The Impact of Ethnicity on Justice




The Impact of Ethnicity on Justice

Justice system should be the most equal and fair system, however, it has had its criticism over the years. Researchers have often pointed out the link that exist between the justice system and ethnicity in America. There has been various research that have been conducted that indicates often when passing judgments or in determination of cases, ethnicity has had quite a huge impact. In America, minority groups or rather ethnicities have often felt that the justice system is often not fair to them and it seems to favor the whites. The minority groups include African American, Latinos, and Asian Americans. In looking at the justice system, we will look at police policies, court judgements and the prison system so as to understand the correlation that exists between the criminal justice system and the link to ethnicity.

Police and law enforcers encompass the justice system therefore a look into their policies and how they affect ethnicity is important. For years’ police brutality has been documented and often police are seen to be harsher to people of color than whites. According to an analysis on FBI data, it was found that police are more likely to shoot people of color. In 2012, 31% accounted for police killing of black people which is a huge number. Racism has often been blamed on why police tend to use more force towards the blacks as compared to whites as well as existence of stereotypes such as African Americans are more likely to be criminals (Chaney, pg. 480-505). A good example is a video recorded in Spring Valley High, South Carolina showing how police brutally dragged a female student across the classroom sparking outrage. The action taken by Deputy Ben Fields was unreasonable in the sense that he had to apply the use of physical force on the minor creating a traumatic experience both to the student and other school mates. It is likely that if the student was white such an action would not have been taken against them.

For years, racial profiling has existed in our justice system and the minority groups have been affected. Often, the stereotypes that have been created against these groups is what has constantly led to the failing of the judicial system. African Americans have often suffered wrong convictions and arrests in large numbers. This has been contributed by policies in place that seem to target the minor ethnic groups. The first policy that I believe has an effect on our justice system is the stop and search policy by the law enforcers. Police officers are mandated to ensure that there are law and order. One way police officers get to do this is through police stop and searches. There have always been controversies as to what extent the police can stop and search people. This controversy has often been linked to police racial discrimination as often people of color are stopped and searched. There is enough evidence a person of color is likely to be stopped and searched as compared to a white person (Bowling, pg. 509-535). The issue is not the law, but rather it’s execution.

The law enforcers have managed to misuse the powers bestowed upon them which is to protect its citizens. People of color have been victims of forceful searches where they are even pinned down on the ground just for a search. It is because of this that often we have seen people of color being shot just in the cold for being suspected to own a gun yet they do not have these guns. An example of such a case is Oscar Grant age 22, who was killed in New Year’s eve. He was coming back from a night out with his friends when they were asked to stop for a search, they complied however Oscar was shot from the back by the police officers. This was despite the fact that he was unnamed and his hands were raised. There have been so many cases related to this or where a civilian is stopped by police and as they try to get an identification from the pocket or car, they are shot and police defend themselves often stating they thought the victims were pulling out guns. We do not disagree that stop and searches have helped in reducing and preventing crimes, however people of color seem targeted.

People of color are not often able to fight cases with the police officers in court. This has largely been contributed by the blue wall of silence. Blue Wall of Silence is often defined as an unwritten code whereby police officers cannot report other fellow police officers on their misconducts when questioned about incidences involving their fellow colleagues. According to a report by Christopher commission of the LAPD, they found that most officers observed code of silence as a way of shielding their colleagues. The code of silence was actually strongest in crime hotspots and dangerous neighborhoods. Most cops are often afraid of telling on each other because there is high likelihood that one’s career may end if they do so. Most officers even go ahead and lie in court a term known as “testilying”. During the trial of Officer Francis Livoti for the negligent homicide of Anthony Baez, the judge said he could not find him guilty as most officers had committed perjury (Kleining, pg. 219-234). Because of lack of evidence most cases on police brutality are not often won and these officers may just be slapped with a transfer instead of a termination letter.

People of color have also been victims to the judicial system. Cases of people of color seem to be mishandled and quick judgments passed at times. Let’s use the Central Park Five example as this is what is being talked on most discussions when it comes to discussion on the justice system and ethnicity. Central Park five was a case on five teenagers who were accused of raping a jogger. These children were threatened into confessing to these crimes and years later it was found that they were innocent as the person who had committed that crime had come forward. According to a research by the Innovations for Poverty Actions, 40% of people who were incarcerated were African Americans and the African American male were seven times more likely to be incarcerated as compared to the whites. The incarceration rates for the Latinos was also significantly high thus one wonders if there is discrimination I the judicial system.

The United States judicial system has had a long standing principle that defendants should not be treated with contempt or differently because of their ethnicity and this is codified in the US constitution, 14th amendment “Equal Protection.” However, the matter of equality has been questioned through the analysis of sentencing as well as conviction rates by ethnicity. There is researcher who have defended the sentencing gap as not an issue but rather other factors come into play including education level, income and other factors that may not be easy to observe. Although this may be true there is evidence that race has been used especially in sentencing. People of color often get harsher penalties as compared to the whites. Whites were likely to receive a larger sentence reduction in a case as compared to the Latinos or the blacks because of cooperation with the police (Jordan, pg. 185-201). It has also been hypothesized that people of color are likely to be jailed before their trials thus resulting in them getting harsh sentences. Another aspect of race a sentencing is that a black or Latino is likely to receive harsher sentences if a victim to a crime was white as compared to a reverse scenario. The best example is a case in Florida under judge Sherwood who was overseeing a case with two suspects both of whom pleaded guilty to the same crime in the same circumstances. Most would think sentencing would be same or close but the black defendant was sentenced for 26 years in jail while the white defendant was sentenced for two years’ time served. The Sarasota Herald Tribune in 2016 had a series of articles titled “Bias on the Bench” with the aim that they would highlight the racial disparity when it came to sentencing and people of color are the most affected (Sarasota Herald Tribune).

In a nutshell, there has often been statistics that will purport that crime rate is higher among African Americans, they are most likely to be violent and are most likely to possess firearms. These statistics have often generated a certain stereotype among individuals where we tend to believe that all African Americans are violent. It is such thinking that has contributed to the police brutality that is often encountered by African Americans especially the male. The number of African American men that have been killed by the police simply because they were mistaken to be criminals or thought to be carrying a weapon are staggering high. This has been fueled by the arguments made by Otto that are biased that begins to associate violence to genetics or wants to associate lower IQ to race. The criminal justice system often gets to award longer and harsher sentences to the black Americans as compared to the whites who may have committed the same crime. Huge criminal justice need to be done in order to ensure that racism does not have its place in administration of justice and that every person is treated equally.

Works Cited

Bias on the Bench: Sarasota Herald-Tribune Media Group: Bias on the bench. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Bowling, Ben, and Coretta Phillips. “Disproportionate and discriminatory: reviewing the evidence on police stop and search.” The Modern Law Review 70.6 (2007): 936-961.

Chaney, Cassandra, and Ray V. Robertson. “Racism and police brutality in America.” Journal of African American Studies 17.4 (2013): 480-505.

Jordan, Kareem L., and Tina L. Freiburger. “Examining the impact of race and ethnicity on the sentencing of juveniles in the adult court.” Criminal Justice Policy Review 21.2 (2010): 185-201.

Kleinig, John. Police violence and the loyal code of silence. Violence and police culture. 2000 219-234.