There’s overwhelming evidence that the criminal justice system is racist. Here’s the proof Notes (Eva)


  • Senator Tim Scott (Republican, S.C.) gave a speech in 2016 about how he had been pulled over repeatedly by police officers because they were suspicious of a black man driving a nice car
    • Because Scott is relatively conservative, there was little protest from the right
  • A concern is that the term “systemic racism” can be wrongly interpreted as meaning that everyone in the system is racist
    • It actually means that our systems and institutions produce racially disparate outcomes no matter the intentions of the people involved
  • The criminal justice system was mostly established during the Jim Crow era and was designed to maintain a racial hierarchy

Policing and Profiling

  • A New York Times in Minneapolis examination showed that while black people make up 19% of the city’s population and 9% of its police force, they are on the receiving end of 58% of police violence
  • A study of 95 million traffic stops published in May 2020 showed that black people were much more likely to be pulled over than white people, but that this disparity decreased at night when the police were unable to tell the race of the driver
    • The study also showed that while black people were more likely to be frisked after being stopped, white people were more likely to be found with illicit drugs
    • The disparity also narrowed in states where marijuana was legalized
  • A study published by the National Academy of Sciences in 2019 found that between 2013 and 2018, black men were 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men
    • Black men have a 1 in 1000 chance of dying at the hands of a police officer
    • Black women were 1.4 times more likely to be killed than white women
    • Latino men were 1.3 times more likely to be killed than white men
  • In 2019, a study of 11,000 police stops in DC found that while black people made up 46% of the city’s population, they accounted for 70% of police stops and 86% of stops that did not involve traffic enforcement
  • A 2019 traffic report in the Los Angeles Times found that during traffic stops, “24% of black drivers and passengers were searched, compared with 16% of Latinos and 5% of whites”
    • The same report showed that police were slightly more likely to find drugs, weapons, and other contraband among whites
  • A 2020 report by the Austin Office of Police Oversight, Office of Innovation and Equity Office found that blacks and Latinos were more likely than whites to be stopped, searched, and arrested despite similar “hit rates” for illicit drugs among those groups
  • In Travis County, TX, black people comprised 30% of police arrests for possession of less than a gram of an illicit drug despite making up only 9% of the county’s population
    • Surveys show that black and white people use illicit drugs at about the same rate
  • A survey of traffic tickets in Indianapolis showed that black people received 1.5 tickets for every white driver in the city
    • In the suburb of Fishers, the number grew to 4.5
    • In the wealthy suburb of Carmel, black motorists received 18 tickets for every ticket issued to a white motorist
  • A 2020 study commissioned by the Charlottesville city council found significant racial disparities in the city and surrounding county’s criminal justice systems in five key areas: “seriousness of charges brought, the number of companion charges, bail-bond release decisions, the length of stay awaiting trial, and guilty outcomes.” 
    • In the city, black men were 8.5 percent of the population but comprised more than half the arrests 
    • In the county, black men were 4.4 percent of the population but comprised 37.6 percent of arrests

Misdemeanors, Petty Crimes, and Driver’s License Suspensions

  • In 2018, the Boston University Law Review published a study that showed that black arrest rate is at least twice as high as the white arrest rate for disorderly conduct, drug possession, simple assault, theft, vagrancy, and vandalism.
    • The black arrest rate for prostitution is almost five times higher than the white arrest rate, and
    • The black arrest rate for gambling is almost ten times higher.
  • Between 2001 and 2013, blacks and Latinos made up 51% of the population of New York City, but 80% of the misdemeanor arrests and summonses
  • In 2016, the ACLU of Florida released a report finding that black drivers were twice as likely to be pulled over for seatbelt violations as white drivers
  • A ProPublica and Florida Times-Union report published in 2017 showed that black residents of Jacksonville are three times more likely to receive a citation for a pedestrian violation than white residents
  • A 2015 ACLU study of four cities in New Jersey found that black people were 2.6 to 9.6 times more likely to be arrested than white people for low-level offenses.

