An Academic Paper Written by a Criminal Justice Student in 2004 (Bachelor of Science)

Arrests and Racial Discrimination
Name is Hidden
Professor Sever
October 14, 2004

Racism and discrimination has been present in America since the Europeans stepped foot on the land in 1492. The early colonial period brought with it slavery, and when slavery was later abolished, negative treatment toward minorities did not change either in the justice system or with the rest of Anglo-America. Racism and discrimination have shown their faces through slavery, negative treatment towards minorities, unequal treatment in the workplace, racial segregation, and racial inequality where arrests and incarceration are concerned. This paper will examine the root cause of racism to prove that racism and discrimination exist in the criminal justice system; more specifically, in the arrest process in the system.  


     Racism is the cause of racial discrimination, and it comes in many forms. The United States has proven this fact by discriminating against minorities in every possible way. Civil rights advocates have been present through all of this, and have made changes in order to ensure civil rights to all, but, how far have the United states really come? Is it fair to say that because slavery was abolished, and because African Americans may vote, and are allowed to be jurors, that justice has come a long way? What about the African American and other minority disparities in arrest rates? Is it just that, or is race still the deciding factor? It seems that discrimination due to racism is the deciding factor, and in order to prove this premise, this paper will show a racial and discriminative American history.


     African Americans are arrested at a disproportionately higher rate than white and Hispanic Americans. In 2000, the percentage of murders committed between white Americans (48.7%) and African Americans (48.8%) looks balanced, but in fact, is not when population is factored in. White Americans are 80% of the US population, whereas African Americans are only 12% of the population, proving either that black people are more criminal than other people groups, or that discrimination plays a large role in the disproportionately high rates in African American arrests. The latter is a more reasonable assumption.

     Before we can decide that racial inequality does indeed exist, racism must first be defined because an understanding of racism is important. Racism is what causes discrimination and discrimination is what causes people to act negatively toward minorities. Evidence must show that (1) American roots are based on racism and discrimination, (2) racism and discrimination existed within the American government and civilians participated (3) racism and discrimination still exists in America between white citizens and minorities, and (4) racism and discrimination still exist in the justice system. Evidence that is not refutable must be shown in order to be able to charge racial inequality.


     According to Webster’s Dictionary (1997), discriminate defined is to distinguish or differentiate between someone or something on the basis of race, sex, class, or religion; to act prejudicially (p.109). Racism is defined as a thought or belief that one race is better than another race (p.331). According to one source, when someone discriminates against racial minorities, the person “makes invidious distinctions, based on negative judgments about an entire group of people. That is, the person discriminates against all African Americans without reference to a particular person’s qualities” such as experience, education, or ability (Walker et al. 2004). Based on these definitions, is it fair to say that many white Americans are racist and that discrimination against other races does in fact exist? Is there proof of racial inequality in America?


     Based on the above definitions, it is fair to say that the United States criminal justice system, juvenile justice system, and most of Anglo-America is racist, as the white race believes they are superior to other races. This is demonstrated in the way white Americans discriminate against other races by treating them as less than human, and by segregating the races. An example of this is when African Americans were forced to sit at the back of the bus, but where did it all begin? 

     Racism is deeply rooted and has played a large role in evolution. Meaning, racism, and discrimination is older than dirt, and in fact is probably the reason why different races still exist today. Maybe this behavior can be attributed to survival of the fittest and is actually very natural, which is understandable on countries and continents that are "racially" homogeneous, but America is not "racially" homogeneous, and in fact, has never been. Anthropologists maintain the Americas have been populated for approximately 40,000 years, and when the European Spaniards arrived, there were millions of Native Americans occupying American land. Christopher Columbus imposed Roman Catholicism on them and tore down existing temples to replace them with churches (Whiteford & Whiteford, 1998). This is when racism truly began in the Americas.

    The indigenous people of North America were being forced to act white and told not to speak in their native tongue, causing only 361,978 of the two- million people who identify as Native Americans today to speak their native languages (Rafferty et al., 2003. p.7). Many "Indians" were forced into slavery, and the Spanish and Portuguese crowns encouraged slave importation from Africa early in the colonial period. Five million slaves were imported to America, and slavery was a common practice in North and South America as well as "race mixing."

   Africans were treated like animals, savages, sub-human beings, and this treatment did not end with slavery. African Americans were unable to vote, not eligible to serve on juries (Walker et al.), and were forced to sit at the back of the bus. Marriage between "interracial" couples was against the law and "race-mixing" to this day is looked down upon. These facts are the proven history of racism and discrimination in America. An examination of current arrest statistics coupled with public views is necessary in order to charge that racial inequality exists today.  

