Criminal justice should be based on moral and ethical values and norms. One cannot build a perfect criminal justice system without respect of police officers to each other and to people who surround them no matter of what race they are. At the present time, there exists such problem as racism when police officers accuse African Americans of crimes even if they are not guilty.
This research paper reveals the issue of racism and inequality in the criminal justice system.
This paper shows two approaches to this problem. The first one states that there is no racism in criminal justice system; and the second approach supports the presence of racism in criminal justice system.
This research paper shows the imperfectness of the criminal justice system and the main causes of racism in criminal justice. This paper is devoted to the description of the moral, ethical social, political and economic factors that influence the existence of racism in criminal justice system.
Key Words: the criminal justice system, racism, police officers, race.
The criminal justice system is responsible for personal freedom, public order and decrease in violence. There is an abundance of crimes, evils and violence in the society and the role of criminal justice system is to be a protector and a keeper of order. The breaches in law result in the negative consequences and increasing of violence. One cannot characterize the juridical system as a perfect one. The results of functioning of this system are negative ones and lead to damaging people's life without evidence. The notions “justice” and “fairness” are absent in the criminal justice system. The sharpest problem is racism in criminal justice (Reiman, 2010).
Bibas (2012) characterizes criminal justice today as “ little more than a game driven by mutually reinforcing dynamics leading to a vortex of overcriminalization and penal severity: the power of insiders (notably prosecutors) to shape criminal enforcement creates a gap between the law and process as declared and the law in action ’’.
American criminal justice is characterized by inequality. However, the problem is that the causes of this phenomenon are obscure. Some researches prove that this is because American society is economically and racially polarized. The minorities and poor citizens also insist on the opinion that the criminal justice system is racist. African Americans are convinced that the criminal justice system is against them. It sounds strangely at the time of struggling for equality between races. Moreover, the criminal justice system objects to racism from their side.
The problem of racism is deep, and it is influenced not only by imperfectness of the criminal justice system but also by economic, social and political trends. Andrews (2010) stated:
The fundamental problems of the criminal justice system primarily in terms of the broader dynamics of race and indeed racism in American history, arguing that the criminal justice system in general, and the prison system in particular, have taken up where slavery and Jim Crow left off in ensuring the perpetual exclusion of a large portion of the African American populace from full citizenship .
It is evident that racism in criminal justice is connected to the slavery and African American abuse.
There are four objectives of this paper. The first one is to reveal the problem of racism in criminal justice. The second objective is to study the approach that claims the absence of racism in criminal justice system. The third one is to study the approach that states about presence of racism in criminal justice system. The last objective is to reveal the main causes of racism in criminal justice.
Criminal Justice and Racism
Criminal justice should be based on moral and ethical values and norms. One can not build a perfect criminal justice system without respect of police officers to each other and to people who surround them no matter of what race they are. At the present time, the problem as racism is evident when police officers accuse African Americans of crimes, even if they are not guilty. This is an illegal and outrageous behavior of police officers. It is nonsense that people who do not follow laws decide the destiny of other individuals and have the right to accuse them of crimes (Tavares & Thomas, 2010).
Abuse of power, police crimes, illegal acts, violation of human rights are issues which African Americans face very often. Absence of ethical norms and equality in society lead to crimes and violence.
As to the problem of racism in criminal justice, it is the sharpest one. Lacey (2012) states that they main reason of collapse of criminal justice are absence of moral and ethical principles in police officers. Some researchers of criminal justice system suppose that it needs immediate reforms for improvement and development as it is problematic and defective. The problem is that not all people admit imperfectness of the criminal justice system and existence of such negative social phenomenon as racism. Some researchers of criminal justice system suppose that this is an absence of democracy in full of measure that provokes racism and inequality. Bibas (2012) states: “Criminal justice has become "a zero-sum contest rather than a multi-faceted morality play," with baleful consequences for all concerned .
