Race in the Us Cj System
The treatment of minorities by the criminal justice system has been a hotly debated political topic for as long as I can remember. Police killings of unarmed African Americans’ and inequalities in prison populations have c have sparked outrage for justice across the nation. When adjusted for population, far more minorities, particularly African Americans, occupy our prisons than the white majority of the population. Police violence, and likelihood to be pulled over have also been said to be inexplicably high for the black community.
Throughout this paper, I will investigate the merit of these claims, as well as the reasons behind them. Institutional racism is often blamed for this disparity by political left leaning individuals. Institutional racism is the idea that American social and political institutions are embedded with racist ideals, and things like an increased minority arrest rate is the result of this. On the other side, the blame for this disparity is put on the ones committing the crime, believing minorities are represented appropriately based on how much crime they commit.
How it works
The first topic we will look into is the violent crime rates between African Americans and Caucasians. We are using violent crime rate because it is usually has a higher report rate, and therefore is more accurate. If one race is disproportionately involved in violent crime, it could have an impact on their involvement with violent police encounters, and the perceived institutional racism. When most people think of institutional racism, they think of police killings, and racial profiling. Taking a look at the violent crime rates among race could be a helpful statistic to consider when investigating these issues. According to an article on the U.S. Justice Department’s website published in 2011, black offenders commit 52% of homicides in the U.S. between 1980 and 2008, while only making up 13% of the population. Whites committed 45% of homicides, while accounting for 85% of the population (Cooper). When accounting for all violent crimes, (murder, rape, robbery, assault), 38.5 percent were black.
In my opinion, one of the reasons for the surplus of black offenders has to with disadvantaged lifestyles. African Americans tend to live in poorer areas with less access to public services. Living in poverty can cause people to commit crime at a higher rate out of necessity, or they can even develop cultural differences that are more accepting of crime, and demonize law enforcement. Some people blame the wealth inequality between blacks and whites on racism to explain these skewed income statistics, others say it is their own choice. In my opinion, it’s a bit of both. In 2019, I don’t believe racism is limiting the success of the black community today, there is actually legislation that assists minorities specifically, such as affirmative action. However, I do believe that they have harder lives, on average, when compared to the white community due to the lasting impacts of racism. It wasn’t until 1964 that Jim crow laws were legally ended (History). Following the abolishment of slavery, Segregation and discrimination still impacted the black community through these laws. They Had access to fewer public servers, and at a lower quality, which lead to higher rates of poverty during the Jim Crow era. Now, black children are still growing up in less fortunate households due to the lasting impact of these practices. In America today, growing up in a poor household does not mean you have to stay there, but the wealthier your family, the easier your life is in general. As expected, an article published by the Bureau of statistics in 2014 confirmed my belief that the poorer a neighborhood, the more crime committed. When you live in an impoverished area, you are more likely to commit crime. In 20011, violent crime in High income neighborhoods accounted for 16.9% of all violent crime. Mid income households accounted for 20.8%, Low income 26.5%, and poor accounted for 39.8% (Harrell).
Now, due to the fact that a much larger percentage of blacks are more impoverished than whites, it seems like a reasonable conclusion that income is the sole determinant of crime rates. However, that isn’t true. When comparing impoverished white/latino areas with impoverished African American, almost always, the impoverished black areas have higher crime rate. For example, according to Neighborhood Scout, an online database that provides information on demographics, crime rate, and income, El Paso Texas has 21% of its citizens below poverty level, with a population of 683,577, and 4.3% of the population being black. (Schiller) The violent crime rate in El Paso is 3.87 per 1,000 residents. In contrast, Atlanta Georgia has a similar population and poverty rate. A population of 486,290, and 24% of individuals below poverty rate. The demographics of Atlanta are 50% black however, and the violent crime rate is 9.68 per 100,000, almost triple that of El paso. These findings seem to be consistent across the board. When analysing data like this, we have to remember that correlation does not necessarily imply causation, but there does seem to be evidence that race has an impact on crime rates.
In July of 2013, one of the biggest movements against police brutality and social injustice was founded, Black Lives matter (BLM). The organization was originally founded when a protest against the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George zimmerman arose. George Zimmerman was a member of his neighborhood watch, and claimed he was attacked by the young black teenager Trayvon Martin. He was later ruled not guilty, and so the movement began. According to the Black Lives Matter website, “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise” (BLM). There is no debate as to whether there are unjust police killings/misuses of power, so we won’t be looking at individual instances, but rather the idea that minorities are targeted for this behavior by law enforcement overall more than other ethnic groups.
In 2017, according to a police violence mapping database, police killed 1,117 people. African Americans made up 25% of the 1,117, but only 13% of the population (Mapping). Additionally, 30% of black victims were said to be unarmed, compared to 21% of white. As a black person, you were three times more likely to be killed by police than if you were white. Keep in mind when reviewing this data, there is no official database that records police killings. Data we have now is simply collected from media reports, which we have to take with a grain of salt, as bias can play a role in which type of news is reported. Because it’s all we have though, we will take this data as accurate. Clearly there is a disproportionate number of African Americans being killed by police. At first glance, it’s easy to blame this on racism, but the reasons behind it could be much more complicated. When we consider that African Americans commit homicide at a much higher rate than caucasians, it doesn’t seem at all unlikely that they would be subject to more police killings. The disparity in unarmed killings ia bit harder to explain. Again, there doesn’t seem to be sufficient evidence to say if these killing were racially motivated or not. Your opinion when presented with statistics like these is likely to be determined based on prior beliefs. In my opinion, I don’t think that a majority of these killings are racially motivated. It is an unpopular opinion, but I believe that narrative that police are out to get people of certain races does more damage than good. It could cause some groups to disrespect, or act sporadically around police officers, which could end badly for them. Now, i’m not excusing police for unjustly killing someone who isn’t a threat to their life, but the way you act around law enforcement could sometimes be the difference between life or death, regardless if the police is just in their actions or not.
