There is a pattern that involves law enforcement officers and the Black communities that is questioning police conduct, especially due to the recent shootings of unarmed Blacks all across the United States. You cannot rationally discuss the issues of race within the judicial system without looking back at history and why the issue of race is not all but gone. The United States has an infamous history of slavery, the Jim Crow laws, and many other racially based inequalities that make it apparent that race plays an important factor in many parts of the judicial system. The purpose of this paper is to recognize what role race plays within the judicial system and whether racial biases exist. On April 27, 2015, the city of Baltimore, Maryland, experienced serious unrest after Freddie Gray’s funeral. Gray, a 25-year-old Black male, suffered a spinal cord injury and crushed voice box while in Baltimore city police custody on April 12; he died on April 19.
Gray’s death capped more than 3 years of national and international attention turned to homicides of unarmed Black males in the United States: Trayvon Martin (a 17-year-old shot and killed in Sanford, Florida, by a neighborhood self-appointed watchman in February 2012), Eric Garner (a 43-year-old who died in July 2014 due to a choke hold by a Staten Island New York City police officer), Michael Brown (an 18-year-old who was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer in August 2014), Tamir Rice (a 12 year-old who was shot and killed seconds after a Cleveland, Ohio, police officer approached him in November 2014), and Walter Scott (a 50-year-old who was fatally shot in the back as he ran from a North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer on April 4, 2015), and others (Pratt-Harris, Sinclair and Bragg). When looking at the lethal actions taken in these cases you see the bias actions taken by the police officers due to the suspects being African American and having some sort of criminal background that they believe constitutes lethal actions to be taken upon encountering the suspects.
Most of the men had a violent criminal history which the officers and their legal counsel used to justify the use of deadly force, but what about the 12 year old who was outside playing innocently with a water gun? Why was he shot? Why would an officer assume a child puts him in danger? These are all questions that we will never know the answers to, but what we do know the answer to is the question of was there justice for the victims and their families, and the answer is a resounding No. There was no justice the officers are covered and protected by the laws of our nation. In a nation where law enforcement and their actions are seen to be correct no matter what the incident is there can be no justice for the innocently slain.
Racial profiling and police brutality against Blacks in America are neither emergent social phenomena nor uncommon practice. However, increased access to video of such incidents, social networking, and various forms of media outlets have magnified police victimization of Black males (Pratt-Harris, Sinclair and Bragg). The general public has started video recording incidents involving minorities when they encounter law enforcement to try and stave off any unnecessary use of force that the officers may try to use. In some cases, recording helps the officers use other means of detainment and in others officers will personally tell the camera man or woman that they don’t care that they are being recorded and proceed to use excessive force or continue the use of it.
A vast majority of police departments have issued body cams to their officers in an attempt to capture a complete interaction between officers and the civilians they encounter in the many lines of duty that they perform on a daily basis (traffic stops, court duty, foot patrol, etc.), but there is no real way to implement and force officers to have their body cams on and operational during every traffic stop and the same goes for the dash cam in the police cruisers, the instrument will have some kind of reasoning for not functioning that day or a mediocre excuse is given by the officer for why he did not feel the need to access his device at the time of the interaction.
American policing, from its onset, targeted Blacks, via slave patrols that captured runaway Black slaves. Police have always relied on violence, but a “shoot-to-kill” trend began during the Progressive Era of law enforcement in the United States. Black males are consistently disproportionate victims of racial profiling and police brutality (Pratt-Harris, Sinclair and Bragg). As Pratt-Harris, Sinclair, and Bragg stated blacks were forcibly brought to the United States and have been victimized by racist and discriminatory practices that include attacks and assaults (Pratt-Harris, Sinclair and Bragg). When Blacks were enslaved they were viewed as property and not as human beings, violence was used to maintain and keep order and functionality within the management of their property by slave owners.
The thought of Black Americans being maintained in inferior conditions using violence is not as far-fetched as it may seem. While the Rodney King beating spurred the first examinations of police-involved violence and death of unarmed Black males in recent history, public policy, police training, and general community practices have not led to significant changes in the treatment of Black males in the criminal justice system and in society at large. There are countless incidents in which Black males have been under siege and encountered the danger of being profiled, targeted to be arrested, or incarcerated.
Increasingly, many, including professors and parents, have galvanized and joined forces with national and local organizations, along with Black media, to form a national movement to address the problem of community and police violence. Movements such as “Black Lives Matter” have illuminated the pervasive problem of police brutality and the extent to which Black families have historically faced overt racism and discrimination, spawned by the premises of White supremacy. We agree with many scholars who argue that many view police brutality as warranted because of preconceived negative perceptions of Black males as “prototypical criminals”.
