Race and the Criminal Justice System

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Racial and the Criminal Justice System
The American Criminal Justice System is Functioning as Designed, Justice for Some: A Critical Analysis of Racial and Economic Disadvantage in the Criminal Justice System
Victims must be protected regardless of their race, neighborhood, income level or religion and the guilty punished in spite of those characteristics; inconsistent, biased and disordered practices throughout the judicial system and have deterred justice in America. Criminal justice experts, civil rights leaders, scholars and laymen ALL argue that the American criminal justice system, at its very foundation, is broken because of the inequities shown to minorities and the economically disadvantaged. They are on cable news programs each night, leading protests and starting spontaneous movements across the country; calling for the repair of a system permeated with racism and bias. However, in order for a system to be “broken” it must be performing a function counter to the purpose for which it was created.
In the case of the US justice system, it is in fact functioning exactly the way it was designed. From its inception the criminal justice system was designed to render justice to the whites and to disadvantage and control blacks and other minorities. At every echelon of criminal justice research, whether its police stops, prosecutorial charging or corrections, statistics show that the system is functioning as it was designed. 
Although African Americans only make up 13% of the population, they account for 29% of arrests, 38% of state and federal incarceration, 42% of death penalty cases and 37% of executions (Snell, 2011).
Racial and the Criminal Justice System
If you take a closer look at the American Criminal Justice System from its first inception to present day. January 31, 1865 the United States Congress passed the thirteenth Amendment to the constitution of the United States. Congress ratified the Amendment 6 December the same year. The Thirteenth Amendment states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (U.S. Const. amend. XIX.  Retrieved from…). While it may appear that legal slavery had come to a halt, the abolishment of slavery and thus slave patrols gave birth to police departments.
The 13th Amendment was passed just as Reconstruction was underway. When slavery ended police departments began to pop up in cities all over the country as a means to protect wealthy and more often than now white Americans against “civil unrest and urbanization.” 
This was particularly true in southern states. Legislators across the south or what we commonly refer to as the “Bible Belt” aggressively pursued Black Codes to constrain blacks and compel them to work for what amounted to slave wages. Black Codes were strictly and often times brutally enforced by an all-white state militia or police force.     The legal system was basically non-existent for black citizens, with ex-Confederate soldiers serving as judges and police. The Black Codes worked in concert with labor camps for blacks who’d most likely been wrongfully incarcerated but were now being treated as slaves all over again on these work camps. Just as it is today, black offenders received longer sentences than their white counterparts and because of the poor treatment often died before the full sentence could be carried out. This is what began the tumultuous relationship that exists between blacks and police today. 
Racial and the Criminal Justice System
The country once again attempted to right the ship. The Black Codes were outlawed with the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868, “granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States—including former slaves—and guaranteed all citizens equal protection of the laws.” (U.S. Const. amend. XIX.  Retrieved from…). Since most of the southern half of the country had dug its heels in in opposition to freeing the slaves and opposed anything or any law that would cause them to lose the substantial revenue stream slavery and Black Codes provide for the economy, they sought other ways to have things their way. 
So when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed southerners moved right on along to Jim Crow laws. Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system that enforced predominately in southern and border states. Even as a black woman I have to admit that Jim Crow was genius! Really, slavery was against the law, blacks were now citizens according to the United States Constitution and therefore entitled to “equal protection under the law.” Yet, Jim Crow not only existed, it thrived for over 100 years, ending a mere 55 years ago.  Separate but equal was the Jim Crow mantra but the blacks were hardly treated equal to whites. Jim Crow laws ushered era of white supremacy that can still be felt in some parts of the country even today; and blacks who violated written or unwritten Jim Crow statutes were often met with the consequences of a brutal police force. 
Although we focus a lot on the South, Northern States were not exactly welcoming blacks with open arms. They certainly were not immune to enforcing their own version of Jim Crow laws. 
Racial and the Criminal Justice System
Northern states made it a requirement for blacks to own property to vote, businesses, schools and neighborhoods alike proudly displayed their “whites only” signs. Just like in the South, all-white police forces strictly and sometimes brutally enforced these laws. 
