In the current climate of America, there has been a lot of controversy regarding policing and in specific, whether there is racial bias in policing. Some people claim there is no racial bias when it comes to policing such as when Vice President Mike Pence stated during a debate that there was no bias towards minorities in law enforcement while others believe that there definitely is a bias towards minorities. Despite there being people who say there is a racial bias and there is not a racial bias, statistics indicate that there is indeed a bias in the overall scheme of things. This does not mean that everyone involved in law enforcement is a racist and contributes to the overall racial bias but there are definitely a few bad apples that operate with this bias. When looking at the criminal justice system as a whole, there is clearly a racial bias that can be seen in different treatment that whites and minorities receive.
One metric that has indicated that the overall criminal justice system has a racial bias towards minorities is number of black Americans that are incarcerated compared to the number of white Americans that are incarcerated for the same crime committed. Statistics show that, “black males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males and 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic males” (Clemons 690). Some argue that this just means that black Americans are committing way more crimes than white and/or Hispanic Americans but this just is not true because for example, “research has consistently revealed that black and white Americans abuse and sell illegal drugs at similar rates”, and in addition to this, the rate of black American’s arrested for illegal drugs rose by almost four times in the time period of 1980 to 2000 while white American arrests for illegal drugs remained the same (Clemons 691). This means that if black Americans and white Americans were committing the roughly the same amount of illegal drug crimes but black Americans were being arrested way more for them then the logical conclusion to make is that those doing the arrests had a bias towards the black Americans. In addition, according to the Washington Post, black Americans are being killed by the police at a disproportional rate because less than 13% of the American population is black Americans and yet they are being killed more than twice the amount white Americans are being killed by police. Considering the previous point of how black Americans aren’t committing a significant more amount of crimes than white Americans, this shows that there must be some sort of bias that is causing this extreme difference in treatment.
The public opinion of how people feel about the treatment of minorities is also important to consider because the criminal justice system is supposed to keep people safe but if the policies made for the people are doing the opposite and making them feel unsafe, then maybe something needs to change. The fact that 87% of black Americans and 63% of white Americans think that the black people are treated unfairly in the criminal justice system speaks some truth to the fact that there is an issue that is present. In a study that focused on racial bias in policing and the public’s perception, it was found that minorities especially black Americans were much more likely to report that they had been discriminated against by police based on race. Now just because they believe that they were discriminated against does not necessarily mean there actually was discrimination but during their study they did find that most of the reports were consistent with the interactions they saw between police and minorities where the police had a tendency to be more suspicious of minorities. Another issue to consider is how people’s perception of the police is shaped. This is important because this will determine whether people will believe that there is a racial bias in the criminal justice system. This in turn affects their decision on who they will vote for because if they believe that there is no racial bias then they would be less likely to vote for someone who believes and wants to get rid of the racial bias. In the study from George Washington University that focused on racially based policing, they found that there were two factors that affected the way people viewed police the most which were: personal experience with the police and the way police were portrayed in the media. If someone has personally had a bad experience with the police that they felt was based on race then they will be more likely perceive that a racial bias exists while those who never have a bad experience with police will view the police in a better light and be less likely to believe in racial bias. In addition, if the media someone consumes often reports on instances on police abuse then they will be more likely to believe that the police have a racial bias and want it to be changed.
- Clemons, J. (2014). Blind injustice: The supreme court, implicit racial bias, and the racial disparity in the criminal justice system. American Criminal Law Review, 51(3), 689-714.
- Fallis, D., & Rindler, D. (Eds.). (2020, January 22). Fatal Force: Police shootings database. Retrieved October 21, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/investigations/police-shootings-database/
- Weitzer, R., & Tuch, S. A. (2005). Racially Biased Policing: Determinants of Citizen Perceptions. Social Forces, 83(3), 1009-1030. doi:10.1353/sof.2005.0050