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“79% of White police officers who work primarily in Black neighborhoods have admitted that they have prejudiced against Blacks “. That is an alarming percentage of officers and yet we are still facing this problem today. Racial discrimination does not just happen with police officers but with sentencing, court cases, and arrests as well. The United States criminal justice system is all about making sure there is no discrimination but why is there not more to stop it? There needs to be more reforms and policies in place to minimize racial discrimination in our criminal justice system so that we can treat everyone fairly and not favor one race over another.
I am a Psychology major with a Criminal Justice minor and this is a very important topic to me. Those in the criminal justice department need to realize that racial discrimination is growing and that more people are guilty of it than researchers originally thought. The media may not report all of what is going on in the world, but these issues have been buried deep in the ground and their roots are trying to come into the surface but keep getting pushed down deeper and deeper. If the criminal justice system in the United States does not change its ways, then this could cost more lives and more families of color will be impacted by those who are serving life in prison instead of the minimum sentence which has the final say.
In the United States, African Americans are targeted more than Whites in the criminal justice system and because of this, there is a feeling of lost hope. There are stereotypes being thrown around left and right which leads to untrustworthiness, hopelessness, and even fewer approval of the government. African Americans who have a larger education as compared to those with less education tend to feel targeted because of the color of their skin and will do things like not vote in elections because they feel as if they do not matter to those in authority like the government. This can be explained, “Because feelings of distrust and government responsiveness affect individuals’ desire to become involved in politics, policy also shapes participation rates”.
Also, African Americans who have a larger education really realize what is going on and are more susceptible to facing the discrimination firsthand. This is because in the world African Americans especially those with a darker skin tone have been perceived as dangerous individuals who commit crimes, cause violence, and do drugs. There have been surveys like the one made by the US Department of Justice that have concluded “African Americans may be subject to traffic stops by police at similar rates to whites, they are three times as likely to be searched after being stopped”.
African Americans look more suspicious and are perceived as creators of crime when it comes to the law. The war on drugs has also impacted African Americans especially for how much of a sentence they receive for when they go to prison and serve their time. “Courts have “going” rates for certain crime patterns, which also informally guide outcomes by what court actors mutually believe are the appropriate outcome for a given crime”.
More and more African Americans are being sent to prison with things like life sentences for having a kilogram of crack cocaine even though the minimum sentence goes from 2 to 10 years. Whites use crack cocaine more and when caught they receive a lesser sentence than life in prison and are not profiled because of the color of their skin. Minorities are targeted more often, and African Americans fall into this category which increases discrimination and what police officers do to them especially in regard to how they treat African Americans. With discrimination in place, the most severe and serious thing that a police officer can do to someone is shooting them and this is becoming an alarming problem in the African American community. “Between 50 and 60% of the persons killed annually by police are minorities”. This kind of events creates lots of backlash and uproar from the public when the media reports about it which are not all the time due to things like other news taking over or the media does not feel as if it is important to talk about. The family or loved ones of the victim do not get justice as often times the police officer says there was a cause to use excessive force. This has been seen where there have been incidents where police shoot because they feel as if a weapon is about to be pulled out or they feel as if the person they are searching is about to bolt.
In December of 2012, there was an incident where Jamaal Moore who was only 23 years old was shot and killed by an officer. Jamaal was minding his own business on the street in Chicago when a riot broke out around him and one of the officers in the scene considered Jamaal a suspect in the riot. He was in handcuffs lying down on the ground with no officer around where he was later shot and killed but there was no evidence showing why he was shot. This case was not very well known around the world because there was a “national uproar over the number of homicides in Chicago”. Police blamed the on policing going tougher but when bloodsheds for someone not doing anything to cause harm then where do you draw the line? There are reforms in place trying to stop and prevent this from happening and people from all over the world are trying to prevent police brutality from happening again.
The Black Lives Matter movement is a movement that became popular in 2013 and started off originally as a hashtag and this movement was created to try and stop police brutality and shootings from happening. Many African Americans were being killed by cops when they were not a threat to the officer. People of all racial backgrounds are a part of this movement and have coined the sentence. More often than not you can find a Black Lives Matter Movement rallying behind a more local event or protesting in public. They use phrases like “Shut it down” when referring to someone’s hands being held up and by telling the officer to not shoot them to try to spread awareness. This movement is popular and creates an awareness of what is going on in the African American Community and racial discrimination going on. “Ultimately, Black Lives Matter may help intensify the growing pressure on the contemporary labor movement to revive its social justice roots”.
