“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.”

– Maya Angelou

TW: Includes mention of murder, rape, racial discrimination and police brutality

There has been an undeniable increase in our society’s interest in serial killers over the past few years and we can attribute this to the creation of shows and movies such as: “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” and “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” These shows aim to delve into the lives of serial killers, past and present, and establish a reason for their crimes and what created the “monsters” that we know today. While understanding the psychology is important, something much more “monstrous” and complex lies beneath the surface of these shows. Underneath is a system so deeply entrenched within our society that we tend not to notice it. This system revolves around a series of biases, more specifically the biases that exist within the police and justice system centering around ideas of “white supremacy.” It was this very notion of “white supremacy” that often resulted in the police aiding and abetting serial killers like Dahmer, instead of hindering them. Even when these killers were placed under the “watchful” eye of the government during their probationary periods.

What is “White Supremacy”?

To answer that question, “White Supremacy” is an extremist belief system based on the idea that those of a naturally lighter/whiter skin tone or European descent are superior to other racial groups. Those who align with “white supremacist” beliefs support segregation of the different races and feel that those of white descent should have absolute rule over all other demographics due to their “genetic superiority.” But “White Supremacy” is no foreign concept, it has been present in our society for such an extended period that it is impossible to find a societal system not built around/affected by it. Of these institutions, the prison and judicial system is one that “White Supremacy” has had a huge impact on and continues to influence to this day. 

The most brutal and notorious case of “White Supremacy” in the prison system was that of Emmett Till. Emmett Till was a 14-year-old African American living in Mississippi during the 50s accused by the wife of a store owner, a white woman (Carolyn Bryant), for flirting, whistling and touching her upon entering her store. When this was revealed to the husband of the woman, Roy Bryant, he, along with an accomplice, kidnapped, mutilated and murdered Emmett Till. The death of Emmett Till and how it came about was public knowledge and although witness accounts and evidence were piling up against Bryant and his accomplice, they were ultimately found not guilty by an all-white jury. The men, after being offered money by “Look” for an article based on them, revealed that they did commit the murder. They detailed his brutal murder all in exchange for $4,000.

Two observable factors played an immense role in this sentencing in which the jury, despite the mountains of evidence against Bryant and his accomplice, chose a “not guilty” verdict. The first was the identity of the victim. Emmett Till was an African American in the 50s, during a time in which the KKK was active and the lynching of those of darker complexions was systematically carried out and encouraged by society. The jury simply felt no reason to defend Emmett Till as they saw him as “lesser than” and most likely believed his death to be righteous to some extent. The second was the identity of Till’s murderers. The jury was all white and so were the aggressors, and as a result, they were more likely to align themselves with the aggressors and view them as favourable. Favouring the testimonies of Bryant and his accomplice over the immense amounts of evidence condemning them. 

Source: Carolyn Bryant Donham and Emmett Till. | Source: Getty Images

Some can easily dismiss the case of Emmett Till under the pretence that cases like this happened in the past, and that our justice system has evolved to a point where we sentence regardless of race. However, there have been many cases of “White Supremacy” impacting the treatment of minorities in these past few years alone. It was just in 2016 that we saw the exoneration of Anthony Wright, a man of African American descent wrongfully imprisoned for the rape and first-degree murder of a 77-year-old woman in 1993. Police claimed to have found a bloody shirt belonging to Wright at the crime scene and that after a couple of minutes of questioning, Wright confessed to the murder. These pieces of evidence, coupled with testimonies from crack dealers, people who would be considered unreliable witnesses in the eyes of the law, led to the conviction of Anthony Wright, sentencing him to life in prison at the age of 20. During his entire sentence, Wright was unyielding in his claim of innocence. He later revealed that the detectives wrangled a false confession out of him under the threat of violence and that the shirt that supposedly had his blood on it wasn’t even his.

It wasn’t until the “Innocence Project” took up Wright’s case that it was later revealed through DNA evidence via sperm and blood samples that the DNA belonged to a much older man named Ronnie Byrd. The wrongful conviction of Anthony Wright is just one of the many cases of wrongful convictions involving forced confessions, witness testimonies and the creation of evidence in the judicial system’s history. The belief that Anthony Wright and many others who look like him, commit crimes such as this, without the basis of evidence, is often only based on race and proximity. In cases like these, the police often look for a scapegoat so that they can close the case quickly. Minorities and those who are financially disadvantaged are often the ones who suffer because of the limited resources that they have access to and the prejudices formed against them.

Source: The Innocence Project, photo and further information can be found here

“White Supremacy” is an ideology that has reigned over our society for centuries, it is ingrained in almost every system, political and social, and impacts the treatment of individuals based simply on race. Wrongful imprisonment and unpunished crimes against minorities are just two examples of the result of allowing “White Supremacy” to play a large role in our prison system. By allowing ideas of “White Supremacy” to invade our judicial institutions, we give it the power to determine who’s guilty, whose death doesn’t deserve to have justice carried out and who deserves pardoning due to a false sense of superiority. It is through the acknowledgement of the huge role “White Supremacy” plays in our justice system that we can begin to sever the relationship between “White Supremacy” and the prison system. This admission is the first step we must take in order to create an institution whose true purpose is to carry out justice without considering external factors individuals are unable to control, including but not limited to race.

Featured Image Credit: Brian Stauffer, The Washington Post

About the Author

Hi! I'm a blog writer for WEW at the uofa! I'm in my first year majoring in biology and love consuming any forms of media I can: music, reading and movies, I love them all! I hope you enjoy my blogs and come back to WEW to read more!