It is important to highlight the history of poor race relations in America because it has undoubtedly contributed to concerns about unfair treatment of minorities. These concerns are legitimate and encompass lawmaking and law enforcement as well as criminal justice sentencing. As research and even this paper has shown there has always been an insatiable obsession applying formal social control to blacks and minorities in this country. Despite the evolution and positive progress made over the last century, America has been culturally conditioned to see blacks and minorities in an unfavorable, inferior light and therefore their Families, their freedom and there civil liberties have and continue to be ignored. 
The statistics are impossible to ignore when national arrest rates show that blacks are arrested at a rate that is 2.3 times higher than that experienced by whites (Snyder & Mulako-Wangota, 2014). Another study estimates that, by age 23, nearly 50% of black males will have experienced an arrest,compared with 38% of white males (Brame, Bushway, Paternoster, & Turner, 2014).  
Patterns like these can be found in other criminal justice system decision points as well. For example, there are laws in cities all across the country that directly or indirectly target minorities or minority communities which automatically causes an increase arrests. 
Simultaneously, criminal justice enacted tougher punishment—so for the past 30 years—the likelihood that a black or minority would receive harsher sentencing that white counterparts was substantially higher. 
Racial and he Criminal Justice System
One  of the most egregious examples of this took place in the 80’s, when law makers passed tougher sentencing laws for possession of crack cocaine which is most commonly used by minorities, than for powder cocaine, which is used primarily by whites. Both have similar chemical effects on the body, both illegal and both wreak havoc on Familes, yet, the penalties for crack cocaine users were far more severe than for powdered cocaine users and distributors (Beckett, Nyrop, Pfingst, & Bowen, 2005; Tonry, 1995).  Research continues to cast a light on the racial disparities that saturate the criminal justice system. 
While it is clear that blacks and minorities feel the full wrath of the criminal justice system and are frequently the recipient of unfair treatment, biased laws, and more punitive sentences; the fact that when these same minorities are the victims of crimes, their victimization is often disregarded or halfheartedly addressed. It’s not just the hot topic of the moment, there seems to be some substance to the notion that “black life is cheap.” Blacks and other minorities particularly “brown skinned folk” are disadvantaged within their communities and are often suspected of, charged with or convicted of crimes even though they are victims of crime.
Travon Martin. The name has become synonymous to “walking and minding your own business while black.” An 18 year old kid, living with his father in a gated community. Walks to the store purchases, iced tea, skittles and proceeds to walk back home while talking on the phone to a friend. Along comes George Zimmerman a supposed neighborhood watchman. He calls the police. Below is the transcript of the conversation George Zimmerman had with the dispatcher obtained from http://www.orlandosentinel.com:
Racial and the Criminal Justice System
Dispatcher: Sanford Police Department. … 
Zimmerman: Hey we’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there’s a 
real suspicious guy, uh, [near] Retreat View Circle, urn, the best address I can 
give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or 
he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking 
Dispatcher: OK, and this guy is he white, black, or Hispanic? 
Zimmerman: He looks black. 
Dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing? 
Zimmerman: Yeah. A dark hoodie, like a grey hoodie, and either jeans or 
sweatpants and white tennis shoes. He’s [unintelligible], he was just staring… 
Dispatcher: OK, he’s just walking around the area… 
Zimmerman: …looking at all the houses. 
Dispatcher: OK… 
Zimmerman: Now he’s just staring at me. 
Dispatcher: OK— you said it’s 1111 Retreat View? Or 111? 
Zimmerman: That’s the clubhouse… 
Dispatcher: That’s the clubhouse, do you know what the — he’s near the 
clubhouse right now? 
Zimmerman: Yeah, now he’s coming towards me. 
Dispatcher: OK. 
Zimmerman: He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male. 
Dispatcher: How old would you say he looks? 
Zimmerman: He’s got button on his shirt, late teens. 
Dispatcher: Late teens ok. 
Racial and the Criminal Justice System
Zimmerman: Somethings wrong with him. Yup, he’s coming to check me out, he’s got 
something in his hands, I don’t know what his deal is. 
Dispatcher: Just let me know if he does anything ok 
Zimmerman: How long until you get an officer over here? 
Dispatcher: Yeah we’ve got someone on the way, just let me know if this guy does 
anything else. 
Zimmerman: Okay. These assholes they always get away. When you come to the 
clubhouse you come straight in and make a left. Actually you would go past the 
Dispatcher: So it’s on the lefthand side from the clubhouse? 
Zimmerman: No you go in straight through the entrance and then you make a left…uh 
you go straight in, don’t turn, and make a left. Shit he’s running. 
