This research aims at examining racial disparity in criminal justice system. This will make use of an event that has a nexus of criminal justice system and chosen community. The chosen event for this research is the Ferguson shooting that led to development of deep tension between law enforcement, the component of the criminal justice system, and the African-American community in Ferguson. Racial disparity has led African-American community to be treated unfairly in a number of ways throughout all the stages of criminal justice system. In order to be able to cover this issue more comprehensively, the paper will encompass sections such as issue identification, background, and analysis. The issue identification section will assess impact and problem that racial disparity has had on the African-American community. The background will attempt to show the origin of this disparity. On the other hand, the analysis section will cover such areas as the challenge resulting from the disparity, impact, Federal DOJ (Department of Justice) oversight which will show the studies conducted on the issue, and the affected African-American community.
The relationship between criminal justice system through its various departments and the community which it serves has not always been a smooth one. One significant event that can be used to demonstrate the nature of this relationship is the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, an African-American teenager who was shot by a white police officer Darren Wilson. The circumstances of the shooting were highly controversial given that Brown was not armed at the time of shooting. This fact sparked riots and significant civil unrest in the Ferguson community. The tension between law enforcers and the community rose to a new high level. Additionally, the response of police agencies further sparked controversy with accusations of a militarized response and insensitivity of the tactics used. Such issue generated vigorous debate about the relationship between law enforcement and the African-American community. It further led to the development of a national dialogue on the use of force and police brutality on people of color and other minority groups. One thing that stood out from this event is racial disparity. According to Baradaran (2013), racial disparity has been significantly dividing criminal justice system and the African American community for a long time. The racial gap in criminal justice system remains a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed to foster equality of everyone in the community before the law.
Racial disparity has become a prevalent problem in criminal justice system. Norris (2011) notes that inequities in the basic functioning of criminal justice system are increasing. This has been exhibited in police practices, which entail the use of force and other forms of aggressive policing that have led to disparity in arrests, prosecution, and sentencing. The large number of racial and ethnic minorities in criminal justice system has become troubling according to the Sentencing Project (2013). This has led to debates being sparked and attempts being made in regard to improving racial equality in the justice system. However, most policies that have been formulated towards this failed completely in bringing about any significant change. The failure of criminal justice system to redeem itself has worsened over time. As a result, there has been deep-seated sense of tension among communities of color and criminal justice system which has failed in its duty of protecting them. As a whole, the Government has also failed in its attempts of reforming the system. Despite the efforts of the Department of Justice in bringing to an end various forms of racial disparity in various levels of the justice process, all their attempts have not been successful.
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Racial disparity in criminal justice system is not a recent occurrence. This can be traced back to the time of slavery even before the civil rights movement. Crutchfield, Fernandes, and Martinez (2010) reiterate that at the time, the law and the entire justice system favored the whites greatly, while the blacks were subjected to untold suffering under the law of the day. Even after the end of civil war movements, this racial disparity under the law had continued. The Ronald Reagan’s administration can be identified as the most recent contributing factor of racial disparity in criminal justice system targeting the African-American community. Baradaran (2013) affirms that it is during Reagan’s administration, the funding of criminal justice system rose to about 32 percent. This had an impact in the growth of prisons and incarcerations, and a large number of African-American males become incarcerated at those times. The media was influential in bringing about racial disparity through its act of creating panic by overemphasizing and sensationalizing crimes that involve African-Americans.
Further, the war on drugs led to the creation of a stereotype image of the African-American criminal. This derailed focus from violent crimes; instead, criminal justice system turned its focus on crimes involving drug use and its possession. Consequently, the US penal population rose from 300,000 to 2,000,000 in less than 30 years as postulated by Mauer (2011). Such high increase was brought about by drug convictions that involved African-American males. During this time, 76 percent of illegal drug users in the US were white, 14 percent of them were African-American, and about 15.9 percent were Hispanic (Mauer, 2011). However, strangely enough, the prison population was filled largely by people of color. This clearly illustrated the disparity being present at those times in criminal justice system.
Police corruption also acted as a precursor for racial disparity that was created in criminal justice system. Norris (2011) opines that this was mainly brought about by the increased pressure on police officers to meet their goals in arrests. Consequently, the African-American community became a target for the law enforcers as a result of the existence of stereotypic African-American criminals.
The African American Community and the Criminal Justice System
The Brown shooting was essential in bringing forth a known fact of the existence of racial disparity in criminal justice system. According to Crutchfield, Fernandes, and Martinez (2010), racial disparity persists at every stage of criminal justice system. In the first place, this can be seen in arrests. The rate at which African-Americans are arrested is higher compared to that of whites. The difference is even higher for some crime categories. For instance, more African-Americans are arrested for violent crimes. Court processing also shows significant disparity. Mauer (2011) notes that African-Americans are more likely to be sentenced to prison compared to their white counterparts. Further, they are more likely to receive harsher sentences like the death penalty. Prosecutors are more likely to seek for such sentence when the defendants are black and the victims are white. Therefore, sentencing has become racial in nature. The corrective element of criminal justice system further asserts the high rate of disparity targeting the people of color. The Sentencing Project (2013) claims that the number of African-Americans incarcerated in state prisons is higher than that of white people. The number of hispanics who are incarcerated is more than the whites’ one as well. The same trend is observed for Native Africans in prison. The process of probation and parole also exhibits significant disparity which is fuelled by race. The Juvenile Justice System has also been affected greatly with racial disparity. There were more African-American youths in juvenile centers than their white counterparts since they were more likely to be recommended to these centers. Baradaran (2013) explains that the disparity in the Juvenile Justice System is considered to be the worst and deepest level in whole criminal justice system.
