An Unjust Justice System - David Pratt
Not long ago, Ben & Jerry’s decided they were going to send out a tweet illustrating the wide disparity between incarceration rates of Caucasians and African American people. The spirit behind their infographic was that African-Americans are put behind bars at a staggeringly higher rate than Caucasians, but white supremacists and other flavors of racists quickly leaped at the numbers as traditional talking points in their favor. “15% of the population, 50% of the crime,” became a common refrain. These comments were most often presented with the eye roll-inducing tag line of “makes you think, doesn’t it?”
It did, in fact, make me think, which is why I decide to actually research the numbers behind incarceration in the United States. The results do not exactly back up the assumptions being made.
There are 323.4 million people living in the country. Of those, Caucasians represent 198,244,200 individuals, or 61.3% of the population. The African American population is 41,071,800, or 12.7% of the total. According to FBI’s 2016 crime statistics, there were 8,421,481 arrests total nationwide across all reporting bureaus, state and federal. 5,858,330 of those arrests were of Caucasian people, 2,263,113 were of African Americans. Looking at the raw numbers we can see that there are more African Americans being arrested as a percentage of their population, but based on how many Caucasians there are alone should mean that more of them would be in prison. Based on these numbers, one would expect, mathematically, for Caucasians to face incarceration at roughly ½ to 1/3rd the rate of African Americans, which still means that there should be a far greater number of Caucasians actually behind bars.
However, what we know from our local ice cream provider, and the quality of New York Super Fudge Chunk, leaves me inclined to give their company the benefit of the doubt — math itself somehow falls apart in the American Criminal Justice system. According to the Pew Research Center, the 2016 prison population was made up of 439,800 Caucasians and 486,900 African Americans, for a difference of 47,100. This is a narrowing of the gap compared to 2009, when those numbers were 490,000 to 584,000, a difference of 94,800. Given that by raw numbers alone Caucasians were responsible for 5,858,330 crimes committed compared to 2,263,113 for African Americans, it indicates that there is a fundamental disconnect somewhere in either the courts, the police, the laws, or all three that sees Caucasians walk free when they commit more crimes than anyone else. In fact, the rate is so disproportionate that almost 10% more of the prison population is African American at a time when Caucasians commit 2/3rds of all crime. That does not speak to a fair and color blind justice system.
As a side note, some people aware of these statistics like to claim that the FBI accounts for Hispanic people as “Caucasian” in their surveys, and that is what drives the numbers up. In actuality, the FBI does account for Hispanic populations, finding them responsible for 18.4% of all arrests while representing 17.6% of the population (a smaller overrepresentation of arrests compared to population than either Caucasians or African Americans), or 56.6 million people in 2016. Even if you were to assume that the FBI counts 100% of Hispanic crimes as “Caucasian,” you would need 3.5 million of them, or 6.3% of their population, a higher population to arrest ratio than either Caucasians or African Americans, being arrested in order to bring the discrepancy between Caucasian and African American arrests into parity, and it still would not account for the difference in incarceration rates.
This is also simply looking at raw numbers and percentages. No effort is made here to account for societal factors that would also explain for an increased risk of crime in African American communities. Even without that information, it is clear to see that something is, no pun intended, criminally wrong with our justice system when African Americans are committing a third of the crimes and yet being put into prison in greater numbers than Caucasians. Our judiciary has been too wildly skewed in favor of imprisoning African American offenders while letting Caucasians walk free for too long, and it will take more than a pint of ice cream, with a witty pun for a name, to correct it.
Though I would recommend “Caramel Justice Reform.”