There are many different reasons for people to engage in criminal activities. Unfortunately, there is no way to pin point the source of crime. The purpose of this research paper is to reveal the influences that race has on the Criminal Justice System. More specifically, the researcher (Danielle Clarke) will be discussing the ethical issue of Racial Profiling within the criminal justice system.?
Sampson and Wilson (1995) stated that, “The discussion of Race and Crime is mired in an unproductive mix of controversy and silence…. Criminologists are loathe to speak ….for being fear of being misunderstood or labeled as racist”. In spite of that, the disproportionate involvement of race within crime both as victims and perpetrators need to be investigated. Foregoing discussion indicate that there are many point of views on the topic Race and Crime, does your race make you target?
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One cannot begin a discussion about race and the criminal justice system without reflecting on the role that slavery and its abolishment played. The Southern States passed what were known as Black Codes with the intention to restrict the freedom that the African Americans had. These codes effectively criminalized being black by making certain behavior such as vagrancy, breach of job contracts, absence from work illegal only for blacks. These acts were extremely common at the time of making which meant that black people became easily targeted and punished.
Here in the 21st century, we don’t exactly have “Black Codes” we have what is known as Racial Profiling. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defines racial profiling as “the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion or national origin” (2005).
On April 29, 2017, former Balch Springs Officer Roy Oliver, 38, shot and killed Jordan Edwards, a black unarmed teenager. Jordon was in a vehicle that was leaving a party, in which Oliver and his partner Tyler Gross was responding to. Oliver fired his AK-15 rifle five times into the car, striking Jordon in the head. Oliver testified that he shot at the car because he feared his partner, officer Tyler Gross was in danger. However, Body camera footage showed that the car was moving away from the officers. Tyler also testified that he was not in any danger whatsoever. Oliver Gross was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Was that an act of racial profiling? Is it because Jordon was an African American meant that he was a danger to the police officer? Many persons believe so.
There are records of African Americans constantly being pulled over while driving. This resulted in the social phenomenon “Driving while black”. A study done by Gaines of the Riverside Police in California showed that blacks in the area had a 25 % higher chance of being stopped than whites did and in San Diego, Berejarano found that black drivers had a 50 % higher chance of being pulled over compared to other racial groups (Warren et al., 2006,). In Florida, a reporter studying over a thousand highway stops found that 80 % of the drivers stopped in the state’s Volusia County were African American or Latino, even though they only made up 5% of all the drivers in the area. (Alexander, 2010)
The evidence of discriminatory actions by law enforcement continues: Maryland’s I-95 found that African American motorists accounted for 70% of those stopped and searched by law enforcement officers even though they made up only 17 % of the drivers in the area (Alexander, 2010,). Not only did the study of the Maryland I-95 find that minority drivers were pulled over more often by law enforcement officers, they also found that minority drivers were less likely to be transporting contraband than white drivers were (Alexander, 2010).
Not only are African Americans people more likely to be stopped by a police officer, they are more likely to have their vehicles searched (Coker, 2003,). A 2005 study by the Bureau of Justice found that white drivers were subjected to a vehicle search less than 5% of the time but for black drivers the percentage was over 10% (Roh & Robinson, 2009,). In certain cities the disparity is even higher. Ridgeway found that in Oakland, California, “Black drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to be searched after being stopped” ( Roh & Robinson,2009 ). Further, a study by Smith et al. of the North Carolina Highway Patrol found that blacks were also more likely to receive tickets (Warren et al., 2006,).
Law enforcement officers can deny that they profile based on race because they can use factors as innocent as an individual’s location in a high crime area as a convenient excuse to approach them, making the color of their skin seemingly insignificant (Alexander,2010). Law enforcement officers can also easily find minor offenses to blame their discriminatory actions on, such as an individual not using their turn signal. There is ample research that suggests that when law enforcement officers use race as a gauge for possible illegal activity, that they come up short (Coker, 2003,). According to David Harris, profiling is no more successful at uncovering illegal activity than non-profiling practices are and he goes as far as to suggest that non-racialized policing is more “productive”.
Racial profiling is another clear example that race does play a role in the criminal justice system. The targeting of individuals because of their skin color is as clear a form of discrimination as not hiring a person because of their race. Thus, racial profiling in simplest terms is intentional discrimination based on racial stereotyping. It is disheartening that such intentional discrimination is a widely used strategy by law enforcement officers, whether they openly admit to the practice or not.
The researcher concludes this research by reiterating a few of the statistics cited earlier. Despite being 17% of drivers in the area of Maryland I-95, African Americans accounted for 70% of those stopped by police officers. Despite being in a vehicle that was pulled over by a police officer who was in no harm whatsoever, Jordon was shot and killed simple because Officer Oliver thought his partner was in danger. Again I ask does your race make you a target?
These disparities may not prove the existence of racial bias within the criminal justice system, but the evidence cited in this paper, along with numerous of other studies, makes it clear that race does play a role.
Racial profiling not only harm “people of colour”, it brings harm to the U.S national values of fairness and equal justice (14th Amendment). It brings harm to Americans who were wrongly detained, arrested killed or injured by law enforcement. For the justice system to be effective it needs to be based on evidence not stereotypes or bias.
Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York: The New Press.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) 2005
Coker, D. (2003). Addressing the real world of racial injustice in the criminal justice system. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology
Davis, A. Y. (2003). Are prisons obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press.
Roh, S., & Robinson, M. (2009). A geographic approach to racial profiling: The microanalysis and macro analysis of racial disparity in traffic stops.
Samson, Robert J, and William Julius Wilson. 1995. “Toward a Theory of Race , Crime, and Urban Inequality.” Crime and Inequality, edited by John Hagan and Ruth D Peterson, 37-56. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Warren, P., Tomaskovic-Devey, D., Smith, W., Zingraff, M., & Mason, M. (2006). Driving while black: Bias processes and racial disparity in police stops. https://www.ebsco.com/products/research-database/academic-search
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