Racism in the Criminal Justice System

Could you imagine if you woke up everyday and society was out to get you? This is what the millions of African Americans feel in the United States. While many of us people sympathize with them during their push for full equality, there are still people and systems that promote discrimination whether intentional or unintentional. One of these systems is the criminal justice system, which many African Americans and others think is helping to continue to racism.

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In recent years, the shootings of young african american teenagers have created movements such as the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement is important today because it helps African Americans voice their frustrations with the current police policies and it allows them to peacefully protest together to try to change this corrupted system. These movements highlight that the United States criminal justice is system inadvertently causing racism through its police policies and bail system.

Some people argue that while a lot of African Americans are mistreated by the justice system this happens because african americans commit more crimes than other ethnic groups. Such as Representative Bob Goodlatte who argues, in the 2011 hearing titled “21st century law enforcement: How Smart Policing Targets Criminal Behavior”, that if we can argue that the justice system is against black people the why not also are we also do we not argue that it is discriminating against males “93.5 percent of the Federal prisoners in the country are men, but men are a slight minority in the United States at 49 percent of the population” (Goodlatte, par.5). This argument is flawed because “men are fifteen times as likely to be incarcerated as women are” (Starr Pg.3). This means that men are probably being discriminated than women because they are being punished more for crimes and it proves that there may be sexist discrimination in law enforcement as well as race discrimination refuting Goodlatte’s claim.

Racial discrimination can be seen on June 19, 2018 when a black teenager named Antwon Rose was shot and killed by police for trying to run away from a traffic stop. His crime was that the car he was in, allegedly had been involved in a drive by shooting just moments before (Shannon. Par. 3). This doesn’t mean that Antwon was innocent, however when you look at the fact that he was running away and the police were instantly shooting, not trying to tase or arrest the teenagers, it highlights that there is a flaw in the way that the police handle themselves in traffic stops. Another black teenager named Stephen Clarke was also killed while hiding in his grandma’s yard, because police thought that a cell phone he was holding was a gun (Hausser, par. 1). Both of these kids might have been guilty of the crimes they allegedly committed however they deserve the right to a fair trial, not to be killed in a split second decision by a police officer like so many other black people. This is not a relatively new issue, in 2011 in the Congressional Hearing “21st Century law enforcement how smart policing targets criminal behavior” Representative Robert Scott argues that “challenges represented by the traffic stop context have not been eliminated and, in fact, form the foundation for all other kinds of racial-profiling complaints.” (Scott par. 3). The credibility of a congressman believing that the police need to change their policies highlights that there is a problem in the way that the police policies are. This issue needs to be addressed immediately it goes all the way back to the civil rights era and has been seen in almost every decade since. Another example of this is a former Biscayne Park police chief’s staff… reportedly telling officers that if they found black men with a record, they should arrest them to pin them for crimes they didn’t commit (Saady, par. 5). This is just another example of how what the officers are being ordered is racist, not the cops themselves. In fact, this does not mean that all police officers are racists in fact many police officers are some of the bravest people in this country, however, more often than not police department’s policies and training forces them to take action that could be viewed as racist. These discriminatory policies need to be changed in order to promote racial equality and a better relationship between police officers and african american communities.

Another contributing factor to the racial discrimination caused by the justice system is use of monetary bail. Bail is when someone pays money before there trial that allows them to go home until the trial and not be held in a cell. Bail contributes to the discrimination in our legal system for a number of reasons. The first is that “American courts set significantly higher bail amounts for black individuals than they do for white individuals” (Sherman, par .6). This means that African Americans are paying more than the average white persons which in itself is the very definition of discrimination and racism. The second reason is that “monetary bail assignment increases the likelihood of conviction by 12 percent” (Menfree, par.12). Highlighting that since bail is being set higher and more often for African Americans they are more likely to be incarcerated for their crimes. Proving that the justice system is using bail to maintain racial inequality. The third reason is the use of bail bonds. Bail bonds are when people offer to pay your bail so long as you eventually pay them back. Since “27.4 percent” (State of Working America, par.3) of african americans fall below the poverty line (the most of any minority) this leads to many needing to use bail bonds in order to pay the monetary bail required of them if they commit crimes. Which causes these people to then go into debt to these bondsmen. When these african americans go back to their families before the trial after paying their bail, they need to be focusing on how they can win the case. Instead, they focus more on how they are going to be able to pay back their bail bondsmen. This can cause them to lose the case and in some circumstances become unable to pay back their bondsmen, causing further debt for these people. Also, when people can not meet this bail and are held in pretrial jail “A study on defendants in Kentucky claims that individuals with similar backgrounds who were not released before trial are over three times more likely to be sentenced to prison than those released.” (Kopf, par. 23) Proving that those who cannot post bail are more likely to be convicted, since many african americans cannot post bail this proves that they are more likely to be convicted. The criminal justice systems use of bail contribute to racial inequality because of setting higher amounts for african americans, increasing the likelihood of conviction, and bail bonds.

While race discrimination might be illegal in this country, there are still some people and systems that support it whether intentionally or unintentionally. The justices problems regarding policing and bail must be addressed and fixed. Police Departments need to address any officers who have been involved in racist shootings and they need to fix their policies that get them into these situations. The system of bail must also be reformed because it creates to many problems within the pretrial process for African Americans.

Works Cited

United States. Cong. House. Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Hearing, Nov. 4, 2011. 112 Cong. 1st sess. Washington: GPO, 2012

Menefee, Michael R. “The Role of Bail and Pretrial Detention in the Reproduction of Racial Inequalities.” Sociology Compass, vol. 12, no. 5, 2018, doi:10.1111/soc4.12576.

Saady, Brian. “Fighting Corruption in the U.S. Criminal Justice System.” The American Conservative, 13 Dec. 2018,www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/fighting-corr uption-in-the-u-s-criminal-justice-system/.

Kopf, Dan. “America’s Peculiar Bail System.” Priceonomics, 26 May 2016, priceonomics.com/americas-peculiar-bail-system/.

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