There are some people that would argue that police brutality is not a thing and that police were doing what they had to do because they felt as if their life was in danger or other people’s lives were in danger. According to Heather Donald in National Review, “Local officials proudly proclaimed themselves unable to function in the absence of federal control.” In a study by Robert Bernasconi in CR: The New Centennial Review he states, “Weapons are found only very rarely.” Minorities look more dangerous because that is how the public and the media perceive them which works its way up to law enforcement and arrests being made as well as wrongful shootings. Innocent lives are being taken and whenever police officers use the right to use excessive force then the public outcry gets weakened and pushed to the side. There is not much being done to show what is really going on and there is always going to be people who do not show any sympathy for the victim or the victim’s loved ones which just adds to the issue. Movements like the Black Lives Matter Movement can create a voice and provide outcry. Some celebrities are even involved in this movement and they can use their fame to speak out to the public and to try to make a change. People look up to celebrities and this can spread more awareness which in turn can force a change in police brutality and arrests.
Reforms need to be in place for the criminal justice system with courts and corrections because “minorities are treated more punitively than similarly situated whites from arrest to sentencing in numerous jurisdictions”. The type of lawyer that a person gets all depends on how good of a lawyer they can afford and because African Americans are placed in the category of minorities they cannot afford a good lawyer who can help with sentencing. What people tend not to realize is that a defendant’s family background, as well as the level of poverty, play an important role in deciding how much time someone gets sentenced to. According to Matthew Clair and Alix Winter in Criminology, “Judges reported considering creative ways to make alternative sentences-such as drug rehabilitation to defendants.” Drug rehabilitation for defendants can help the defendant get to the road of recovery so that they can serve less time and have more time with their family who would not seem them as often if they were sentenced to life. This happens often for minorities especially those of color and Whites get lesser time or are more effective in plea bargaining because they can afford a better lawyer making the odds in their favor. Many African Americans would benefit greatly if judges fully are aware that a defendant’s social and racial class contribute to disparities happening racially. This will show that there is more to someone’s skin color and that everyone is human. No one race is a monster race and deep down we are all the same but with different beliefs but if we work together we can create equality and a better environment.
Some would argue that instead of minimized sentencing and creating programs to help defendants that these should not be in place because there is no racism in the courts and arraignment. According to Heather Donald in the Wall Street Journal, “racial disparities in prison does not stand up to the facts.” Heather believes that crimes in prison are unrelated to a person’s race and that when it comes to drug incarceration or any type of incarceration a person’s race does not play a factor. This may be true but, in a study, conducted by Matthew Clair and Alex Winter in Criminology who interviewed judges one judge said, “We’re all vulnerable to prejudice.” Judges in their study also noted that they themselves might have a bias toward a person’s class or race which can contribute to racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. This shows that there is racism in the courts as well as arraignment and really shows that everyday people are guilty of racially discriminating others as well. With better programs in place, there can be “appropriate reductions in the number and duration of prison sentences, long-term benefits, and job placement services”. This type of action can reduce racism in the courts and help provide a better outcome for those in prison when they get in and out.I have a plan set in mind to add new changes to the United States’ criminal justice system. There have already been studies of judges showing that they realize they need to show prejudice toward races as well as people proposing policy changes but there is not much being to the full criminal justice system itself. The results of these have not fully hit force and mostly older adults and researchers are involved in trying to make a change. I want to have more young people involved like young adults and college students. There should be a mandatory class about discrimination for everyone to take whether they are in school or the workforce. I would need funding for this and I could try calling the politicians of each state to see if I can set up a meeting to talk to them about it. People do not fully know all of what discrimination is and the more you are educated about it the more people can do to try to prevent it and make significant changes in the world all around. I want to conduct a survey with my English class about whether they believe there is racial discrimination in our current criminal justice system in the United States or not. I will have a piece of paper that I will pass around to the class where they can put a tally down for yes or no which will be if they think there is discrimination or not in the criminal justice system. After I total up the results I can ask the class to jot down any ideas they have about how the world can make a change to the system. They could tell their friends and family about the issue going on in the world today and as a school, there could be a club started to try to get involved with movements like the Black Lives Matter Movement. I could get one of the Psychology professors at Western to help officiate the club in order for us to get permission to have the club at school. We could also reach out to the creators of the Black Lives Matter Movement and see if they would be interested in having an event on campus to talk about their movement. With this idea, there can be t-shirts made to try to promote their message and to get the funding to make the t-shirts there could be a bake sale or another type of fundraising event. Funding is needed so that people become more aware of racial discrimination and so that we can protect the lives of others one day at a time. I could create a Facebook group to those who would like to participate so that we can discuss ideas and add phone numbers, website links, or blog links to important places or people we could contact. I know someone back home who can make the t-shirts and I can pay them in the money that we raised for fundraising to get the t-shirts. By doing all of this we are spreading awareness and making sure things like what happened to 23-year-old Jamaal Moore and countless others do not happen again.
While racial discrimination in the United States’ criminal justice system may not be forever changed, reforms made to the system and getting more people involved in understanding what discrimination we are can really make a difference. Everyone is human no matter what ethnicity you are or what kind of family background you have. To fully understand racial discrimination, one must look at the underlying issues regarding the courts, arraignment, arrests, as well as police brutality. We may not be able to fix the problem completely but we together we can decrease the problem by working together and letting each and every one of our voices are heard.
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