America is one of the most racially diverse and independent countries in the World. What draws so many people to this country is their “melting pot” American dream. But despite the advantages of America, there are many underlying issues that plague the nation. One of these issues is the racial disparities among minorities in the criminal justice system. In order for America to prosper further as a nation, members of the community have to have faith in the legal system. For that to occur, there needs to be major reform in the justice system, so that they can embody the “American Dream” that many bolster about.
Minimizing Disparities in the Justice System Amongst Ethnic Groups While blatant discrimination has seen a moderate declined over recent decades, America, in the twenty-first century is still struggling with injustice in the justice system. The mistrust of law enforcement is nothing new for minorities, in fact, the relationship between law enforcement and minorities has been strained since this beginning of this Country.
This strained relationship reached notoriety during the Civil Rights movement. What is disheartening is amount of time that has transpired since the 1960s, but America is still dealing with the same underlying principles from that time period. A major flaw that seems to continue presently, is the mistreatment and disproportionate punishment against minorities in the legal system.
“Racial disparities in the system occurs when the portion of a specific racial or ethnic group that is in the system is larger than the percentage of the general population” (Fischman 2012). These disparities are also evidenced by the varying sentencing that occurs with minorities compared to white Americans, as well as the unwarranted murders and abuse by the hands of law enforcement. Mauer (2010), states that “one of every three black males born today will go to prison in his lifetime, as will one of every six Latino males” ( pg.14).
The racial disparities in the criminal justice system among ethnic groups causes public distrust of police officers, generational fear of law enforcement and separation within the communities. In the climate of social media, discussion and outrage of police misconduct has sparked and gained the World’s attention. The tragic and high-profile shootings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and the mistreatment of Eric Garner has highlighted the increasing distrust of law enforcement.
And now, it seems that every time the television is cut on, there is another incident where those who are appointed to protect and serve are questioned. Through recent polls it has been shown that most Americans don’t believe police treat all racial groups equally. The polls have also shown that most believe that they are not held accountable for their actions (Mauer, 2010, para.1). It is because of these perceptions, that many minorities hesitate to call the police if there is a crime being committed. It also leads to lack of cooperation during police investigations.
In 2017 Epp, Maynard-Moody, and Haider-Markel discovered that “overuse of investigatory police stops erodes trust in, and cooperation with, the police, especially among African Americans, who are especially likely to be stopped” ( p.168).
But Urbina (2012), urges more people to pay attention to the criminal justice experience of Latinos and Latinas as well: Currently, our understanding of how race impacts police practices is largely informed by the experiences of black citizens. In itself, this research gap demonstrates the need to move beyond the black/white binary to gain insight into the treatment of one of the most diverse minority ethnic groups in the United States (p. 27).
Fear and distrust of law enforcement can become so severe that it is passed down generationally. Children growing up during the social media age have access to videos of unarmed and non-hostile individuals being shot down or abused at the hands of police. Parents are now feeling forced to “coach” their children on how to behave when getting pulled over and even having their cellphones ready to record in case any misconduct occurs. Even these precautions are sometimes, unfortunately, not enough to prevent tragic events from proceeding. This is not to say that every police stop or interaction with a minority leads to police misconduct. In fact, there are many instances that happen everyday with no altercations we just don’t see them. But the cases that have been showed are far too many and shouldn’t be occuring today.
Between the increasing outrage due to police brutality, seemingly unjust rulings and the history between whites and minorities, racial tension within communities is very noticable. Many white Americans can find it hard to relate to the feelings of mistrust and fear that plague other ethnic groups.This is because many have had perfectly normal experiences with law enforcement.
Friedman (2014), studied research that has consistently proven that minority groups report having more direct negative personal experiences with law enforcement ( para. 6). This type of conversation is uncomfortable and is often swept under the rug because it leads to discussion about discrimination and slavery, which have always been sensitive topics. Sometimes it is hard for one to understand what they have never experienced. This lack of understanding can cause racial tension to bubble over within the workplace, school and on social media. Racial discrimination is not only shown on the streets with police officers, but also inside the court rooms.
According to Samuel, R and Satia, A (2014), “Race also plays a role in court: Defendant race, victim race, and juror race all contribute to trial outcomes” (“Key Points,” para. 2). One example of major discrepancy between cases is Chase Legleitner vs. Lamar Lloyd. Compared by MacGuill (2018), these two individuals committed the same crime of armed robbery and they both pleaded no contest to two counts of armed robbery. The crimes were committed in Florida and they were brought before the same judge: Judge Sherwood Bauer Jr.
This judge has a reputation of administering harsher sentences to those with darker skin complexion—these cases were no exception. The only difference in these cases is that Lamar Lloyd—an African American— was sentenced to twenty-six years in prison, while, Chase Legleitner—a white American— was sentenced a mere two years in county jail. Some may think this difference was due to the prior records between the defendants. This was not the case, as each had one misdemeanor on their record (paras. 6-9). Unfortunately, this is not the first—and won’t be the last—case of “same crime different punishment.”
King (2016), pointed out another example of this type of injustice. Corey Batey and Brock Turner were both successful college athletes that were found guilty of sexual assault. The difference is that Brock Turner, was sentenced six months in a county jail, while Corey Batey was sentenced to fifteen years in prison (paras. 1-4) . All crimes deserve punishment, that goes without saying. But when there are cases such as the one mentioned, with such large variances in sentencing with the same crime, there is an obvious problem that needs to be addressed.
To be committed in reducing the unwarranted disparities in the system, it will require local and national efforts. Mauer (2010), suggests that these efforts will need cooperation between criminal justice leaders, policymakers, and community groups (p. 15).
Friedman (2014), recognizes that there is evidence supporting the notion that diversity training for police can improve relations with the community. Communication between law enforcement agencies and community organizations to recognize what systems are proving to be most effective– resulting in the least amount of harm or damage is in definite need . Gathering data from the community on the best way to make them feel safe and actions that would garner the best responses would be extremely beneficial.
Training on how to spot unintentional racial bias needs to be implemented as a requirement for new recruiters and should be a class that has to be repeated annually. But training alone with police officers will not be enough to cease disparities in the justice system.
According to Samuel, R and Satia, A (2014), other solutions within the courtroom to limit racial bias are: “policy interventions to include jury instructions regarding unconscious bias and promoting better demographic representation in juries” (“Key Points,” para. 2).
Lastly, there needs to be accountability among police officers who are abusing their power. If the justice system keeps protecting their actions why would they believe that what they are doing is wrong? As a Country, America has definitely made major strides in the rights of minorities,but they absolutely need to take steps to minimize the disparities and racial bias against ethnic groups in the criminal justice system.
Law enforcement are vital components to running the nation smoothly and they are needed to facilitate good and bad. But what happens when it is the officers that are doing the bad? Who is holding them accountable? Their bad actions are heightened because they are held to a higher standard at least they should be. It will be a prolonged process, but justice reform is necessary to begin the process of rebuilding trust among Law enforcement and Americans.
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