When the communist rule and the Cold War had ended, the United States became the brightest example of a democratic state in the world. It was a country model that many people wanted to live. Despite having such a high status at the international level, the US had problems with the freedom restriction inside the country. This essay describes the civil rights and the problem of the prison system in the US throughout the 1990s and up to the present time. It also explains American democracy, opportunities, and equality possibilities and shows the impact of these issues on the electoral system and democracy formation.
For a long time, the US has been a multinational country. Throughout the 1990s, civil rights suffered an issue of racism and sex minority intolerance. However, there were some changes in the perception of people with disabilities. To begin with, in the US, “For centuries race relation has been shaped by black-white divide and the experience of slavery and segregation.” At the end of the twentieth century, because of many Latin and Asian immigrants arriving at the country, the problem of discrimination against black people had taken a backseat for some time. In 2010, there were approximately 50 million Latinos in the US. They “had become the largest minority group in the States.” Most Latinos were immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
In 1991, when Bill Clinton became the President, he focused his attention on domestic affairs, especially on the economic revival. His steps canalized the energy and efforts of all races into economic development and temporarily prevented the black population from racial aggression. As a result, the government made arrangements that helped overcome the economic crisis and increase the social standard of living.
Until the end of the twentieth century, homosexuals were blamed for AIDS spread; thus, they were discriminated by society. They were abused at the workplaces and could be excluded from the army. In the 1900s, the gay movement managed to attract the government’s attention to the AIDS problem and necessity of further dealing with it. Therefore, such initiatives of the homosexuals have increased the tolerance towards all sexual minorities. Moreover, the “newly organized disabled Americans” vindicated a claim about employment opportunities. Their struggle for the public place's entrance that facilitated the movement of the handicapped people was also victorious.
The prison system of this country should also be mentioned while talking about civil rights. At the beginning of the 1990s, the high crime rates, caused by the economic recession, were reduced “thanks to more effective urban police tactics.” Such a strategy led to an increase in the number of prisoners. Moreover, it revealed such hidden problems of the American crime and punishment system as excessive prison funding, harsh treatment of prisoners on the basis of the racial attitudes, and prejudicial background of the juvenile justice system. Many convicts caused the appearance of a prison-industrial complex. Prisons became sources of cheap labor. Therefore, the government preferred funding prison to support educational establishments. This strategy led to an increasing number of correctional institutions and convicts' exploitation for the sake of economic recovery. Despite this fact, the prisoners were badly treated. In most cases, the reason for such treatment was racial prejudice. The situation had not changed for years. An example of racial abuse can be Mumia Abu-Jamal’s disease and his improper medical treatment. The man was the black activist, who was sentenced to death for the murder of the white police officer. When Abu-Jamal’s family was informed that he had a medical crisis,” nobody was allowed to visit him, even his lawyers. Therefore, it can be stated that people of color “experienced most strongly the paradox of growing islands of unfreedom in a nation that prided itself on liberty.”
In most cases, the black population was convicted of crack selling and served long sentences for different violations. According to statistics, the percentage of black people imprisoned is “five times higher than the population of white Americans.” Moreover, a person, who once was claimed to be a criminal and served some time in jail, had problems with employment. The reproductive capacity of the subpopulation also dramatically reduced as many young people spent their youth in prisons. “Their children became “prison orphans,” forced to live with relatives or in foster homes.” Not only poverty but also educational segregation influenced the criminal rate among the Afro-Americans.
In most cases, the school-to-prison pipeline strategy has caused children’s isolation. This term implies “the policies and practices that push our nation’s children, especially our most at-risk children out of the classroom.” It is not easy to find the core causes of this process. The generally accepted explanations of the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon are the inability to pay for education, the low-qualified staff, and racial prejudice at the public schools. “Since school funding rested on property taxes,” not all pupils could get a good education. Especially the immigrants’ children, whose parents had the low-paid jobs and could not afford spending much money on educational purposes. Therefore, children from such families were forced to visit public schools. The teachers’ shortage and overcrowded classes in these educational institutions made the quality of schooling much lower than in the private ones. Moreover, strict discipline and zero tolerance caused numerous expulsions. There were certain problems with coming back to school again. With time, the situation has not changed much. In 2007, “for every 100 students who were suspended, 15 were Black, 7.9 were American Indian, 6.8 were Latino and 4.8 were white.” It means that half of all students forced to leave the schools are the representatives of the black population. Moreover, the vast majority of white children prefer studying in school establishments with a small percentage of the other race pupils. Such treatment makes the abused students break the law. It may mean that the U.S. crime and punishment system does not imply helping such people but ensures locking them in prisons.
Considering the trends of the USA crime and punishment system, it can be stated that today, the country cannot guarantee the equal status of every citizen. In addition, the country is unable to provide the whole nation with the same opportunities. On the one hand, the American society protests against the inconveniences caused by the insufficient administration measures and tolerate sex minorities; on the other hand, this very community cannot attain elimination of the racial discrimination. Today’s U.S. justice system demonstrates that racial prejudice still exists. It became harder to establish the guilt of the offenders in the cases of race abuse. At schools, students of color are considered prone to criminal activities because of their racial characteristics. Talking about racial discrimination at the workplace, it is prohibited “at the moment of signing a contract, not on the job.” Therefore, it can be said that modern American society still does not provide each member of society with an equal opportunity to study and work. The problem is that not all Americans have the same possibilities and chances to get a good education. Consequently, not well-educated people cannot have well-paid jobs and keep their families. It means they cannot get from the state the benefits that must be available to all members of a democratic society.
It is also important to study how these issues affect the electoral system. Inability to perform civil duties and racial inequality can lead to the ruination of the background of the democratic society. “Coming at the end of the ‘decade of democracy,’ the 2000 election revealed troubling features of the American political system at the close of the twentieth century.” Having a highly developed technology, the US, “had a voting system in which citizens’ choices could not be reliably determined. It implies that the rich men provide the United States with the president, who did not have the votes’ majority. It is rather “an odd result in political democracy” that proves the fact of inequality in the American society.
At last, while talking about the impact of these phenomena on democracy formation, it must be said that the current state of the U.S. democracy is not a perfect one. There are many positive changes such as “the better health and longer lifespan of the population, spread of suburbanization, and decline of the industrial employment.” However, the government strived to turn its activities to private contractors. Consequently, millions of Americans walled themselves off from their fellow citizens by residing in the socially-homogeneous gated communities. The idea of a shared public sphere seems to dissolve. Nevertheless, the problem of racism and inequality remains.
Summing up, the United States is considered the country that bases its government on the rules of democracy. Despite some positive features of democracy that are typical of American society, the problem of racial attitudes is not solved. While white citizens protect their civil rights, they treat the black population with prejudice. This issue can be visible in different spheres of life, but mostly in jails and schools. In prisons, the black convicts face abuse because of skin color. Moreover, the school-to-prison pipeline implies students’ division, according to the racial characteristics. Therefore, such strategy provokes the disorderly behavior of the black children. Racial prejudice is not the only problem of the American prison system. Today, exploiting prisoners as cheap labor and bad treatment towards them are the burning issues in the USA. Such inequality and inability to develop in the American community reflects on the electoral statistics and questions the core element of democracy, namely, personal freedom maintenance. It may mean that American democracy has not reached the highest pick of its development yet.