Racial discrimination has also been said to be apparent through racial profiling, which is the use of ethnicity as grounds to suspect someone of having committed a crime. To examine the presence of racial profiling, we will look at one’s likelihood to have their car searched after being pulled over. According to a Stanford News Page, in North Carolina, a test was conducted which analyzed police search rates of different ethnicities, after being pulled over. According to the study, police searched 5.4% of blacks, and 4.1% of hispanics, but only 3.1% of whites. However, the police more often found contraband when searching whites (Stanford). As Stanford noted, if some ethnic groups do indeed carry more illegal substances, than these results may not necessarily be proof of racial discrimination. This data in particular does not show strong proof of racial discrimination. The percentage difference in search rates based on race is only about 2%, a very small difference. The narrative of police racism, and the cultural differences between ethnicities could cause minorities to act more nervously or aggressive, which could lead to added suspicion and qualify as probable cause.
Racial profiling has also been a criticism of the controversial policy known as “Stop and Frisk”. In 2013, a landmark case known as “Floyd vs City of New York” it was ruled that New York was enforcing the stop and frisk policy in an unconstitutional manner (CCR). The Stop and Frisk policy was a New York City police program that aimed to decrease crime by stopping, questioning, and frisking suspicious looking individuals. In 2011, Jason Oberholtzer published an article on in Forbes magazine stating that more young black men in the city of New York were stopped than their entire representation in the city. 168,126 were stopped, while their population was 158,40 (Forbes). Additionally, 85% of all people stopped were either black or hispanic, while only making up 50% of the population. Only 5.37% of all stops resulted in arrest. The supreme court claimed that results like this were evidence of racial discrimination. Now, the practice of stop and frisk is not illegal, but the way in which New York was enforcing the law is.
In my opinion, the police may have just been patrolling areas of the city more prone to crime, which happened to be black communities, which could explain the inequalities in stops. This is not evidence that cops are racist, but it is enough proof for me to show that with this policy in particular, African Americans were being inconvenienced more than whites due to the color of their skin. I don’t believe you should be subject to stops solely based on your race, but I do think the stop and frisk policy can provide some positive benefits if enforced fairly.
Sentencing rates are another section of the criminal justice system where racial discrimination has been said to be apparent. The United States Sentencing Commision analysed sentencing data from 2011, to 2016 to see if there was any merit to these claims. The sentencing commision found the sentence lengths were indeed associated with demographic factors. Specifically, black males received, on average, 19.1% longer sentences than “similarly situated White male offenders” (USSC). Unlike some other studies, this also took into account violence in the offenders criminal history, something other studies have been criticized for not doing. With this information taken into account, a violent history did not have any correlation with the difference in sentencing rates. In addition to race, the analysis also looked at gender. Their findings showed that women of all ethnicities receive shorter sentences than both black and white men.
In my opinion, women in society are viewed as less aggressive, less dangerous than men, and more likely to rehabilitate. I believe he general public believes this to be true, and that is why there isn’t much controversy over the inequality in gender based sentencing. In addition to the crime committed, sentencing should be determined based on one’s likelihood to rehabilitate. Judges impression of a particular gender can have a significant impact on how harsh a punishment they impose, and this can also apply to race. I believe the disparity in gender sentencing rates isn’t as controversial of a topic, because there is evidence showing women are more likely than men to rehabilitate, but this is also true when comparing Caucasians to African Americans. In 2005, recidivism rate (The likelihood of a criminal to reoffend) was calculated for gender, as well as race. Of the prisoners released in the 30 states data was collected, 84.2% of males were arrested within 9 years of being released, and 76.8% of females were rearrested. 80.9% of white offenders were arrested, opposed to 86.9% of African Americans (Alper). In an article by Sarah Chadosh on popular science’s websites, she claims that judges often use algorithm’s that include recidivism rate to help determine punishment for criminals (Chodish). If judges do indeed use recidivism rates to determine sentence lengths, that in of itself could be classified as institutional racism. You are being sent to jail for more time solely based on the color of your skin. In my opinion, this is a tricky issue, but as I said before, I believe your likelihood to reoffend should be a factor in your sentencing length, so I can’t entirely denounce this practice.
The goal of this research paper was to look into the race inequalities in the criminal justice system in America. Going into it, I was skeptical of the idea of “Institutional racism,” and blamed most of the inequalities in criminal justice system on the poverty rates among African American communities. Now, coming to the end, I see that there is a lot more in play than just income, but I can’t say that my opinion on institutional racism has changed all that much. When looking at the race based data we have on criminals in the U.S. most of it is left up for interpretation. The end results are presented to us, but we can’t really gather statistics on how we got there. This is the reason I believe it’s such as controversial issue, and why it causes so much division. For example, If you are asked to explain the reason that African Americans represent a majority of our prison population, you usually take on side or the other. That our system is racist, and get accused of demonizing law enforcement, or that African Americans just commit more crime, and get called racist.
My most convincing data in support of the idea of institutional racism was finding out that judges use recidivism rate as a factor in determining criminals sentencing rates. However, that fact that African Americans do have higher recidivism rates is also strong evidence to support the latter argument. In the end though, the information that I found hardest to explain was when I compared black majority impoverished areas with that of White impoverished areas, and the African American dominated regions consistently had higher rates of crime. Although I don’t see our criminal justice system is perfect, I don’t see anything inherently racist about it, and believe that the people in charge are doing their best to keep our country safe for every person of every race.”