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The Color of Justice: When Race Perverts the Criminal Justice System


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Any person who is a minority in the United States almost certainly knows what racism is like. As an Asian-American, I have experienced everything from random racial slurs as people walked by to getting elbowed in the face in a hockey game by a player who yelled “Ching-Choung” in my ear.

My experiences are nothing, however, compared to those of Duane Buck, a black man from Texas who was sentenced to death for murder in 1997. e Attorney General at the time, John Corysn, admitted three years later that Buck was denied the “constitutional right to be sentenced without regard to the color of his skin”. One of the major pieces of evidence in the trial was the testimony of a psychologist who stated that Buck was more likely to commit crimes because of his race. Buck, who has appealed his sentence, is currently waiting a resentencing a er his case made it to the Supreme Court. America has come a long way in terms of racial equality, whether it be the abolishment of slavery or the removal of Jim Crow laws. In spite of all this, the country is still facing a pressing problem reflective of Tom Robinson’s plight in Harper Lee’s famed To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee’s narrative set in the small Southern town of Maycomb raised uncomfortable yet necessary questions about race and the role it plays in the criminal justice system.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, the main character Scout talks about growing up in Maycomb during the early 1930s, a time period rife with racism. Tom Robinson, a hard working, clean living family man who also happens to be black is accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white teenage girl. Despite an overwhelming lack of evidence, Tom is found guilty and sentenced to death. Atticus, Scout’s father and Tom’s attorney, later lamented that “In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins.” In Scout’s world, people of color are believed to be inferior, morally reprehensible, and untrustworthy.

Unfortunately, what happened  to Tom Robinson is still reflected in the criminal justice system today. The grassroots of race and its effect in the justice system is seen through the police. This reflect starts with racial pro ling which is especially prominent in the policing of NYPD, who employ the controversial stop-and-frisk policy.

According to the New York Times, between 2004 and 2012, there were 4.4 million stops, with an astonishing 83 percent of them involving the detainment of a person who was black or Hispanic. is is despite the fact that black and Hispanic groups account for less than half of the population.

The policing aspect of the justice system also has a more serious problem at hand; the questionable deaths of black males at the hands of the police. Like Tom Robinson’s death in To Kill A Mockingbird, in which he was shot seventeen times despite not posing a physical threat and instead (allegedly) trying to run away.

One notable exameplf of this is the death of Eric Garner who was tackled to the ground by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. The most Garner had done was verbally complain about harassment and pull his arms away when Pantaleo tried to grab them. Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold for about 15 seconds even though Garner was already on the ground. Chokeholds were prohibited under NYPD policy. In addition, Pantaleo kept Garner in a chokehold even after Garner said, “I can’t breathe” multiple times. Despite all this, Palenteo was cleared of charges.

Eric Garner’s death was just one of many African Americans who have lost their lives due to questionable circumstances: Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Freddie Gray. Alton Sterling. Former President Barack Obama, stated, “And right now, unfortunately, we are seeing too many instances where… folks are being treated fairly. And in some cases, those may be misperceptions; but in some cases, that’s a reality. And it is incumbent… we recognize this is an American problem….” If the country fails to recognize this, then blood will be on all of our hands.

Unfortunately, the impact of race in the criminal justice system does not end with the police. It extends into the courts, just like Tom Robinson’s trial. Studies show that black people are more likely to be convicted than white people for the same crime. The Huffington Post has reported that while black people account for only 35 percent of those arrested for drug crimes, 46 percent of those convicted for drug crimes are also black. is is despite the NAACP reporting that five times as many white people are using drugs than black people.

Not only are black defendants more likely to be convicted than white ones, but they also often receive harsher sentences. According to the ABA Journal, black people receive sentences that are 20 percent longer than white people for similar crimes, and also are four times as likely to be sentenced to death (according to the DPIC).

It is clear that the African-American community is the victim of racial bias in the courtrooms, but the question of why this is so may linger. e answer is simple. The perception of African Americans has not changed much since To Kill a Mockingbird. They are still the immoral, dishonest, untrustworthy criminals of the country.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, people will claim that there is minimal racism in the country, and there certainly is not an effect on the criminal justice system. While it is true that the justice system has made great strides in achieving equality for all races, it is very much far from perfect. is proof is in the form of people like Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, who could still be alive today if it were not for the impact of race in law enforcement. And finally there are people like Duane Buck who will lose their lives for a crime that entails different punishments for different skin colors. They are victims of race and its effect on the criminal justice system; to say otherwise would be an insult to their tragic ordeals.

America has made strides in terms of racial equality. Unfortunately, there are still problems. ere are still people of color being systematically oppressed by an institution that is ironically supposed to bring justice and equality. If the issue of race and its e ect on the criminal justice system is not addressed, then more will fall victim to the seemingly never ending oppression.

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The Color of Justice: When Race Perverts the Criminal Justice System