Is The U.S. Justice System Actually Racist? Consider These 9 Examples

This is bigger than McKinney.

Lately it seems like a new, disturbing example of police violence against people of color surfaces every week. The most recent example is the video of a police officer who wrestled a fifteen-year-old in a bathing suit to the ground and pulled his weapon on unarmed teenagers at a pool party in McKinney, Texas.

Thankfully, no one in McKinney was seriously physically harmed, and the officer in question has since resigned, but the video comes in the wake of the killings of Ezell Ford, Walter Scott, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and Yvette Smith, to name just a few. As a result, there have been hundreds of protests nationwide in the last year, people are more vigilant than ever about filming the police, and we’re having a much-needed national conversation about race and police violence.

While some people continue to insist that these are isolated incidents, and that racism is over in America, this is an ideal moment for us to remember that police violence isn’t the only problem facing people of color in the U.S. -- in fact, racial prejudice is easily observable at nearly every step in the criminal justice system. Consider these 9 examples.

A 16-year-old was held at Rikers Island prison for 3 years without ever being convicted of a crime.

When he was 16 years old, Kalief Browder was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack--a crime he had always maintained he never committed. During his three years at Rikers, he was beaten by guards and held in solitary confinement for about two years, where he attempted to end his life several times. He was eventually released, without ever having a trial or being convicted of a crime. Browder was 22 years old when he took his own life on June 6th, 2015.

A member of the Black Panther Party was just released after enduring 40 years of solitary confinement.

Albert Woodfox was released on June 8th, 2015 after enduring the longest stint of solitary confinement in U.S. history, over the death of a prison guard during a riot Angola prison in 1972 -- a crime he has always maintained he didn’t commit.

Woodfox claims he was only ever included in the case because he helped organize the prison’s Black Panther Party chapter, and human rights organizations have long called for his release. According to USA Today, the judge’s order calling for Woodfox’s release “Cited numerous reasons, including an agreement with Woodfox's earlier argument that he received ineffective counsel. The judge also noted that the state cheated at the trial to get a conviction...”

A businesswoman from Long Island was drugged and locked in a psych ward for 8 days because police refused to believe her successful career was real.

Last year the NYPD pulled Kamilah Brock over in Harlem and seized her BMW saying she was high on marijuana. They seized the vehicle (no drugs were ever found), and when Brock went to pick it up the next day, she was forcibly sedated and sent to a mental institution. Doctors demanded she deny both that she worked at a bank and that President Obama followed her on Twitter before they would release her -- instead of simply looking online to verify her claims. After she was released, the hospital sent her a bill for $13,000.

A fifteen-year-old got arrested for throwing Skittles on the school bus in Louisiana.



We recently ran a story about Jefferson Parish, the Louisiana school with a frequent habit of calling the police on black teenagers and having them arrested for things that aren’t really crimes -- just broken school rules. As it turns out, this is actually a national problem: There’s a well-documented tendency for students of color to wind up in handcuffs while their white classmates end up in after-school detention or parent-teacher conferences.

One of every three Black males will go to prison in their lifetimes.

The Sentencing Project

Sentencing Project

According to Pew, Black men are more than six times as likely to be incarcerated as whites. According to the NAACP, “Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population.” According to, almost 9% of Black men and 4% of Latino men in their late 20’s in the U.S. are behind bars.

And it’s not much better for women.

Overall, far fewer women are imprisoned than men in the U.S., but the number is still vast, and still made up disproportionately of women of color. Black women represent only 13% of the female population in the US, but 30% of incarcerated women are black. Hispanic women represent only 11% of the female population in the US, but 16% of incarcerated women are hispanic. Minority youth are also disproportionately represented in incarcerated populations.

People of color are stopped by police way more often than white people.

The statistics are alarming. In New York City, people of color make up about 50% of the population, but 83% of the 4.4 million people stopped and frisked by police between 2004 and 2012 were Black or Latino. 88% of them were found to be doing nothing wrong. This happens everywhere, to both drivers and pedestrians.

An in-depth ACLU report on driving while black found that people of color are not only more likely to be pulled over nationwide, but are also more likely to receive citations or be arrested.

People of color receive longer sentences for the same exact crimes.

According to the Sentencing Project, a ten-year study found that “blacks received sentences 5.5 months longer than whites and Hispanics received sentences 4.5 months longer than whites.” When income was considered, “Blacks with incomes of less than $5,000 were sentenced most harshly of all, receiving sentences that were on average 6.2 months longer than other defendants.”

Black defendants get the death penalty far more often.

According to the ACLU, a Federal study from 1995-2000 found that “80% of all the federal capital cases recommended by U.S. Attorneys to the Attorney General seeking the death penalty involved people of color. Even after review by the Attorney General, 72% of the cases approved for death penalty prosecution involved minority defendants.”

To learn more and find out what you can do to can help create change, visit The Sentencing Project.

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