Institutional Racism In the Criminal Justice System (Part 1)

In order to understand the current plight of African Americans, one must look at the historical picture. This allows you to put things into perspective and gain an appreciation for the current situation. Then and only then, can one comprehend the necessity for affirmative action, righting past wrongs, and leveling the playing field. Yet, so many refuse to even attempt to gain a broader perspective. Blacks are told to “get over it”. African Americans have been swimming upstream since being forced into this country and continue to do so to this day.


After the emancipation, many Blacks fled to the north, as explained in the “Great Migration”. However, they were forced into certain neighborhoods where businesses were not encouraged, contributing to static growth. Where there are no thriving businesses, school systems falter, depriving Blacks of an equal education. All of which were exacerbated by poor employment opportunities as most Black migrants were forced into menial, low paying jobs. As a result, young people, and even older adults resorted to other means of making a living, often illegal. While stealing or selling drugs is reprehensible to most, it’s a means of putting food on the table for those with no other means. Hence, many Black neighborhoods became crime infested and were looked down upon by the rest of society. All of this paved the way for the abhorrent relationship between Blacks and the police.


Ask any Black man, rich, poor or in between, if he’s ever been stopped by the police for no known reason, or a very minor one, and the answer is most likely yes! Then ask those same men what kind of treatment they received when stopped and the answers very often range from disrespectful to physical assault to arrest or, as we have witnessed all too many times, death! While the physical stops may be anecdotal, statistics of arrests, often unjustified arrests, speak for themselves.

According to statistics the NAACP examined, although Black people make up 13.4 percent of the population, they make up 22 percent of fatal police shootings, 47 percent of wrongful conviction exonerations, and 35 percent of individuals executed by the death penalty. African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at five times the rate of whites. Black men face disproportionate incarceration experiences as compared with prisoners of other races. Racial disparities are also noticeable with Black youth, as evidenced by the school-to-prison pipeline and higher rates of incarceration for black juveniles.1


African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences. African American adults are 5.9 times as likely to be incarcerated than whites and Hispanics are 3.1 times as likely. As of 2001, one of every three Black boys born in that year could expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as could one of every six Latinos – compared to one of every seventeen white boys. Racial and ethnic disparities among women are less substantial than among men but remain prevalent.2


Life as a Black person in America, especially in relation to the criminal justice system remains a challenge to this day and will be explored more in subsequent papers.


1.Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, by Shasta N. Inman

2.Report to the United Nations on Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System

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