I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to have a discussion about whether or not I thought the criminal justice system was racist. The subject was presented to me in the form of a question from a Black female administrator at a medium-sized university. The question was asked several days after a White police officer fatally shot a Black suspect, and the “usual” responses from the expected societal demographics were inundating the news media and social media. I was attending a meeting with several other administrators who were also privy to the question. It was one of those “hallway” queries, and I am not sure if there was a motivating factor to the question or if she really wanted an answer. Either way, I did respond.
The criminal justice system is like a triangle. It has three sides: law enforcement, corrections and the judiciary. When you suggest the criminal justice system is racist, you are suggesting by direct inference that all three components of the system are working in concert to promote racism. These three legs of the triangle exist at both state and federal levels.
When you suggest that the criminal justice system is racist, you are implying that police departments are intentionally hiring racist cops — that each step in the selection process is designed to identify and “select in” these prejudiced cops. This means that the recruiting examination is designed to identify candidates who possess and demonstrate racist tendencies. It means that the psychological evaluations are intended to identify candidates who possess and demonstrate racist tendencies and include these candidates in the selection process at the exclusion of candidates who do not possess such propensities. It means that the polygraph examination is designed to identify candidates who possess and demonstrate racist tendencies. This identification of racist candidates is done for the sole purpose of hiring racists cops. This is done with the explicit or implicit approval of the city council or city commission, the county commission, or, in the case of the state police/highway patrol, the state regulatory commission. All of these political entities have to be on board with the initiative to hire racist cops. If you believe this to be the case, then you are affirming that White police officers, Black police officers, Hispanic police officers, other minority police officers, female police officers, and male police officers are hired specifically because they demonstrate racist attitudes.
When you suggest the criminal justice system is racist, you are also suggesting that Federal law enforcement, including the FBI, the United States Secret Service, the Federal Department of Corrections, the ATF&E, the Border Patrol, and other Federal law enforcement agencies seek candidates, screen candidates, and appoint candidates with the sole purpose of promoting a racist agenda. This would also include the appointments of the directors of these agencies and the promotions within these agencies.
The second side of the criminal justice system triangle is the judiciary. If we assume that police officers are identified and selected because of their racist bent, then we must assume that judges also are elected due to their racist bent. The judiciary at the state level, whether it be county court, state court, the state court of appeals or the state supreme court are elected judges. What this means is the state political parties identify candidates for the judiciary that are clearly racist in their leanings. Both the Democratic and Republican political machines identify candidates who will actively incorporate and promote racist agendas in their judicial decisions. Then the candidates have to get elected. So, either the political machines include the racist agenda in the candidates’ platforms, or the political machines are so adept at political promotion that the candidates’ racist agendas never come to light. There is a third option, and that is the political machines believe the American electorate is so thoughtless as not to recognize the racist candidates for who they are and vote for them anyway. Either way, this seems to be a stretch.
The Federal judiciary is a different story. The Federal judiciary, whether it be the Federal District Court, the Federal Court of Appeals, or the United States Supreme Court, are appointed positions. When a candidate is nominated by the President of the United States, an investigation is conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Once the investigation is concluded, the House Judiciary Committee conducts a hearing on the candidates qualifications, and if the candidate meets with the committee’s approval, there is a vote in the United States Senate to confirm the candidate. By suggesting the criminal justice system is racist, you are suggesting the Federal judiciary also holds to a racist agenda. Since these judicial appointments are made by the President of the United States, you are suggesting that all Presidents, including Barack Obama, made these appointments with the implicit and/or explicit purpose of promoting racism within the Federal judiciary. This further suggests that the members of the House Judiciary committee understand the nomination by the President as having racist overtones, and these members also support such a racist platform. It further suggests that the members of the United States Senate also understand the nomination by the President to have a racist bent and that the House Judiciary Committee supports the racist agenda by forwarding the nomination to the Senate. By a vote of confirmation, the Senate supports the lifetime appointment of a racist Federal judge. As prosecutors are an integral part of the criminal justice system, you understand that prosecutors at the state level and prosecutors at the Federal would be elected or appointed using the same racist profiling.
The third side of the criminal justice triangle is corrections. I think you can understand how the hiring process and the appointment process, at both the state and Federal levels, would have to work to promote a racist agenda in corrections.
My final comment to this question was answered as a former police colonel. There are approximately 800,000 police officers in the United States. If the criminal justice system, in general, and policing, specifically, were truly racist, we would have eliminated you a long time ago.
Again, remember that my questioner was a well-educated individual. Her comment to me was priceless: “I never thought about that!”