People demand the only thing from the criminal justice system, which is to make their streets safe and protect them from crimes and violence. However, the statistics shows that one quarter of officers are racially biased toward African Americans and other minorities. More than one quarter of police officers stated that they used excessive force to minorities. One can distinguish such aspects of racism in criminal justice: ideological racism, personal prejudice and institutional racism.
There are two approaches to criminal justice. One approach states that the criminal justice system is not racist, and another one claims that it is racist. In the following paragraphs the peculiarities of both approaches are revealed.
William Wilbanks (1987) supposes that the criminal justice system is not racist. This criminologist justifies racial disparities in the American justice system and sees it as a normal phenomenon. He is blind and does not see this as an evil of criminal justice. He is convinced that in criminal justice, there is no discrimination, everything is fair and just. However, this is an idealistic opinion about the criminal justice system that does not reflect the real situation.
The approach that supports the criminal justice system as not racist is supported by the argument that the seriousness of the crime and legal evidence define whether a person is guilty or innocent. If decisions in the criminal justice system depended on this, there would be no people who were accused wrongly and unsolved cases. It is easier to accuse an innocent poor African American, who does not have the possibility to prove his/her innocence. The term of Willbanks (1987) “systematic racism” implies that racism exists, but nobody wants to admit this. Criminologist William Wilbanks worked in the criminal justice system that is why he knew exactly whether racism was present or absent.
The Criminal Justice System Is Racist and The Criminal Justice System Is not Racist are the works of William Wilbanks concerning the issue of racism. However, they contradict each other. One can support the existence of racism or object to it. However, Willbanks stated that in all parts of criminal justice system including courts, corrections and police one can face racial discrimination. However, there is no racial discrimination in the criminal justice process.
It is nonsense to regard racial discrimination in the criminal justice system in such a way. Racial discrimination exists or does not exist. The researchers who support the approach of absence of racism in criminal justice prove that there is no evidence that directly indicates racism.
However, it is evident that the absence of racism in one part of criminal justice cannot be a reason for stating that the criminal justice system is not racist. Contrary, the presence of racism at one stage of criminal justice is a reason for stating that criminal justice is racist.
Samuel Walker, Cassia Spohn, and Miriam DeLone belong to those who are convinced that the criminal justice system is racist. However, they also do not name the criminal justice system completely racist. It gives hope that one can solve this issue. Samuel Walker (1998) states: “The criminal justice system is neither completely free of racial bias nor systematically biased .” It means that there are cases of racial discrimination and one should struggle with those in order not to distribute this negative phenomenon in the society.
Criminologists conducted research in order to determine the level of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system in the USA. The conducted research has shown that racial discrimination is not systemic. Individual cases are not the markers of complete racial discrimination. However, one should take into consideration these individual cases. The perceptions of this problem by two parties: whites and racial/ethnic groups are different. Racial/ethnic groups see this problem sharper, and whites see it not so sharply.
Historically known case concerning racial discrimination was the Dred Scott’s case. Dred Scott was the slave, one of the abused and humiliated people who did not know what freedom was. He experienced the hard suffering, pain, cruel treatment, awful thraldom and violent attitude of the hateful slave owners. Dred Scott was known for suing the freedom for himself, his wife and his daughters in the historically known case the Dred Scott Decision. It was the famous case, which was one of the attempts of the slaves to get their freedom. As we see here is an ethical problem of racism.
However, even at the present time society faces such cases. Despite the absence of slavery in the society, African Americans do not feel that they have the same rights as the whites do, especially when it concerns the criminal justice system.
In order to solve the problem of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, the society should ruin the stereotype of whites toward black people who were supposed to be the lower race. African Americans are not people of lower race. They are capable of professional skills and hard-working; they are also intellectual and moral beings that needed nothing except equal treatment.
Racial discrimination is the problem of the criminal justice system. One can solve it teaching ethical and moral principles to police officers. Ethics and moral principles always give the chance to a person to admit his/her mistake. However, if one commits a crime, according to laws one should receive a punishment: fines, community work or imprisonment. The absence of moral culture leads to people perceiving themselves as superior compared to others.
