Racial Violence in the United States, 1863 to Present

The Modern Era (1972-present) - Introduction

The Modern Era has witnessed a sea change in how racial violence is perceived by those in the United States. It is now the extreme minority that would openly espouse any type of violent racism let alone act on it, though it is hardly extinct. Today's racial violence comes much more often in the form of police brutality against and the mass incarceration of racial minorities, as the results of the War on Drugs. "Race riots" have also continued to be an issue as minorities chafe under the weight of these systematic assaults.

From 1980 to 2000, the nation's prison system went from holding 300,000 people to more than two million. Nearly two-thirds of this increase is attributed to the War on Drugs. Violent crime rates account for less than one percent of this increase, yet in 1972 there were only a few hundred SWAT raids, and by 2001 over 40,000 occured. While rates of drug use for whites, Latinos, and blacks are almost equivalent, there has been a far greater willingness to police the minority side of the equation. While eight times as many whites were admitted to prison in 2000 than in 1983, more than 22 times as many Latinos were admitted, and 26 times as many blacks. In fifteen states, black men enter prison on drug charges from twenty to fifty-seven times more frequently than white men, again despite there being equivalent percentages of drug use in both communities. In fact, some studies have shown that white students use and sell drugs at far higher rates than African-American students. This disparate enforcement has led to a state in which in 2006, 1 out of every 14 African- American men were in prison (and 1 out of 9 between the ages of 20 and 35!), but only 1 out of every 106 white men.

The case of Eric Garner has put a renewed spotlight on the problems with police violence in this country especially against black men. For the consensual crime of selling untaxed cigarettes, multiple officers attempted to arrest Mr. Garner using a banned chokehold to subdue him and having multiple officers on top of his body as he continually stated "I can't breathe." He resisted being cuffed, but he in no way attempted to be violent toward the arresting officers as video plainly showed. No officers attempted to give him CPR or clear his breathing passages as he lay face down on the sidewalk cuffed for minutes waiting for an ambulance to arrive.