By MARC McDONALD
As the controversy over the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. continues to grab headlines, a debate rages over President Obama's description of the police acting "stupidly."
But as long as we're on the subject, it seems to me that we're ignoring a larger issue: the stupidity of America's racist justice system.
Don't believe the U.S. justice system is racist? Well, let's take a look at the numbers.
Since 2000, the U.S. prison population has risen from 1.7 million to 2.1 million. 40 percent of the inmates are African-Americans (who make up only 14 percent of the overall U.S. population).
So why are blacks more likely to be incarcerated in America? It's really no mystery.
As Britain's Financial Times noted on Tuesday, Department of Justice figures show that African-Americans and whites use and sell drugs at similar ratios to their share of the population. Yet an African-American offender is 10 times more likely to be sentenced to prison than a white offender, for the same offense.
The Financial Times (hardly a radical leftist publication) noted Tuesday that, Obama's presidential victory notwithstanding, "racial disparities in the U.S. are in some respects worse than they were 10 or 20 years ago."
Just as most white Americans never really came to terms to the horrible legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, many whites today have refused to confront the fact that America remains a racist nation in many ways, something that is confirmed by the astonishing Justice Department figures.
And the odds are remote that anything will be done about this for many years to come. After all, most white American remain blissfully unaware that our nation's justice system is blatantly racist.
And the vast majority of Republicans continue to maintain that there is no disparity at all. Indeed, an ongoing theme that is often repeated on right-wing talk radio is that the notion that our nation is in any way racist is a figment of Liberals' imagination.
Republicans deny that America's justice system is racist with the same fervor that they deny the existence of global warming.
Don't believe me? Next time you have a talk about politics with a right-wing friend, raise this issue. There's no better way to make a wingnut go ballistic than to dare suggest that America's justice system is racist.
In artistic depictions, Lady Justice is often shown carrying a set of scales and wearing a blindfold. The latter is meant to depict the idea that justice should be meted out objectively. But in today's America, the blindfold is worn by the millions of Americans who continue to believe that our nation's justice system isn't racist.