Recently there has been a national conversation about race and racism, but this conversation has been inadequate at best and detrimental at worst. The problem is that the conversation has not been about racism as a systemic and institutional problem, but the conversation has been about whether or not individual acts of prejudice constitute racism. This conversation then completely ignores the structural problems that create racial disparities, and therefore completely misses the point of what our national conversation about race should be about. Perhaps the most significant source of structural racism is the United States justice system, where justice is not always blind.
According to a recent study, a defendant accused of killing a white person in North Carolina is nearly three times as likely to get the death penalty than someone accused of killing a black person. This study looked at death sentence in North Carolina over a 28 year period, and examined 15,281 homicides in the state of which 368 resulted in death sentences. The results of the study where that the odds of receiving a death sentence in cases where the victim was white were 2.96 times as high as the odds in cases with black victims. This finding is not unique. According to another study, blacks who kill whites are significantly more likely to face the death penalty in Maryland than are blacks who kill blacks or white killers
Race is not only one of the determining factors in who receives the death penalty, but in who is stopped by the police, especially when police are racially profiling. In New York 575,304 people stopped and frisked by the New York Police Department last year, and information was gathered on individuals being detained to build a database on citizens who had not committed any crime. According to a report by New America Media, 87% of those who where detained where people of color. While Governor Paterson recently signed a law that made it illegal for police to randomly detain and frisk individuals and to compile their private information, this illustrates another example of the structural racism that exists in the justice system.
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However, President Obama will soon sign a bill that was passed by Congress this week that will reform the mandatory federal sentences for crack and powder cocaine violations. Since 1986 someone convicted of possession of five grams of crack was required to be sentenced to at least five years in prison, and possession of 10 grams requires a 10-year minimum sentence, however those sentences are 100 times more server than someone convicted of possession of the same amounts of powder cocaine. The racial element comes into play when you consider that blacks are far more likely to be arrested for possession of crack than whites who are more likely to be arrested with cocaine. Even though crack and cocaine are essential the same drug, they where treated differently even though the only difference was the people who where likely to use them. According to an article in the New York Times, the law changes the amount of crack that would require a five-year minimum sentence is raised to 28 and for a 10-year sentence is raised to 280 grams.
While this new law reduces the racial disparities in the justice system, although many experts believe it does nor reduce it enough, the fact remains that structure racism still exist throughout several aspects of the justice system. From a Justice Department study that found that that blacks are far more likely than whites to have their cars and persons searched after a traffic stop, even though whites, when searched, are more than four times as likely to have drugs or other illegal contraband, to a report by Human Rights Watch that found that a majority of persons admitted to prison for drug offenses are black, even though there are about six times more white users nationwide.
For all of the rhetoric that the mainstream media likes to use about the idea of a "post-racial" the fact is that America is still deeply divided along racial lines. We are even divided along racial lines when it comes to the fundamental right to equal protection under the law. Before we talk about color blindness we should talk about the fact that our justice system is not even blind to color.