Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Justice System
In modern-day America the issue of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system is controversial because there is substantial evidence confirming both individual and systemic biases. While there is reason to believe that there are discriminatory elements at every step of the judicial process, this treatment will investigate and attempt to elucidate such elements in two of the most critical judicial junctures, criminal apprehension and prosecution.
Statistical accounts show consistent accord in that African Americans are disproportionately arrested over whites. What is much less lucid, however, is the real reason for this disparity. Both criminologists and political scientists alike have expounded remarkably polarized explanations for this phenomenon. Exemplary of this are two arguments as developed as they are diametrically opposed, that of William Wilbanks and that of Samuel Walker, Cassia Spohn and Miriam DeLone.
These authors’ arguments are both well-articulated and comprehensive, addressing virtually every pertinent concept in the issue of explaining racially disparate arrest rates. In The Myth of a Racist Criminal Justice System, Wilbanks insists that racial discrimination in the criminal justice system is a fabrication, explaining the over-representation of African Americans in arrest numbers simply through higher incidence of crime. Walker, Spohn and DeLone’s The Color of Justice dissents that not only are African Americans not anywhere near the disproportionate level of crime that police statistics would indicate, they are also arrested more because they are policed discriminately. Walker, Spohn and DeLone additionally trace the disparity to an even deeper level, demonstrating that African American crime is to a great degree a natural product of social inequality.
While both sides of this deeply entrenched controversy substantiate meaningful claims, neither of their arguments is exhaustive, although Walker, Spohn, and DeLone’s case is much more convincing. African American arrest statistics are best understood as the convergence of both a somewhat higher incidence of crime as well as racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. Although higher incidence of crime may initially appear to justify higher arrest rates, there is significant evidence demonstrating that not only is African American crime exaggerated by a racially discriminatory criminal justice system (one of the products of which is disparate arrest rates), the greater crime rates in and of themselves are a result of economic inequality.
In order to understand the nature of the statistical disparity, the first aspect that must be examined is necessarily the statistics themselves. Recent data (1998) shows that more than two out of every three arrested persons are white (67.6%) and that African Americans account for only 30% of all arrests. More...