Jeffrey Epstein has been headline news since his now definitive suicide on Aug. 10 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York.
So, explain to me in plain English how the death of a convicted pedophile and sex trafficker like Jeffrey Epstein can bring about administrative prison reform whereas the deaths of Brown and Black people, convicted of far lesser crimes, hit a stone wall? The removal of the warden in the prison where Epstein chose to end his life rather than do the time is a misplaced use of the Trump administration’s power.
Epstein’s suicide is proof positive that our prison system is broken; but it is also evidence that when white people suffer, action is taken. There are now national conversations about how broken our prison systems are, but we already knew that. The warden’s removal for Epstein’s suicide is a bitter pill to swallow and further unimpeachable proof of the whiteness of justice in America.
How about removing those wardens running America’s prison industrial complex across the country where Brown and Black prisoners suffer unexplained brutality from guards, are denied reasonable access to medical and mental health care, and commit suicide more often than we want to admit? A recent case-in-point is the suicide of Jean Carlos Jimenez-Joseph, an Afro-Panamanian, who committed suicide while in ICE custody. The Aug. 22, CBS News headline read “Ice Review found failures in care of mentally ill detainee who died by suicide.” In such cases, where Brown and Black prisoners commit suicide, not one warden has been removed, and not one guard punished. Where is the justice in that for Brown and Black people?
To place a higher value on the life of the lowest of low white man who satisfied his sexual predilection by preying on innocent (mostly white) girls is despicable. But would he have even been convicted if his victims had been majority Brown and Black girls? I think not. But that is a different commentary. I believe had his victims been non-white, they would have been smeared in the media, and the value of their deaths diminished. Very possibly, the whiteness of justice would have rewarded Epstein as a white man and spoke about him in glowing terms of being an entrepreneur – even if somewhat shady.
Fortunate for the world, but unfortunate for them, Epstein’s victims were white, and true to form, the world believes white women. And so he was convicted (though he served little time the first go-‘round), and his victims are suing his estate, and will in all probability win. America protects its white women.
Research has shown, however, that Brown and Black women who claim sexual assault are generally not believed by white policemen, and even by Brown and Black policemen. Similar to slavery, Black women are believed, without any proof, to have instigated our own assaults, whereas white women, even when they lie – e.g., Emmitt Till, the Scottsboro Boys – are always believed.
And so, Jeffrey Epstein goes to jail for assaulting white women. But he is not placed in a jail with the abhorrent conditions that young Brown and Black men convicted of lesser crime must endure. And when it appeared that he couldn’t “white” his way out of the consequences for his criminal sexual misdeeds, Epstein chose to take the easy out – suicide.
Ironically, even in death, Epstein’s whiteness has triggered change in the prison system – the removal of prison warden and consequences for his prison guards. And we know that had he been Brown or Black, like Jiminez-Joseph, his death would have been swept under the rug and chalked up as one more statistic. We have the death of one white pedophile, and suddenly the prison system is under scrutiny.
I am not a death monger, but anyone who exploited innocence for his own sexual gratification deserves to be punished.
What troubles me is that when white people commit the most heinous of crimes, they are still shielded from retribution by their whiteness, whereas when Brown and Black people commit silly crimes like selling cigarettes on the street, their violent deaths are deemed “justifiable.”
Anyone who mourns Epstein’s death is a fool. But more tragic is how the American prison system is being shaken up by the death of a man who only deserved our utmost contempt. We must ask ourselves what it means when the death of the most contemptible white man is more highly valued than the questionable deaths of Brown and Black people – regardless of whether they are good citizens or minor criminals?
Let’s admit it, in the current climate of American and global anti-Blackness, Brown and Black lives just don’t matter to the same degree as whites. Tragic, but true. But such is the ongoing contradiction of America, and increasingly the rest of the world.
Shame on the American justice system. And under the current presidential leadership that promotes white supremacy, there are no signs of things getting any better in the near future.
So, my advice is that as Brown and Black people, we must all move and live cautiously in this current climate. It’s is essential if we are to protect our own lives.
Right now, there is no justice for us as Brown and Black people in America and also globally – there is “just us” trying to survive under racism and white supremacy.
(C)2019 Irma McClaurin Solutions
Dr. Irma McClaurin is the Culture and Education editor for Insight News, an award-winning writer, anthropologist, and consultant.