Why So Few Black Prosecutors? Many Minorities Become Defenders Instead


A new report says 95 percent of elected U.S. prosecutors are white and more than 60 percent of the 50 states have no black prosecutors in office. Why is this?, asks Slate. To begin with, there are just not many black lawyers, just 4.8 percent of U.S. lawyers, says the American Bar Association. So few of them become prosecutors, said Melba Pearson of the National Black Prosecutors Association, because historically, black law students hoping to help their communities and combat injustice have believed their best shot at doing so was to become defense attorneys. In that job, a person could use his or her legal expertise to aid the wrongly accused, fight for leniency on behalf of the accused, and act as an adversary to those in power. The prosecutor, Pearson says, has been seen as “the means or the vehicle to oppress others—and why be part of the oppression?”

Pearson, a Miami prosecutor since 2002, said a central goal of the National Black Prosecutors Association has been to try to convince law students to realize that the power that prosecutors wield in the courtroom can be used to help black communities instead of harming them. “The key is to emphasize that a prosecutor’s job is to do justice—it's not just about putting people in prison,” she said. “It's about looking at a set of circumstances and understanding to the best of your ability what happened and what's the right thing to do.” Sometimes that's going to mean putting the defendant in prison for life, she said. But other times it's going to mean dismissing the case. The point is that, as a prosecutor, “you are the one who's driving the decision-making process.” Brenda Choresi Carter, who worked on the study for the Women Donors Network, argues that the justice system would work better and be less unjust if there were more prosecutors who shared the life experiences of the people they prosecuted.

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