Law in Contemporary Society

Privileges and Immunities

-- By CalebGreig - 16 May 2012

It's Alright, Cause It's All White" - Chris Rock


Each year on April 20, when the clock strikes 4:20 p.m., marijuana fans across the country come out of the shadows to proudly smoke pot in public (usually in parks and on college campuses). . A ritual that has become particularly iconic with the date is the annual smoke-out on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Last year, over 10,000 people descended upon the campus to celebrate, rally for marijuana legalization, and light up.

From what I could observe through pictures and video of this event (and others like it), besides an occasional Bob Marley picture on a flag or t-shirt, almost all of those in attendance were white were white.

Now, imagine the following: Envision that a group of Blacks or Latinos were to openly announce a plan to overrun a college town, gather in an open field, and proceed to smoke marijuana. Furthermore, imagine that they had openly announced this plan and the date/time they intended to carry it out. I don’t need to elaborate on the uproar that would ensue. Thus, it seems that the very public 4/20 rallies could be seen as blatant examples of white privilege – the ability of whites to do what they want, when they want, and without fear of repercussions.

The Behavior of the Law

Donald Black explains how law behaves by discussing its horizontal and vertical dimensions and how these properties affect both its volume and the intensity with which it is applied. He suggests that downward law (the prosecution of a less privileged individual for a crime committed against a more privileged individual) is more prevalent than upward law (the opposite). Someone is more likely to get arrested, be convicted, and receive a longer sentence if the direction of the law is downward. This phenomenon intensifies, he says, as the difference in level of privilege between the two parties increases. Applying this framework directly to the situations described above explains the lack of enforcement at UC Boulder and the potential discrepancy in application of the law that would surely result in the hypothetical. White privilege is one way of explaining why downward law is more prevalent than upward law.

Law As a Weak Form of Social Control

Law, as we have observed in class, is a weak form of social control, and upward law is a weaker form of control than downward law. This year, the University of Colorado at Boulder attempted to put an end to the annual ceremony. They shut down the campus to everyone except faculty, staff and students, made it clear that violators would face trespassing charges, and even applied a smelly, fish-based fertilizer to the campus grounds to deter the celebration. Essentially, the administration had such little faith in the law (stemming from an annual tradition of lack of arrests) that they decided to take matters into their own hands. The school’s actions were largely successful at deterring the celebrations. However, due to typical legal inaction, Colorado smokers merely relocated. The laws prohibiting marijuana in Colorado seem to be failing, at least in respect to deterrence. They are evidently a weak form of social control, at least to young (white) adults.

Across Justice Systems

This disparity in application of the law is not exclusive to our justice system. As a New Zealander (and a soon to be New Zealand-American), I have experienced this “white privilege” in two different countries. In New Zealand, my privilege was not being Maori or Polynesian, while here my privilege is not being Black or Hispanic. It should be noted that this privilege does not translate into complete immunity. Charges may still be filed, and, as Robinson explains, if so, the “dance” must still be performed (trial, sentencing, explanations, etc). However, in the end, the system acts with leniency and forgiveness.

Another blatant example of white privilege can be found here.

There are no facts here at all. We are invited to jump to conclusions about hypothetical events, then presented with an "explanation" of the non-existent facts that adds nothing to Donald Black and cannot convince a doubter, because doubt cannot be quieted with invented "evidence."

So it's not clear to me what this draft is trying to accomplish. What idea are you trying to convey to whom?

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r3 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:09:49 - IanSullivan
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