It is difficult to settle the issue of racial discrimination when two sides become emotional and follow their own ideology. When there is the ideology of racism, it is difficult to solve any problem, it is impossible for African Americans and other minority groups to defend his rights. To my mind, the obsession with any kind of ideology has a bad influence on our society.
Even nowadays the ideology exists. The most popular ideology is that white people think that they are superior to other races. It is high time to ruin this ideology. Despite this fact, it still exists. All people are created equal and to have the equal rights. I believe that we should eradicate the ideology of racism and become more kind-hearted.
The Main Causes of Racism in Criminal Justice
Regarding the causes of racism in criminal justice system, it is necessary to mention that there are a lot of them. First of all, it is a historical problem that was provoked by slavery of African Americans. It is difficult to root out the issues that have a long history. Secondly, this problem is of a social character as it concerns stereotypical perception of another race by people. According to Richard Wilkinson, social inequality has impact on people’s lifespan, health, relationships and mood . As Michael Sandel (2009) states, its purpose is to improve the quality of life in the society. However, to my mind, social and racial inequality gives birth to violence and crimes.
According to Dr. Martin Luther King, there should be peace, racial justice, economic justice and brotherhood in the world. He said: “All I am saying is simply this: that all mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny”. It means that racial justice can be reached only when everybody will be interested in it. The society is one big mechanism and one cannot stop one of its processes, which is social discrimination, without its interference (Sandel, 2009).
Aristotle stated: “Justice discriminates according to merit, according to the relevant excellence… It would be unjust to discriminate on any other basis, such as wealth, or nobility of birth, or physical beauty, or chance (a lottery)”. It means that one cannot root out nobility, wealth and physical beauty as very often they are obtained at birth. Even if the person possesses these qualities, there will always be people luckier than him/her, or those who will be able to stand out among the others (Sandel, 2009). The same is with the racial discrimination, as the whites suppose they are higher and nobler than other races.
I think that racial discrimination harms everyone. It provokes contradictions between people, especially when it concerns criminal justice. However, the society with racial equality is utopia. At the same time one should try to root it out. Racial discrimination is barbaric behavior at the present time. Black people are the same as the white, and one should forget about this kind of discrimination.
In my opinion, racial inequality exists not only in the society but in people’s minds. People should grow and develop, improve their mental attitudes, moral and ethical values. Aristotle claimed that there were people who were born to be slaves. I think that he meant those people who did not want to struggle and for whom discrimination was the easiest way of live. One should always grow morally and develop the virtues. Aristotle said: “Moral virtue comes about as a result of habit”. It means that one cannot consist exclusively of virtues or evils. One should develop the positive qualities and oppress the negative ones (Sandel, 2009).
In conclusion, it is necessary to say that the problem of racism in the criminal justice system provokes many debates. Some researchers state that there is racial discrimination at some stages of criminal justice. Others reject this claim. However, it is evident that the absence of racism at one stage of criminal justice cannot be a reason for stating that the criminal justice system is not racist. However, the presence of racism in one part of criminal justice is a reason for stating that criminal justice is racist.
I propose to conduct regularly the seminars in ethics training law enforcement officers to perceive racial discrimination as the problem of social and ethical character. First of all, seminars should teach how to recruit officers. Secondly, they should be devoted to ethical standards. Thirdly, they should help to define unethical behavior. At the seminars I propose to discuss such issues as cultural diversity, sexism, racism, corruption, public trust, morals, personal values of officers, honesty, abuse of force, lack of values of new officers, abuse of authority, poor work ethic, lack of sense of responsibility, etc. Law enforcement officers should follow the Code of Ethics. At the seminars, one should stress the most attention on serving people, safeguarding life and property, protecting the innocent against deception and struggling against violence and disorder.
The most important areas of ethical conduct are faith, responsibility, honesty, respect and altruism. Only person who possesses these qualities can make justice.