Protection of Minorities and Youth

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Protection of Minorities and Youth

Scottsboro Trial
. . .160 PROTECT Act
. . .173

The first portion of this chapter, historical in nature, deals with one of the most significant legal battles in the early twentieth century. The Scottsboro trials stood as examples of minority treatment in the criminal justice system. The second portion of the chapter deals with a highly significant child protection law, the PROTECT Act of 2003. PROTECT includes the AMBER Alert, used to rescue abducted children.

At the beginning of the 1930s most black Americans in the United States lived in extreme poverty, particularly in the South. Southern slavery had ended only a few generations earlier. Racism in the 1920s remained woven into every aspect of life in the United States and was freely expressed in public. What were known as Jim Crow laws were well entrenched. These state laws, predominately found in the South, enforced racial segregation in almost every facet of life—restaurants, theaters, hotels, even water fountains and restrooms.

In 1897 the U.S. Supreme Court had put its approval on segregation by asserting that the required separation did not violate the constitutional rights of blacks as long as they were given access to equal facilities. In reality, the "separate but equal" approach did not translate into the equal quality of facilities, in fact far from it.

When the economic crisis of the Great Depression struck in 1929 hard times for blacks got even harder. While the 1933 national unemployment rate was over 25 percent, unemployment rates for various minorities ranged up to 50 percent or more. Racial discrimination was rampant as minority workers were normally the first to lose jobs at a business or on a farm. Jobs previously left to minorities, including elevator operators, field workers, street cleaners, garbage collectors, waiters, and bellhops, were suddenly needed by the larger white population.

Violence increased against minorities during the Depression, as whites now competed for jobs traditionally held by minorities. The lynching of blacks by white mobs increased, primarily in the South. Lynchings increased from eight in 1932 to twenty-eight in 1933, then fifteen in 1934, and twenty in 1935. Lynching is mob violence in which a group or mob murders a person (usually black and usually by hanging) who might have been accused of committing a crime.

Economic conditions and racial discrimination in every facet of American life put blacks at a severe social and political disadvantage. As with every other part of the society, the criminal justice system was also weighted against minorities. With the system dominated by whites in all positions of authority, blacks found themselves treated more harshly than other citizens, including more severe penalties for the same crimes. The inmate populations of Southern prisons were predominantly black.

The first excerpt "Scottsboro Case Goes to the Jury" is a newspaper accounting of the fourth trial of Haywood Patterson, one of the nine Scottsboro Boys. The Scottsboro Boys, all black youth, were charged with raping two white women from Alabama.

Some of the worst crimes committed in the United States are crimes against children. Kidnappers, child molesters, and child pornographers prey on the nation's young. The PROTECT Act of 2003 is the most comprehensive child protection legislation ever passed by the U.S. Congress. The act greatly strengthens law enforcement's ability to investigate, prosecute, and punish offenders who victimize children. Its provisions work to help law enforcement prevent crimes against children. Highlights of the lengthy PROTECT Act include increased penalties for those who harm children, better tools against those who prey on children over the Internet, and swift, coordinated law enforcement response when a child is abducted.

The most publicized provision of PROTECT is the AMBER Alert. The entire PROTECT Act is frequently referred to as the AMBER Alert bill. AMBER Alert provides coordination between law enforcement, media, and the general public to help quickly locate abducted children. The second excerpt in this chapter is from sections 301, 302, 303, and 304 of the PROTECT Act of 2003 that constitute the AMBER Alert. These sections were fought for by parents across the country whose children had been the victims of abduction.