by Atiba R. Ellis, Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law; Follow Prof. Ellis on Twitter @atibaellis
*This post is part of ACSblog’s 2015 Constitution Day Symposium.
On this Constitution Day, I have been drawn to thinking about violence against minorities in America and how our constitutional system fails to address this violence. We have seen numerous episodes of individual and community violence against neighborhoods of color from Ferguson to Baltimore. We are familiar with the long list of individuals who have died at the hands of the police under questionable grounds. (I discussed both here previously.) This violence is so engrained and pervasive that it is systemic. In the words of a famous scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it is “violence inherent in the system.”
Yet this physical violence is but one manifestation of the long history of subordination of communities of color. This violence of white supremacy is also made manifest in the expressive violence of exclusion from the political process, as it dilutes and diminishes both minority individual and community political strength. And our constitutional mechanisms are not fully addressing it.
Communities of color have been victims of this violence -- whether state-imposed or state-abetted -- for generations. This violence has taken various forms: slavery, Jim Crow, police brutality, and mass incarceration. That violence attacked their bodies, their property, and their status as members of the American democratic community.
The ways that our constitutional system allows violence against vulnerable minorities represents an existential attack against minority communities and a continuation of the patterns of white supremacy (even if the intent of racial discrimination is absent). This isn’t to say that the crises linked to the policing of minority communities, including police brutality and killings; racial profiling; mass incarceration; and racial disparities in the death penalty shouldn’t be thought of as less important—they are important and pervasive. Yet these species of state-sanctioned violence are connected to the political exclusion that minorities suffer, and they are better seen as parts of a whole.