Racial Discrimination in the US Judicial System

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Racial discrimination in the US judicial system has been a much studied subject. Within the past 15 years there have been several cases in our country that undisputedly point to law enforcement making decisions based solely on race. It is difficult to determine if these isolated incidents are a mirror of the system as a whole or products of individual free will. The fact that there are many different points in the court process where discrimination can happen is a main issue with trying to determine if any single group is favored in the judicial system. Statistically, 44% of the US prison population is black as of the 2000 US Census. The remainder population is made up of whites, Hispanics, and others. (1) But is this disproportional population a result of African Americans committing more crimes than other races, or is it due to minorities being targeted by law enforcement? By taking a detailed look at each step in the process it is possible to dissect the system as a whole and make an informed decision on the role of racism. When an officer begins to investigate a possible crime, there are many factors that propel the progression of events. Everything from location to the attitude of people involved to an officer’s previous experience determines the outcome of the investigation. One very recent incident near Harvard University is a prime example of these elements coming into play. On July 16, 2009 Harvard Professor Henry Gates, Jr., an African American, was arrested by white Sgt. James Crowley. In his report, Sgt. Crowley stated that Gates was arrested “after being observed exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior, in a public place, directed at a uniformed police officer who was present investigating a report of a cr... ... middle of paper ... ...Commission attempted several times to reduce the discrepancy, basing the change on the scientific approach that crack and powder cocaine have the same chemical makeup. Thus far, the 1988 Act has yet to be reworded. Many attorneys have found ways to circumvent the system by working out plea bargains for lesser charges for cooperation with authorities. In the 2005 case of US v. Booker, the Supreme Court determined that a judge can only base a sentence on prior convictions and facts presented at trial. This also gave federal judges the right to sentence criminals outside of the Federal Guidelines range, as long as the court can explain “why a sentence outside of the Sentencing Guideline range better serves the relevant purposes set forth.” (6) Even though the racial discrepancies between crack and cocaine still exist, the debate on rewriting the laws continues.

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