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Race and Criminal Justice System in America


Race and CriminalJustice System in America

Race and Criminal Justice in America

The issue of racial profiling in the criminal justice system raisesseveral pertinent questions. Allegations of discrimination in theexecution of justice targeting the Latinos, Native Americans, andAfrican Americans have been leveled against all components of thecriminal justice system: the courts, police, prosecutors, andcorrection institutions. Several studies have demonstrated that theminorities are disproportionately stopped, arrested, charged, andsentenced to lengthy jail terms compared to the whites. Particularly,racial profiling in American criminal justice is demonstrated by alarge number of arrests involving blacks and Latino men in comparisonto the whites. According to the Sentencing Project (2013),approximately 12% of the America`s population is black. However, in2011, African Americans constituted 38% and 30% of people arrestedfor property and violent offenses respectively. On the other hand,although the black youths represent only 16% of the total childrenpopulation in America, they make up 28% of juvenile arrests (TheSentencing Project, 2013). This paper will demonstrate that theminority races are more likely to be arrested for petty offenses,even when the evidence against them is relatively weak in comparisonwith their white counterparts. This paper maintains that thesignificant disparity in arrest rates in America can be attributed tothe implicit racial biases toward the African Americans and Latinos.

For many years, people of African American descent have beensubjected to high level of police brutality. For instance, in 1991, abystander videotaped police officers assaulting Rodney King, anAfrican-American man, after a car chase in Los Angeles(Constitutional Rights Foundation, 2016). There is the argument thatthe American criminal justice system was made by the whites toprotect their interest. According to the Sentencing Project (2013),African Americans contributed more than a third of all arrests forviolent crimes in 2011. This percentage by far surpasses their numberin the general population (Constitutional Rights Foundation, 2016).Reports from the national victimization survey have shown that theAmerican criminal justice is biased against the minorities. Forexample, the African Americans comprise 12% of the population and 13%of drug users. However, they comprised more than a third of the totalarrests in 2010 (Constitutional Rights Foundation, 2016). Thisstatistic supports the argument that the police use racial profilingwhen making arrests.A study conducted in New Jersey documented thenumber of traffic stops between 1989 and 1991. It found that 72% ofall the drivers that were stopped and arrested were AfricanAmericans. However, the same study revealed that only 14% of carsusing that route were driven by a black person (Constitutional RightsFoundation, 2016). Similar results were reported in Maryland, whereanother study found that 17% of all violators of traffic codes wereblack. On the other hand, this study also revealed that 72% of alldrivers who were stopped and searched were African American(Constitutional Rights Foundation, 2016). No study has demonstratedthat people from the minority races are more likely to violate thetraffic rules compared to the whites. As such, the high rates ofstops and searches against the minorities are as a result of thepolice being biased towards the non-whites drivers.

The other factor that accounts for the high arrest rates among theminorities is the racial stereotypes held by the police that increasethe chances of the African Americans and Latinos being searched. WhenLatinos or African Americans are stopped and questioned by thepolice, they are arrested in 82-85% of the cases. This is compared toNative Americans and Non-Latino whites who are arrested in 70% ofcases in which they are stopped and searched. On the other hand, only60% of police encounters with the Asians results in an arrest (Healy,2016). This means that the issue of racial bias does not only come toplay when the police are making the decision to stop and search butis also evident in the determination of whether or not the personshould be arrested. Undoubtedly, the more people are likely to bestopped the higher their chances of being arrested. This means thatif the whites were stopped at the same rate as the blacks, it ispossible that their arrest rates will also increase tremendously.

Additionally, the strength of evidence determines whether or not ablack or white person will be arrested. Not only are the AfricanAmerican more likely to be stopped and searched but they also faceincreased risks of being arrested even when the evidence against themis weak. On the other hand, more often, the whites are arrested whenthere is adequate evidence against them (Gettman, 2014). This meansthat there is a possibility of the whites engaging in crime at thesame level as the African American, only that they are hardlyarrested unless the police have substantial evidence against them. This shows that the arrest rates are not a true reflection of thelikelihood of either the Whites or blacks committing crimes (Gettman,2014).