Dispatcher: He’s running? Which way is he running? 
Zimmerman: Down towards the other entrance to the neighborhood. 
Dispatcher: Which entrance is that that he’s heading towards? 
Zimmerman: The back entrance. ..fucking [unintelligible] 
Dispatcher: Are you following him? 
Zimmerman: Yeah 
Dispatcher: Ok, we don’t need you to do that. 
Zimmerman: Ok 
Dispatcher: Alright sir what is your name? 
Zimmerman: George. ..He ran. 
Dispatcher: Alright George what’s your last name? 
Zimmerman: Zimmerman 
Dispatcher: And George what’s the phone number you’re calling from? 
Zimmerman: [redacted] 
Dispatcher: Alright George we do have them on the way, do you want to meet with the 
officer when they get out there? 
Zimmerman: Alright, where you going to meet with them at? 
Zimmerman: If they come in through the gate, tell them to go straight past the 
club house, and uh, straight past the club house and make a left, and then they 
go past the mailboxes, that’s my truck.. .[unintelligible] 
Dispatcher: What address are you parked in front of? 
Zimmerman: I don’t know, it’s a cut through so I don’t know the address. 
Dispatcher: Okay do you live in the area? 
Zimmerman: Yeah, I. ..[unintelligible] 
Dispatcher: What’s your apartment number? 
Zimmerman: It’s a home it’s 1950, oh crap I don’t want to give it all out, I don’t 
know where this kid is. 
Dispatcher: Okay do you want to just meet with them right near the mailboxes 
Zimmerman: Yeah that’s fine. 
Dispatcher: Alright George, I’ll let them know to meet you around there okay? 
Zimmerman: Actually could you have them call me and I’ll tell them where I’m at? 
Dispatcher: Okay, yeah that’s no problem. 
Zimmerman: Should I give you my number or you got it? 
Dispatcher: Yeah I got it [redacted] 
Zimmerman: Yeah you got it. 
Dispatcher: Okay no problem, I’ll let them know to call you when you’re in the 
Zimmerman: Thanks. 
Racial and the Criminal Justice System
Dispatcher: You’re welcome. 
The dispatcher instructed George Zimmerman to “just let me know if this guy does anything else.” After reading the transcript the only thing the “guy” had done at all was wear a hoodie, have black skin and therefore look suspicious.  The call ended with the dispatcher instructing George Zimmerman not to run after Mr. Martin, yet he proceeded to do just that. He chased Travon with a loaded weapon, even though he was supossedly afraid for his life. Martin was quite possibly afraid for his own life which may explain why he was running away from Zimmerman. Martin wasn’t fast enough, Zimmerman caught up, he shot and killed Martin. Crime scene investigators took only one poor qualify cell phone photo was taken at the scene of the crime. Zimmerman was very politely taken down to the police station and questioned for less than an hour. He didn’t spend a second in jail, not even in a holding cell. He pleaded self-defense and that he feared for life, he was acquitted of all charges. This trial was about so much more than whether Zimmerman would get off or not. For so many minorities it was an opportunity for redemption and renewed faith in the criminal justice system…vindication, for Kendra James, Amadou Diallo, Manuel Loggins Jr. and Ronald Madison. 
Travon Martin was essentially tried for his own murder. Was it because of the color of his skin? That seemed to be his initial crime. The defense was brilliant. They should evidence that Trayvon Martin like thousands of other teenagers had been suspended from high school and smoked pot. Zimmerman had no idea Martin was suspended from school and no knowledge that he’d ever smoked marijuana a day in his life yet this was used as evidence to acquit Zimmerman. 
Racial and the Criminal Justice System
The Zimmerman trial was nostalgic and for many it brought to mind the historic Emit Till case. Like Travon his only real crime was that he was black, since it wasn’t illegal  whistle ( or perhaps in some southern states it may have been) nonetheless in 1955, Jackson Mississippi a white woman named Carolyn Bryant accused 14 year old till of whistling at her as she crossed the street. Bryan’s husband Roy and his brother J.W. Milam were accused of brutally beating and murdering the teen. An all-white jury acquitted them both—months later they confessed to Look Magazine they had in fact beaten and killed the 14-year-old. In her 2008 memoir Carolyn Bryant admitted to lying about the entire incident to Tim Tyson, author of The Blood of Emmett Till.