It’s Time to Understand Relationships between Race, Injustices and Gun Violence

Photo courtesy of Carlos Javier Ortiz. Above, "The Pocket" is a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. It is the triangular intersection near the Oak Woods Cemetery, between South Chicago Avenue.

In modern America, it’s impossible to discuss gun violence at length without simultaneously discussing the court system, incarceration and, unfortunately, race.

After interviewing Brandi Vigil, a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Loyola, I further understood how interconnected each of these issues are in our society.

Vigil earned her Bachelor’s in sociology and communications from the University of California, Davis and her master’s in criminal justice from California State University, Sacramento.

She has since worked with institutions in both California and Chicago, mainly helping young people involved in the juvenile justice system.

Vigil has worked with children as young as 6 years old who were deemed “emotionally disturbed” and had been through the juvenile justice system. She has volunteered with similar institutions in Chicago, such as Circles & Ciphers, Project Nia and Lawrence Hall.

Experience with the juvenile justice system has given Vigil a valuable insight on the inner workings of the U.S. court system, especially in regards to race and unjust incarceration.

How are the two connected? Vigil believes premature and inaccurate labeling of individuals is the answer.

She further explained that in the city of Chicago, a phenomenon known as the “school to prison pipeline” has perpetuated the dangers of labeling.

In Vigil’s words, “As a result of education being an institution that young people are required to be in by law; it’s one of the ways that they can also get caught up in various other institutions by being identified as a problem child, a good child, a good student, a bad student.”

As for race, Vigil explained that people of color are consistently impacted at a disproportional rate, which has caused social theorists to begin using the phrase “cradle to prison pipeline.”

This terminology has been used to illustrate the overwhelming criminalization rate of people of color as opposed to their white counterparts.

Vigil also mentioned that people of color are under a more watchful eye by most institutions in society.

Throughout Vigil’s explanations of our current court system, I began to comprehend the injustices perpetuated by our judicial institutions.

I began to wonder not only how we, as a society, reached this point, but how we can also reverse these oppressive tendencies.

As students and civilians, many of us have limited knowledge and understanding of the court system, especially in regards to the treatment of young people of color and other marginalized social groups.

To reach a higher level of understanding, Vigil advises students to take electives in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Loyola. The content, she argues, is valuable for students of any major as they will begin to reverse the human tendency of labeling others that has become so dangerous in our society.

Once the instant labeling and stereotyping begins to decrease and perspectives become sharper, we will begin to realize that criminals are not a foreign species, that a crime is an act and not a person.

If we understand the dangers of labeling tendencies, our mentalities can shift to reversing the dehumanizing manner in which we view those within the justice system.

Changing a perspective that has been unintentionally engrained in some minds and overall society throughout history is not easy.

However, it is necessary for simple students and civilians to understand the situation, avoid turning a blind eye and work toward improving the situation before it inevitably worsens.

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