The effects of racial bias in operations of police in America arewell demonstrated in the areas of drug law enforcement and trafficstops. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of African-Americansarrested for drug-related charges increased from 6.5 to 29.1 forevery 1,000 persons (The Sentencing Project, 2013). On the otherhand, the whites drug arrest rates rose from 3.5 to 4.6 for every1000 persons. However, this disparity between drug arrests involvingthe whites and the nonwhites Americans is not consisted with thefindings of self-report studies. For example, according to theSentencing Project (2013), in 2012, the National Institute on DrugAbuse published a report of a study conducted between 1975 and 2011that surveyed the issue of drug usage among high school student inAmerica. The study found that white students had higher chances ofhaving abused illegal drugs compared to their black counterparts.However, during the same period (1980-2010), black youths were twicemore likely to be arrested for drug-related crimes compared to theirwhite counterparts (The Sentencing Project).

An analysis of the St. Anthony Police data demonstrates that theblacks are disproportionately arrested despite them comprising only asmall proportion of the general population. Out of the 994 arrestsmade by the St. Anthony police in July 2016, 47% of the suspects wereAfrican Americans compared to 46% of the Whites (Vezner, 2016).During this month, ten arrests did not include race data. The samecase applies to the adult population. For example, in Seattle blackmen accounted for 16% of the observed drug dealers, but constituted64% of the illegal substance arrests (Vezner, 2016). In 2014, out of2, 129 arrests made by St. Anthony police 41% were black incomparison to 53% whites (Vezner, 2016). In other jurisdictions,studies investigating the racial differences in police arrests havecome to similar conclusions. For example, a study of routine trafficstops in over 65 different Minnesota law enforcement jurisdictionsfound that blacks are arrested 214 times more often. On the otherhand, the likelihood of a Latino driver being arrested is 95 timeshigher compared to a white one. On the contrary, the white driversare stopped 13% less than expected (Vezner, 2016). Besides, AfricanAmerican and Latin men are by far more likely to be stopped andquestioned by police compared to women from these minority races.

The police also have negative stereotypes towards neighborhoodsinhabited by the minorities. According to the New York PoliceDepartment, the reason the minorities are arrested in large numbersdespite comprising only a small proportion of the general populationis because they inhabit neighborhoods with high crime rates (TheSentencing Project, 2013). . However, data compiled by the Dr.Jeffrey Fagan demonstrates that when the New York’s neighborhoodsare categorized into quartiles there is no substantial differencebetween regions which the NYPD refers to as high crime and low crimerate areas (The Sentencing Project, 2013). This means that police areless likely to differentiate between low crime rates and high crimerate neighborhoods without misjudging areas depending on the race ofthe inhabitants. As such, the racial disparities in the enforcementof the stop and frisk cannot be associated with the likelihood of theminorities committing more crimes compared to the dominant whites.

There is an argument that blacks constitute a large proportion ofthe arrested people because of their high rate of drug addiction. Onthe contrary, more whites consume and deal in drugs compared to theblacks. According to Ingraham (2014), a 1980 study found that whiteswere approximately 45% more likely to sell drugs compared to blacks.The results of this study were consistent with that of a 1989 studyof the youth in Boston (Ingraham, 2014). Additionally, Ingraham(2014) did an analysis of the data provided by the National Survey onDrug Use and Health and found that 6.6% white adolescents and youngadults (12-25 years) sold drugs. On the other hand only 5% of blacksaged 12-25 years sold drugs. This is a 32% difference (Ingraham,2014).