     Statistics: There is an unexplainable overrepresentation of blacks being arrested and the cause is either the result of police disparity or police discrimination. Minorities are arrested more often than whites and in 2000, although blacks constituted only 12% of the US population, they represented 27.9% of all arrests. According to Black, "blacks" were arrested more than "whites" mainly because they were disrespectful to the police. According to the NCVS reports, crime victims perceive single-offender robberies to be committed by an African American 46.5 % of the time. After analyzing 5,688 police-citizen encounters in 24 police departments, Smith, Visher, and Davidson found that the police were more likely to proceed with arrest if the suspect was black and the victim was white (Walker et al.)

     According to Cureton (2000), the difference in the unfavorable socioeconomic status of 
blacks did not affect arrest differentials for all offense categories, however, blacks living in segregated cities governed by white elites (where at least 50% of government employees were white), were more likely to be arrested, regardless of their criminal conduct (Zhang, H., & Zhao, R. 2004). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the prevalence of imprisonment in 2001 was higher for * black males (16.6%) and Hispanic males (7.7%) than for white males (2.6%) * black females (1.7%) and Hispanic females (0.7%) than white females (0.3%) (BJS, [n.d.). Kendall (2004) maintains that Latino Americans represent approximately twelve percent of the U.S. population and they account for nearly thirteen percent of all arrests (Gutstein, J., 2004).

     The following are statistics from Cannibis news: Nationally, one-third of black men aged 20 and 29 are locked up, on probation or on parole, up from one in four in 1990. Black women have become the fastest-growing population in the criminal justice system, increasing by 78 percent from 1989-1994. Over 80 percent of the 1.2 million annual drug arrests are black males. Crack users, (usually black); face sentences five times harsher than powder cocaine users, (usually white). In California, although black males constitute only 3.7 percent of the overall population, they account for one-third of the prison population. In Sacramento County, blacks constitute 9 percent of the population but account for 50 percent of those arrested due to resisting arrest (Cannibis News).

     Other Views: According to Finkelman;

     By the time of the revolution, slavery and race were tied together. The revolution tied a new wrinkle in the ideology of race and slavery. By asserting that “all men were created equal,” The Declaration of Independence might have undermined slavery, but the primary author of that document-who owned more than 150 slaves at the time-also found a way out of the implications of his own words. In “Notes on the State of Virginia” Thomas Jefferson began to lay out the argument for scientific racism. He asserted that blacks were not as intelligent as whites, that they did not love like whites, that black men lusted after white women, and that they lacked foresight and were unable to write poetry and music. Most importantly of all, Jefferson gave his blessings to what would become the scientific racism of the 19th century while consistently opposing any rights for free blacks and refusing to support any measures to bring an end to slavery (Finkelman, P. ABA Network).

     Horne maintains that “Because of racism in the criminal justice system, blacks are more likely to be arrested, convicted, and given stricter sentences.” (Race Relations, 1996. p, 135). Horne also states that more blacks than other races are in prison because of a legacy of slavery due to racism. “The newly independent government saw no other use for non-slave blacks except imprisonment, and, to an extent, the animus that motivated that policy continues to persist to this very day” (Horne, G. p.136). 

     African Americans are over-represented in terms of their overall population and their arrest statistics. The main reason that has been ascribed to this phenomenon deals with the practice of certain police tactics that ultimately result in the arrest of a member of a minority group. For example, the lack of parity with regard to prison sentences greatly affects the number of minority group members who are sentenced to prison sentences. Furthermore, police generally concentrate the majority of their patrols in areas where minorities are the most dominant (Kendall, 2004). Even this practice seems somewhat paradoxical because numerous studies have shown that there are disproportionate arrest statistics even in areas where whites are the dominant group (Cannibis News).


     Many opposing views exist but are neither true nor helpful to this essay, The fact is that this country has a historical reputation of racism and discrimination, and based on that alone gives us enough evidence to believe that the African American population is disproportionately discriminated, profiled racially, arrested, incarcerated, and mandated to harsher sentences. Whether many of the crimes have been committed depends on another study, but if African Americans are more criminal than other races, which I believe for only these reasons to be true; the reason lies in:


unfair treatment, and

learned criminal behavior due to living in sub-standard communities, which call all be attributed to racism.  


     Racism and racial discrimination are historically rooted in America leading back to European take-over in 1492. The Spanish imposed Roman Catholicism on Native Americans, and then imported 5 million African slaves to America. When slavery was abolished racism continued to exist in America by not affording equal opportunities to racial minorities. This included no voting or jury rights to blacks, and forbidden interracial marriages. Today, the criminal justice system and much of Anglo-America continue to discriminate against minorities as shown in the disproportionate arrest rates in African Americans.


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