like his 2013 “New Slaves” to shake the broken system up. [Kanye aggressively yells on the record that projected on buildings in 66 cities around the world“Meanwhile the DEA, Teamed up with the CCA, They tryna lock niggas up, They tryna make new slaves, See that’s that privately owned prison, Get your piece today”. Kanye didn’t make this record for the radio to salivate over or for the soccer mom to jam to on the way to work, but he wrote it with the intent of causing a commotion and to get the offended to think about why their actually offended. The Justice and Prison system in fact are incarcerating more and more black males and making over twenty million dollars a year doing such.
These are the realities of the system we pay our tax dollars to; kids like Blount are real teenagers that actually face 118 year sentences due to a system whose set-laws insure jail time and not rehabilitation. In order for “change” to be tangible and not just a word we must make noise like Kanye on “New Slaves”, and we must continue to utilize platforms like change.org like Monique Santiago who’s Petition for Change for Travion Blount spearheaded his sentence change from Life to a reduced 40 years six years later. This fight for Change is nowhere near finished, but these small victories display signs of hopefulness in despairing times in America.