The challenge in eliminating racial disparity in criminal justice system lies in the failure of eliminating the causes. This has thus made it difficult to develop necessary policies and practices needed for reducing the current high record levels of incarceration that are the resultants of racial disparity. Therefore, the discussion about the causes of disparity in criminal justice system is as follows.
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In the first place, various laws and statutes have contributed greatly to current state of affairs of criminal justice system. One of such laws is the Stand-your-ground law as identified by Norris (2011). This law relates to the concept of self-defense. The stand-your-ground law has led to the development of discriminatory treatment for suspects of color. Instead of being useful, the law has actually proven to be detrimental as it has led to increased levels of homicide among the people of color. Findings from this law illustrate that whites who have been found to have killed blacks are more likely to be justified before the law as compared to blacks that killed whites. This law can be used to explain the actions of Darren Wilson against Michael Brown.
Secondly, the practice of racial profiling has further led to an increase in disparity within the system. This has become inevitable following the creation of social image of a criminal as being of African-American origin. According to Mauer (2011), law enforcers, whether being federal, state, or local, practice significant discretion during the process of determining whether an individual’s behavior is suspicious or not and whether it warrants an investigation. Racial profiling became the most used way of making the decision. Thus, a large number of people of color have been seen arrested or approached by law enforcers even when they were later found not involved in any criminal activities. Crutchfield, Fernandes, and Martinez (2010) describe this process as a new form of lynching. The current form of lynching is informing criminal charge and further incarceration. Unlike the olden days, it is now carried out by professionals with a badge. The Brown case in Ferguson exhibited such kind of reaction that it did result in the fact that people concluded that the teenager was suspected to be a criminal through racial profiling since he was African-American.
The perception created about inner cities where a significant and disproportionate number of African-Americans live has equally played its role in creating current disparity in criminal justice system. For example, it is believed that the large numbers of African-Americans that are in prison are the resultant issues of their adaptation to poverty in the inner cities. Further, many people view the inner cities as an underclass, which members mug and take drugs according to Baradaran (2013). For this reason, whenever a member of this underclass is found in a potentially criminal activity, he or she is dealt with in a harsh manner.
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Oversight of the Federal DOJ
The Federal Department of Justice (DOJ) has tried on several occasions to manage racial disparity in criminal justice system. However, the truth of the matter is that efforts have not been very successful in completely eliminating this disparity in the system. Despite this fact, it cannot be denied that the efforts of the DOJ have had an impact in the reduction of disparity in some areas of the system of justice.
One way the DOJ has accomplished this is realized through the creation of updated guidelines for law enforcement agencies. According to Crutchfield, Fernandes, and Martinez (2010), these guidelines are meant to be used in developing new standards and safeguards that will actively end racial profiling by federal law enforcers. Additionally, in as recent as the Obama’s administration, the DOJ has embarked on rigorous research on racial bias in law enforcement. Specifically, it has enlisted a team of researchers in criminal justice who will undertake the study in five American cities. This study will be useful since its recommendations will be utilized in addressing the racial disparity problem. To further increase its oversight in law enforcement, the DOJ has embarked on the following issue. In the case where police officers have been found to have violated the civil liberty of community, the DOJ should carry out an extensive investigation. This will be essential in developing consent decrees that will reform the law enforcement practices in the affected jurisdictions. Additionally, there is need for the DOJ to undertake more active approach in establishing expectations for various forms of police conduct on a national level. For instance, there can be formulation of federal task forces that will oversee the adaptation of various policies and training through penalties which may be funded federally.
Impact and Recommendations for Eliminating Racial Disparity in the System of Justice
Generally, the African-American community has been greatly disadvantaged by the unfair treatment under criminal justice system. The harm has been psychological as well as physical. It has led to lifelong stigmatization that has seen the African-Americans are denied jobs, housing, schooling, and, in some instances, medical privileges as the consequences of their criminal records. The following are the recommendations for a better future for the African-American people facing hardships as a result of disparity in criminal justice system.
Development of community policing approaches is a significant way of bringing racial disparity to an end. This will entail initiating a process that will oversee the transformation of law enforcement departments to a community policing model. According to Mauer (2011), this will be essential in preventing tension and confrontation between law enforcement and African-American communities. Structures and processes of this mode will be used to encourage community leaders and residents in working together with law enforcers in finding solutions to their current criminal-related problems.
Alternatives to arrests should be developed. This can be achieved through the use of service- and faith-based organizations in African-American communities. Baradaran (2013) suggests that these organizations can be used in the development of some service programs created for the law enforcement in black communities as the alternatives to arrests. This will especially be useful in preventing arrests for minor crime and reforming the suspects.
There should also be increased training for law enforcements and other factions of the criminal justice system. This will be essential in helping to reduce issues of racial profiling as it will help the law enforcers be able to distinguish between the activities that are problematic in the community and those ones that are merely part of their culture. Crutchfield, Fernandes, and Martinez (2010) affirm that this will ensure law-enforces to be highly sensitized towards issues of racial disparity. This knowledge will be useful when dealing with suspects of African-American origin.
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Racial disparity in individual treatment of criminal justice system has posed a significant challenge to the way justice is administered. It has become widespread and has threatened the principles of the legislative system of fairness and justice. The manner in which the system treats African-American communities over their white counterparts has illustrated the nature and the extent of disparity in the system of justice on many occasions. The factors such as war on drugs, media, and various laws and statutes have been responsible for this disparity. With the help of the Department of Justice, the Federal Government has attempted to reform the system of justice. However, the truth is still much needed to be revealed for this issue to be done away. The events such as the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson demonstrate the need clearly.