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By Global Public Square staff
Michael Brown – killed by a police gun in Ferguson, Missouri. Eric Garner – killed at the hands of the police in Staten Island, New York.
These two cases of the deaths of black men by white law enforcement officers have stirred up segments of America, resulting in riots and protests clear across the nation and raising questions about the practices and procedures of the American criminal justice system.
Those angry Americans who took to the streets aren't the only ones concerned. The United Nations weighed in recently in the form of a new report from that world body's torture watchdog group. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, who oversaw the Committee, said essentially that it was too early to weigh-in on Ferguson specifically. But, the report does note its "deep concern at the frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals."
And deeper digging reveals cause for more than the U.N.'s diplomatic “deep concern.” According to a new investigation from the Wall Street Journal, police killings are significantly underreported in federal statistics. The Journal analyzed data from 105 of the nation's biggest police departments and found that between 2007 and 2012 more than 550 killings by police were missing from national records. In all, the paper turned up about 45 percent more police killings than the official FBI statistics.
Given that the vast majority of the nation's 18,000 law enforcement agencies hadn't reported any killings by cops, the Journal reporters acknowledge that it's impossible to actually get a full picture of the underreporting. But when there is transparency in the system, it's clear that minorities are disproportionately affected.
Young black men were 21 times more likely than white men to be shot dead by cops, between 2010 and 2012, according to a ProPublica analysis. With regard to drugs, many studies – including by the Justice Department itself – show that blacks are about three times as likely to be arrested than whites. That's true even though government data shows that they do not use drugs at anything like three times the rate as whites.
The non-profit Sentencing Project concludes starkly: "Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males and 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic males. If current trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one of every six Latino males-compared to one of every seventeen white males."
The project does not throw around the charge of racism. In fact, it makes the point that the American system of justice is not racist by design. The real problem, it contends, is that America has two systems of justice, one for the rich and one for the poor. For a variety of reasons – race, class, economics – minorities mostly have access only to the second class system of justice.
These are tough words, but facts are facts. Perhaps the events in Ferguson and New York will make Americans ask some more questions about a criminal justice system that does not seem to work equally for all its citizens.