When Will Justice System’s Heavy Hand Against Blacks Be Lifted?


The demonstrations that erupted after grand juries in Missouri and New York declined to indict white police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner reflect problems “not just with the police but the entire apparatus we call our system of criminal justice,” Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Bruce Western of Harvard’s Kennedy School, write for the Boston Globe. “The long arm of the justice system now reaches deep into poor communities of color in ways never before seen in our nation's history,” Travis and Western say, adding that, “The excessive use of stop-and-frisk, increased numbers of misdemeanor arrests, and gratuitous citations for minor infractions heightened tensions between the police and the people. This chilly relationship between the police and community, especially young minority men, added fuel to the recent protests.”

The odds that an African-American male high school dropout will go to prison by age 35 have increased to 68 percent, Travis and Western write. A report of the National Research Council that they edited concludes that the vast expansion of prisons has likely had only a modest impact on crime. They say that, “Although we have learned important lessons about how to reduce crime, including through smart policing, a historic expansion of the criminal justice system in poor minority communities is not on the list.” What Travis and Western call hyper-punitive criminal justice policies have flourished while crime rates are at historic lows. Residents of African-American communities, they ask, “must be wondering, “Where is the peace dividend? When will the heavy hand of the justice system be lifted in recognition of the new levels of public safety in our neighborhoods? When will society invest in proven crime prevention strategies that do not cause so much harm?”

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