Instead, Black males should be viewed as victims (Pratt-Harris, Sinclair and Bragg). The Assistant Professor of Social Welfare at Florida State University Elliot M. Rudwick wrote an article titled “Police Work and Negroes” and within the article he speaks of the racial profiling and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers. He also speaks of educating law enforcement with educational programs focused towards reducing racial profiling and the assumptions of minorities and their violent character due to rumors or past aggressions. During his studies he found indications that some police officers still use and justify illegal violent methods in handling suspects and in making arrests.
Such mistreatment is especially exercised against individuals in the lower socioeconomic groups, and particularly Negroes. Some law enforcement officers believe that colored people ‘will respond only to fear and rough treatment’. According to one policeman, ‘If you don’t treat them rough, they will sit right on top of your head’ (Rudwick). Some may view these statements as true but for the most part the statements above are the reasoning behind the violent nature of police and minority encounters. Minorities are just like everyone else and when spoken to and treated like everyone else will more likely than not cooperate and peaceful adhere to the laws of our Nation. The actions of cumulative selection of people should not speak for an entire race or community.
Quite a few people if addressed appropriately would not “sit right on top of your head” due to you not treating them rough. Minorities are often looked at as less than the “white man” and treated with less respect and spoken to as if unintelligent, that’s when respect becomes an issue and officers may receive the feedback that they don’t routinely receive from the “white man” or community. If someone walks up to you and attempts to arrest you without cause or explanation would you as a white American except that and allow yourself to be taken into custody? There are laws in place that give you the right to ask and question the reasoning behind your arrest, but in the case of minorities when exercising those rights you are deemed to be resisting so officers then proceed to attempt to arrest you with more force and that leads to the belief that your resisting arrest and then the excessive force follows because you continue to resist cause at that very moment you still haven’t received a viable explanation to why your being arrested in the first place.
Complicating the problem of police prejudice was the observation that Negroes, more frequently than whites, resisted arrest. However, such resistance was often related to the racial discrimination exhibited by white officers (Rudwick). Progressive administrators recognize that policemen who believe Negroes are inherently stupid or lawless may cause trouble for themselves and the force. Law enforcement leaders have tried to do something about reeducating the attitudes of their men regarding racial groups (Rudwick).
Trying to educate officers on racial biases and how not to discriminate can be difficult for upper administration due to the overwhelming case load that they and their officers have to handle. Communities around the US have days where they bring officers and the community together in an effort to build unity. These events help but when things continue to show no improvement and officers still get away with using lethal force without merit other than the thought of the individual having a weapon even though it may turn out to be a pack of skittles, a bottle of soda, or them innocently trying to show identification after being asked to do so, things like this cause and bring stress to an already broken relationship between law enforcement and minorities.
In Samuel R. Aymer’s’ article “I can’t breathe”: A case study—Helping Black men cope with race related trauma stemming from police killing and brutality, he touches base and addresses the killing of unarmed Black men in America. To be male and Black in America means that one must contend with omnipresent occurrences of racial and gender profiling on multiple levels (e.g., being arrested while Black, shopping while Black, driving while Black) of society (Aymer). Black men have it painstakingly more difficult in America than White men or even Black women. One mistake and you are deemed a thug or your violent, even if you were protecting yourself or family.
The main focus of his article was to focus on unjust aggression leading to the killing of unarmed Black men. Critical Race Theory has established that the liberation of Black people in America can’t happen without interrogating and analyzing how the horrific reality of enslavement, centuries of discrimination, and unequal treatment have affected this group (Aymer). The nexus between historical and contemporary practices of state sanctioned violence against Black people can be examined though the following six CRT domains:
- CRT recognizes that racism is endemic to American life;
- CRT expresses skepticism about the dominant legal claims of neutrality, objectivity, color blindness, and meritocracy;
- CRT challenges ahistorism and insists on a contextual historical analysis of the law;
- CRT insists on the recognizing of the experiential knowledge of people of color and our communities of origin in analyzing law and society;
- CRT is interdisciplinary and eclectic; and
- CRT works toward the end of eliminating racial oppression as part of the broader goal of eliminating oppression in general.
Aspects of these domains can provide a backdrop for exploring how race and gender (with respect to Black men) are understood and examined through the lenses of institutionalized sociopolitical structures in American society (Aymer). Aymer believes there is an unwritten context that is the reasoning behind racial profiling and the mistreatment and innocent blood of unarmed black men that is being spilled and it is to keep White Supremacy alive in retrospect. Conflict theory is based on an understanding of how dominant social groups advance their status and power to strengthen their benefits.
Although conflict is inevitable in human interactions and dynamics, conflict theory asserts that the power differential in human transactions is underlined by oppression, exploitation, and social control of others to sustain social order and uphold the rights of the privileged. Moreover, “conflict theory holds that law and the mechanisms of its enforcement are used by dominant groups in society to minimize threats to their interests posed by those whom they label as dangerous, especially minorities and the poor powerful group. Societal negative projections of Black men (e.g., images of this group as thugs, thieves, criminals, uneducated) lay the foundation for why this group is perceived as a menace to society; thus, conflict theory can be used to understand why profiling is used to combat criminality.