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Photo provided by Puerto Rico Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) on June 28, 2017 showing Hispanic civil rights attorney and president of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Juan Cartagena. EFE/PRLDEF
Photo provided by Puerto Rico Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) on June 28, 2017 showing Hispanic civil rights attorney and president of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Juan Cartagena. EFE/PRLDEF

Civil rights attorney: US criminal justice system unfairly targets Hispanics

Juan Cartagena, president of the Puerto Rico Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) thinks the war on drugs has had a multiplying effect on racial…

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 Blacks have not been the only minority group to suffer racial discrimination in the United States, according to a Hispanic civil rights attorney, who said Latinos also were victims of Jim Crow laws in place between 1876 and 1965 and continue to experience unjust treatment today through the criminal justice system.

  "We have to talk about the impact of those (Jim Crow) laws on the Latino community because historically the debate has been as if the problem existed only between the black and white communities," said Juan Cartagena, referring to former state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the southern US.

  The president of Latino Justice PRLDEF (Puerto Rico Legal Defense and Education Fund) has written the introduction to the first Spanish-language edition of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," an award-winning 2010 book by Michelle Alexander that has been translated into Spanish as "El Color de la Justicia."

  In his introduction, the attorney analyzes Latinos' relationship with the criminal justice system over the centuries.

  "Since we were kids, they told us (the prisons) were for bad people, that the system has never made a mistake. To break with that attitude, we have to bring an end to white control," he argued.

  He pointed to the devastating effect the war on drugs has had on the Latino community, noting that despite making up just 17 percent of the population Hispanics account for 48 percent of those prosecuted for drug crimes in federal courts.

  Cartagena said a big problem has been that police and prosecutors are selective in their crime-fighting efforts, adding that drug use is prevalent in any community but that blacks and Latinos are disproportionately targeted.

  He also emphasized in the introduction that felons and even ex-felons are denied the right to vote. Disenfranchisement laws in 48 of the 50 US states and the District of Columbia, for example, bar people from voting if they are in prison.

  Cartagena also said the situation is particularly troublesome at present because President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions "want to go back to ... requiring maximum sentences, to a heavy-handed approach to crime," a policy that he says has proven to be ineffective.

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