Have you ever done anything illegal? Have you ever thought you would be arrested for doing something illegal? What about being arrested for “just looking suspicious”? If you are a white individual in America, especially if you are male, you have probably never worried about being arrested and view the police as protectors who keep your city safe. Change the color of your skin and suddenly you have to worry about being arrested for doing nothing more than standing on a street corner in a high crime neighborhood. Police are now no longer the saviors of the city, keeping you safe at night; they are your worst nightmare, brought to life in the bright light of day. “Blacks are far more likely to be arrested than any other racial group in the USA. In some places, dramatically so” (Heath, 2014).
There is no telling exactly why there is such a dramatic disparate in arrest rates, it could be racial discrimination, it could be socio-economic factors, the neighborhood you live in, or the amount of education you have received (Heath, 2014). Whatever factor you place the blame on, or if you place blame on all the factors, the fact remains the same: the United States’ Criminal Justice System has a problem, a big one.
The U.S. prison population looks very different from the country’s actual demographics. According to the Pew Research Center (2018), blacks represent 12% of U.S. adults, but 33% of the sentenced prison population whereas whites represent 64% of adults in the U.S., but only 30% of prisoners. This discrepancy is astounding, but imprisonment rates themselves are not the only bad news for African Americans. Criminal records have a huge impact on future success, and the negative impact created by a criminal record is twice as large for African Americans (NAACP, 2019).
The outcry from the communities about this injustice has caused many police departments to implement anti-bias training, but is this an effective way to reduce the rates of African American incarceration? There are studies out there that suggest that training someone to not show racial bias could potentially actually increase racial bias (Kaste, 2015). Also, there has not been much research on the long-term effects of anti-bias training on police, so there is no guarantee that these trainings are actually effective (Kaste, 2015). Besides, police bias may not be the main cause of African American incarceration.
African Americans make up a large percentage of the low-income population, which decreases the opportunities available to them. The percentage of young black men not working or enrolled in school is twice as high as it is for young white men (Comey, 2015). Many minority communities are struggling with lack of adequate education and decent employment opportunities (Comey, 2015). Not only that, but these low-income neighborhoods have a legacy of crime and the minority individuals growing up in these neighborhoods inherit that legacy and become involved in crime (Comey, 2015).
Police bias is part of the problem, but the way our society is structured is the main culprit in this mess. In addition to changing our policing policies, we need to work together to help the disadvantaged groups in our society gain more opportunities so that they can break out of the cycle of crime and poverty.
Comey, J. (2015, February 12). Hard Truths: Law Enforcement and Race. Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/news/speeches/hard-truths-law-enforcement-and-race
Gramlich, J. (2018, January 12). Gap between number of blacks, whites in prison narrows. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/12/shrinking-gap-between-number-of-blacks-and-whites-in-prison/
Heath, B. (2014, November 19). Racial gap in U.S. arrest rates: ‘Staggering disparity’. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/11/18/ferguson-black-arrest-rates/19043207/
Kaste, M. (2015, April 06). Police Officers Debate Effectiveness Of Anti-Bias Training. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2015/04/06/397891177/police-officers-debate-effectiveness-of-anti-bias-training
NAACP. (2019). Criminal Justice Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/