End the blatant racial discrimination in our criminal justice system

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We demand that the blatant racial discrimination in our criminal justice system be brought to light, and we recognize that ending it is a nearly impossible task. However, simply spreading awareness of such a widely pervasive issue (denied by so many) is quite a feat in and of itself.

Before reading, I want you to consider something. True privilege is the power to ignore or even deny a problem simply because it is inconvenient to you. It is more comfortable to believe the problem is non-existent when it does not directly affect you as an individual.

In 1776, America was infamously founded upon the principles of freedom, liberty, and equality. However, these basic human rights have been long unattainable for many. To this day, African Americans are being denied freedom due to our nation’s unjust prison system. Racial bias is undoubtedly interwoven throughout the American criminal justice system, and it is our responsibility as a nation to bring this systematic racism to an end.

Intentional or not, when racial bias is combined with the intense pressure put on police to meet ticket and arrest quotas, blacks ultimately pay the price. African Americans are disproportionately ticketed, searched, and arrested.

According to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department, African Americans receive 95 percent of jaywalking tickets and 94 percent of tickets for “failure to comply.” The report goes on to mention that:

"African Americans account for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67% of Ferguson’s population. African Americans are more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops even after controlling for non-race based variables such as the reason the vehicle stop was initiated, but are found in possession of contraband 26% less often than white drivers, suggesting officers are impermissibly considering race as a factor when determining whether to search."

There is simply no justifiable explanation for the inordinate stops, citations, and searching of blacks, especially when taking into account the decreased likelihood of finding illegal drugs or weapons.

Furthermore, a study of stop and frisk incidents in Boston by the ACLU found that:

"...Blacks were subjected to 63% of these encounters, even though they made up just 24% of Boston’s population. The analysis also showed that crime—whether measured by neighborhood crime rates or the arrest records or alleged gang involvement of the civilians subjected to these encounters—does not explain away this racial disparity."

Incredibly, 97.5 percent of these encounters resulted in no arrest or seizure of contraband. Allow me to repeat myself: how is it that blacks, and more specifically African Americans, are stopped at such a drastically higher rate than whites despite being much less likely to be in possession of illegal weapons or substances? Clearly our system is culpable of blatant racial discrimination.

In defense of law enforcement, many people believe blacks simply commit more crimes and there is no racial disparity. Many prefer to ignore the rampant corruption in our biased system. However, denial can't ever resolve this very real issue. According to a study of 237,000 traffic stops in Rhode Island, blacks constitute approximately 11 percent of those stopped, which is notably higher than their 6.5 percent share of the population at large. More importantly, the study also found that blacks were stopped much more frequently during the daytime, when the race of the driver is more easily identified (Ross 119-122). This ingenious method of determining whether or not racism exists in law enforcement (by only taking statistics from daytime stops) has proven the existence of racial bias among police officers and other law enforcement. In modern America, this obvious racial discrimination is absolutely inexcusable.

Unsurprisingly, the same targeting of blacks is rampant within our court system. Judges face immense pressure to meet prison quotas and any racial bias (however unintentional) tends to result in disproportional profiling and sentencing of African Americans. According to the aforementioned Ferguson Missouri Report, black people facing similar low-level charges as white people were 68 percent less likely to see those charges dismissed in court. More than 90 percent of the arrest warrants stemming from failure to pay/failure to appear were issued for black people. Furthermore, black jurors tend to be dismissed much more frequently than white jurors, and for seemingly illegitimate reasons. According to The Washington Post, “Between 1994 and 2002, Jefferson Parish prosecutors struck 55 percent of blacks, but just 16 percent of whites. Although blacks make up 23 percent of the population, 80 percent of criminal trials had no more than two black jurors in a state where it takes only 10 of 12 juror votes to convict” (Balko). Even when all outside factors are taken into account, the numbers still don’t add up. It is appalling that such obvious racial discrimination can continue in our American system.

This system is heavily biased toward sending African Americans to jail and keeping them there as long as possible. Bail is likely to be higher for blacks according to a 2018 study of bail practices in New Orleans. This study found that black people are more likely to be required to pay bail, more likely to have higher bail, are less likely to be able to afford bail and, therefore, are more likely to remain incarcerated before trial (Daniels 1-6). Blacks are more likely to be sentenced to jail time than whites for the same crime and receive longer jail sentences. Interestingly, 2017 report found that when blacks and whites committed similar drug crimes, blacks received a sentence that was two-thirds longer on average. In some areas it was a shocking two or three times longer (Salman). Moreover, blacks are far more likely than whites to be found guilty of parole violations. There is a widely disproportionate incarceration rate for blacks, even when all outside factors are controlled.

Countless voices have spoken up against this issue, only to be silenced time and time again. According to the Los Angeles Times, between 2012 and 2014 the LAPD received more than 1,350 citizen complaints of racial profiling, of which not a single one was upheld (Mather). This well-worn practice of stereotyping and jailing blacks must come to an end. Our nation’s so boldly titled criminal justice system seems to scarcely apply true justice. Is freedom, liberty and equality for all people of our nation too much to ask?

 

 

                                                   Works Cited:

Balko, Radley. “There's Overwhelming Evidence That the Criminal-Justice System Is Racist. Here's the Proof.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 Sept. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/opinions/wp/2018/09/18/theres-overwhelming-evidence-that-the-criminal-justice-system-is-racist-heres-the-proof/?utm_term=.4d1c2d5c6335

Daniels, Flozell, Jr., et al. From Bondage to Bail Bonds: Putting a Price on Freedom in New Orleans. Rep. The New Orleans Prosperity Index: Tricentennial Collection. N.p.: Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, 2018.

Mather, Kate. "LAPD Found No Bias in All 1,356 Complaints Filed against Officers." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 15 Dec. 2015.

Ross, Matthew B., Ph.D., et al. State of Rhode Island Comprehensive Police-Community Relationship Act of 2015 (CCPRA): Traffic Stop Data Analysis and Findings. Rep. The Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy, Central Connecticut State University. N.p.: IMRP, 2016.

Salman, Josh, et al. "One War. Two Races. Racial Bias in Florida." One War. Two Races. | Sarasota Herald-Tribune Media Group | Punishment. Herald Tribune, 12 Dec. 2016.

Staff from the ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts and the National ACLU Racial Justice Program. Black, Brown, and Targeted: A Report on Boston Police Department Street Encounters from 2007-2010. Rep. ACLU. N.p.: American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Massachusetts, 2014. 1-6.

United States. Department of Justice. Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. N.p.: Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, 2015. 4-5.