Despite the whites being more likely to consume and sell illicitsubstances, the rate at which they are arrested on drug-relatedcharges is disproportionately lower compared to the blacks. Accordingto Gettman (2014), the rate of marijuana possession in Virginia hasincreased dramatically over the recent past particularly among theblacks. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of drug arrests increasedfrom 19, 697 to 21, 784.African Americans who reside in Virginiaaccounted for 82% of the increase. The rate of arrests of blackVirginians was 344 for every 100,000 people (Gettman, 2014). For theWhites, the rate of marijuana arrests was 144 per 100, 000 people.One can deduce that the ratio of marijuana arrests for blacks againstthe white is 2.4:1 (Gettman, 2014).

One factor that accounts for the high arrest rates involving theAfrican Americans is that in poor black neighborhoods, drugs are morelikely to be sold in the open or outdoor. On the other hand, in whiteneighborhoods, most drug transactions tend to occur indoors. Besides,most drug dealing in white neighborhoods is more likely to involveacquaintances and friends and not strangers as is the case with areasinhabited by blacks. It is evident that the chances of a personbeing arrested when selling drugs outdoors are higher compared towhen the transaction takes place indoor (Ingraham, 2014).

In conclusion, it is clear that African Americans and Latinos aremore likely to be arrested compared to the whites. One of the reasonsput forward to explain the high arrest rates among African Americanand Latino is that these groups are more likely to be drug addicts,unemployed, and uneducated. Consequently, people who hold this pointof view do not see anything wrong with the minorities comprising thelargest proportion. This paper has demonstrated that the high arrestrates among the minorities have nothing to do with their drugaddiction status. Besides, numerous studies have shown that thewhites are more prolific in consuming and selling drugs compared tothe African Americans yet the latter comprises the largest number ofpeople arrested for substance abuse charges. Consequently, it ispossible that the whites commit more crimes but are hardly stoppedhence they are less likely to be arrested. Also, the arrest recordsare not reliable sources of information that researchers can rely onto assess the likelihood of either the whites or non-whites committing crimes. This revelation is useful to policy makers in thecriminal justice system because it shows that it is possible thatstrategies for addressing the issue of crime in America areconcentrating more on the blacks leaving the whites off the hook. For example, efforts aimed at curbing the issue of drug peddlingtarget neighborhoods inhabited by the blacks and this result in highrates of arrests of African American. On the contrary, drug peddlingis more prevalent in white neighborhoods only that it is more likelyto be conducted indoors and hardly involve strangers as is the casewith areas where the minorities live.This paper has establishedthat the American criminal justice system are disproportionatelybiased against people from the minority races when it comes toarresting person suspected of committing various crimes.


Constitutional Rights Foundation. (2016). The color of justice.Accessed on November 20, 2016.http://www.crf-usa.org/brown-v-board-50th-anniversary/the-color-of-justice.html

Gettman, J. (2014). Racial disparities in marijuana arrest inVirginia. Accessed on November 20, 2016.https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/Racial_Disparities_in_Marijuana_Arrests_in_Virginia_2003-2013.pdf

Healy, M. (2016). Blacks are more likely to be killed by police, butthat’s because they’re more likely to be stopped, study says.Accessed on November 20, 2016.http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-cops-race-injury-20160725-snap-story.html

Ingraham, C. (2014). White people are more likely to deal drugs, butblacks people are more likely to get arrested for it. Accessed onNovember 20, 2016.https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/09/30/white-people-are-more-likely-to-deal-drugs-but-black-people-are-more-likely-to-get-arrested-for-it/

The Sentencing Project. (2013). Report of the Sentencing to theUnited Nations Human Rights Committee.: Regarding Racial Disparitiesin the United States Criminal Justice System. Accessed on November19, 2016.http://sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Race-and-Justice-Shadow-Report-ICCPR.pdf

Vezner, T. (2016). St Anthony police data shows disproportionatearrest of blacks. Accessed on November 20, 2016.http://www.twincities.com/2016/07/13/st-anthony-police-data-shows-disproportionate-arrests-of-blacks/