The Drug War

  • A 2020 ACLU report found that even in the era of marijuana reform, black people are more than 3½ times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than whites.
  • As of May 2018, data from New York City showed that black people are arrested for marijuana at 8 times the rate of white people
    • In Manhattan, it’s 15 times as much
  • A 2014 ACLU survey of SWAT teams across the country found that “dynamic entry” and paramilitary police tactics are disproportionately used against black and Latino people
  • In contrast to the assertion that blacks are more likely to be arrested because they’re more likely to use drugs in public, a 2002 study of narcotics search warrants in the San Diego area — that is, warrants to search for drugs in private homes — found that black and Hispanic residents were “significantly over-represented as targets of narcotics search warrants”
  • Black people comprise about 12.5 percent of drug users but 29 percent of arrests for drug crimes and 33 percent of those incarcerated

Juries and Jury Selection

  • In the 1986 Batson v. Kentucky, the Supreme Court made it illegal to exclude jurors based on race, however, that ruling has gone largely unenforced
  • A study of criminal cases from 1983 and 1993 found that prosecutors in Philadelphia removed 52 percent of potential black jurors vs. only 23 percent of nonblack jurors
  • Between 1994 and 2002, Jefferson Parish (Louisiana) prosecutors struck 55 percent of blacks, but just 16 percent of whites 
    • Although blacks make up 23 percent of the population, 80% of criminal trials had no more than two black jurors in a state where it takes only 10 of 12 juror votes to convict
  • In a 2010 study, “mock jurors” were given the same evidence from a fictional robbery case but then shown alternate security camera footage depicting either a light-skinned or dark-skinned suspect
    • Jurors were more likely to evaluate ambiguous, race-neutral evidence against the dark-skinned suspect as incriminating and more likely to find the dark-skinned suspect guilty

The Death Penalty

  • Killers of black people rarely get death sentences
    • White killers of black people get the death penalty even less frequently
  • The type of murder that most frequently gets the death penalty is when a black man murders a white woman
  • A study in 2003 by Amnesty International found that while white people make up less than half of the country’s murder victims, about 80% of people on death row in the United States killed a white person
  • A study of Harris County, TX in 2015 showed that people who killed a white person were 2.5 times as likely to receive a death sentence
  • According to a 2012 study in Delaware showed that black defendants who kill white victims are seven times as likely to receive the death penalty as are black defendants who kill black victims
  • A review of homicide cases in Missouri between 1997 and 2001 found that both geography and race are important factors in whether a defendant receives the death penalty
    • Black defendants in the large urban areas of St. Louis and Kansas City were less likely to get the death penalty, likely because of the higher rate of black jurors in jury pools
  • A 2000 study commissioned by then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) found that the state had, as of that time, never executed a white person for killing a black person
  • A 2002 study commissioned by the then-Gov. showed that Indiana had executed only one person for killing a nonwhite victim, and though 47% of homicides in the state involved nonwhite victims
    • Studies in Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, Utah and the federal criminal justice system produced similar results.
  • Black people are also more likely to be wrongly convicted of murder when the victim is white
  • Innocent black people are also 3.5 times more likely than white people to be wrongly convicted of sexual assault and 12 times more likely to be wrongly convicted of drug crimes
  • In Houston County, AL, prosecutors struck 80 percent of black people from juries in death penalty cases

Prosecutors, Discretion, and Plea Bargaining

  • Between 80 and 95% of cases are resolved with a plea bargain before going to trial
  • A 2015 study by the Women Donors Network found that in three-fifths of the states where prosecutors are elected, there isn’t a single black prosecutor
    • 95% of elected prosecutors are white, and over 80% are white men
  • A 2017 study of about 48,000 criminal cases in Wisconsin showed that white defendants were 25% more likely than black defendants to have their most serious charge dismissed in a plea bargain
  • A 2016 review of nearly 474,000 criminal cases in Hampton Roads, VA, found that whites were more likely to get plea deals that resulted in no jail time for drug offenses
    • 48% of white people faced no jail time for distribution charges, compared to 22% of black people
  • A 2008 analysis found that black defendants with multiple prior convictions are 28 percent more likely to be charged as “habitual offenders” than white defendants with similar criminal records

Judges and Sentencing

  • In 2018, a review of academic research found that at nearly all levels of the criminal justice system, “disparities in policing and punishment within the black population along the color continuum are often comparable to or even exceed disparities between blacks and whites as a whole.”
    • The darker the skin of a black person, the greater the disparity in arrests, charges, conviction rates, and sentencing
  • When black and white men commit the same crime, black men on average receive a sentence that is 20% longer
  • In Louisiana, which is 33% black, a survey sampling half the prisoners serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses found that 91% were black
    • After including violent crimes, it was 73%
    • The figure is above 65% in several other states, including GA, IS, MI, MS and SC
    • Nationally, about 50% of murders are committed by black people
  • An NJ study found that 96% of defendants subject to an enhanced sentencing under “drug-free school zone” laws were black or Latino.


Balko, Radley. “Opinion | There’s Overwhelming Evidence That the Criminal Justice System Is Racist. Here’s the Proof.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 10 June 2020,

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