The topic of systematic racism within the American justice system was introduced and discussed at length. Three possible sources of discrimination were identified: police profiling and arrests, lack of economic opportunity for representation within the courts, and unequal treatment in court sentencing. This paper will recap and elaborate further on the three problems of racial discrimination within the court system, successful and unsuccessful tactics taken to address these issues and focus upon future suggestions to address the three areas of racism in the American justice system.
In the previous assignment, the problem of the inequality of investigation of crimes committed by blacks and arrests of black individuals versus white individuals was discussed. To elaborate a little further and understand the why of this situation, Tomaskovic-Devey and Warren (2009) explained that racial profiling began in the 1980s as law enforcement curbed drug trafficking activities. The practice to stop people who fit a certain profile of drug sellers reinforced personal biases and unconscious biases. Another reason for race inequalities in investigation into crimes and higher arrest rates for minorities Tomaskovic-Devey and Warren stated have to do with answering crime complaints in crime-ridden areas, which are most likely to be areas where minorities are large in numbers. According to Weich and Angulo (2000), once minorities are disparately focused upon for arrests, minorities experience discrimination when they enter the court system, all the way from the treatment they receive from district attorneys to sentencing. The following describes some measures already taken to address discrimination in the justice system.
While not much can be done about patrolling habits of officers (they must answer complaints of crime, and higher crime areas will have higher complaints), Tomaskovic-Devey and Warren (2009) stated the incidences of racial profiling prompted the ACLU and the NAACP to rise to the occasion and defend minorities’ rights for equality. These agencies sued many state and federal agencies for their unequal treatment of minorities. As a result of their efforts, a decrease in the number of minorities stopped was realized. For example, the number of blacks stopped and searched was fourfold that of whites. These numbers decreased by half, indicating a change in attitude of police officers. In addition to lawsuits, Tomaskovic-Devey and Warren (2009) stated to address unconscious racial bias, education, and vigilance of superior officers to define and depict racist behaviors are very effective. Educating officers in racially biased situations can help decrease the number of racially motivated stops and searches. However, the rates blacks are prosecuted compared to whites may not have the same set of solutions.
While public pressure has demonstrated some degree of success for racial profiling, the same degree of success has not been experienced with balancing the scales of justice with the systemic racial discrimination present in the court system, from the decision to prosecute to sentencing, stated Weich. and Angulo (2000). A few historical cases directly attacking systemic discrimination were unsuccessful. McClesky vs. Kemp is most important in the reason why there is stagnation in improving racial inequality in the court system. The court determined that while systemic racial discrimination is present, minorities had to prove that racial discrimination was directly responsible and played a part in the unjust sentencing of the death penalty. A few other cases approaching racial discrimination in the court system were unsuccessful because the judges based their decision upon the McClesky case, including Georgia’s decision to uphold their two strikes law and United States vs. Armstrong.
Dunnaville (2000) and Weich. and Angulo (2000) concur that the problem if racial bias in the court system is pervasive and difficult. The vastness of the U. S. court system, from local municipalities to federal court, makes a change in racial discrimination extremely difficult, considering all the players involved in carrying out justice and curbing crime in America.
Weich. and Angulo (2000) explained some strategies to hold every person within the justice system accountable for their practices. Weich and Angulo expressed that police departments on every level of the government, prosecutors, and judges should have to report and prove that they are not targeting minorities in every step of the process, from racial profiling for stops and arrests, to decision to prosecute, and sentencing. In addition, Weich and Angulo suggested that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department’s realm of power be extended to include the authority to investigate and punish complaints of racial discrimination within the justice system. Other recommendations include increasing ethnic diversity in police forces and legal departments for greater minority representation in the court system, eradicate laws that require judges to enforce maximum penalty, eradicate the death penalty (minorities comprise the majority of inmates on death row), reform discriminatory sentencing laws, increase resources so minorities can have better representation in courts, more training for police officers to recognize intended and unintended discrimination, eliminate laws that disallow ex-convicts the right to vote (since disproportionately more minorities are in the justice system, this practice singles out minorities and restricts more minorities than Caucasians the right to vote), and reforming the war on drugs to include intervention, education, and treatment for addicts rather than prosecution and incarceration.
Discrimination exists on all levels of society and is still present within the American justice system. The same body that is responsible for justice in American still carries out injustices based on systemic racial discrimination. More controls are needed to ensure that the American justice system is truly equal. Only then will the American justice system be able to carry out true justice.
Dunnaville, T., Jr. (2000). Unequal justice under the law – Racial inequalities in the justice system. Virginia Lawyer: Senior Lawyers Section. Retrieved from http://www.vsb.org/docs/valawyermagazine/dec00dunnaville.pdf
Tomaskovic-Devey, D. & Warren, P. (2009). Explaining and eliminating racial profiling. American Sociological Association. Retrieved from http://contexts.org/articles/spring-2009/explaining-and-eliminating-racial-profiling/
Weich, R. & Angulo, C. (2000). Racial disparities in the American justice system: Part two – Criminal justice. Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights. Retrieved from http://www.asca.net/system/assets/attachments/765/Racial_Disparities_in_the_American_Criminal_Justice_System.pdf