Racism and Injustice In the Criminal Justice System

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Racism and Injustice In the Criminal Justice System

San Francisco Chronicle
May 1, 1992
By: Alan Ellis

Nothing surprising in the Rodney King verdict. Just another example of racism in the criminal justice system. Consider the following:

One in 4 young black men between the ages of 20 and 29 is imprisoned, on parole, or otherwise under the control of the U.S. criminal justice system – more than are in college. In California, the number is 1 in 3. For Latinos, the figure is 1 in 10. For whites, the number is 1 in 16.

A recent study by the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, a Washington, D.C., criminal justice reform organization, states that 85 percent of all black American males will be arrested at least once in their lifetimes. The United States incarcerates black males at a rate four times that in South Africa. And although blacks make up only 12 percent of this country’s drug users, they account for a staggering 44 percent of all drug possession arrests.

The race of the victim counts for something too. In Dallas, the rape of a white woman results in an average sentence of 10 years, while the rape of a Latino woman gets 5 years and the rape of a black woman gets 2 years.

Nationally, murderers with white victims are up to 4.3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than murderers with black victims. Can you imagine what King would have gotten for an assault on a white police officer?

Drug offenders account for 80 percent of the vast increase in the federal prison population in recent years. Up to 65 percent of those sentenced in drug distribution cases are black or Latino.

Virtually all of these cases are controlled by mandatory minimum sentences, yet not a single white-collar criminal has ever been imprisoned under a mandatory minimum sentence. Some mandatory minimums seem almost designed to discriminate.

Last year, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to punish crack users more severely than powder cocaine users because crack users are overwhelmingly black while powder cocaine users are overwhelmingly white. Yet under federal law, possession for personal use of five grams of crack cocaine means a five-year mandatory minimum sentence while simple possession of any amount of powder cocaine – or any other drug – is a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of 1 year.

There is no single place where discrimination and injustice lurk in America’s criminal justice system. This is something that Rodney King found out the hard way last year on the streets of Los Angeles, and it was driven home again by the jury’s verdict on Wednesday.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]