New York Law School

Report

Racism in the Cook County Criminal Courts

On April 15 Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve’s op-ed piece entitled Chicago’s Racist Courts was published by the New York Times. It was prompted by the report recently issued by Mayor Rahm Emanuel noting that racism was rampant in the Chicago Police Department. Van Cleve, a Tulane University scholar and the author of another just released publication—Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America’s Largest Criminal Court (Stanford University Press 2016)—used her first hand knowledge of the Chicago criminal court system to opine on the pervasive, shockingly overt racism among those running the prosecuting and judicial systems in the city. In short, if you put together the Mayor’s report and Van Cleve’s scholarly work, there can be little doubt that Chicago’s criminal justice system is a cauldron of misbehavior.

At one level this is not surprising. The ongoing series of exposes about police violence, the pervasive use of low level charges and arrests to wring money from the pockets of the poor, wrongful convictions and death sentences, and an array of other forms of injustice has created a sense that something is deeply wrong with the American legal system. Why should Chicago be any more immune from public criticism than Ferguson or New York City?

But the ongoing, contemporary series of police and judicial crises may lead us to forget how long this sort of racism has been allowed to operate. Just shy of fifty years ago when I was on the Editorial Board of the University of Chicago Law Review while a law student, the Review published a lengthy student generated and written study of continuances in the Cook County court system. Laura Banfield & C. David Anderson, Continuances in the Cook County Criminal Courts, 35 U. Chi. L. Rev. 259 (1968). The intent was to investigate the connections between delay and the provision of justice in the courts. An enormous amount of data was gathered, including information about the race of the defendants, whether they had private or publicly provided attorneys, the charges laid against them, the number of continuances in each case, the prior criminal records of the defendants, and a host of other items. As the study unfolded a series of conclusions reaching well beyond the original intent of the project emerged—including the existence of pervasive racism in the Chicago courts. The authors of the study wrote:

The cases of white defendants involve more court appearances than the cases of nonwhites, and this differential holds when whites and non-whites are matched by type of crime, seriousness of crime, type of lawyer, bail status, and plea history. This disparity cannot be attributed to the relative poverty of non-whites, and the consequent inability to command a tenacious defense. Some racial differences exist between the public defender and jailed defendant populations on the one hand, and the general defendant population on the other. Non-whites comprise almost the same portion of the total defendant population (58%) as of the Public Defender’s clients (62%); they comprise 66% of the defendants not able to make bail, as against 58% of the total defendant population for which both bail and race information were available. But these differences do not explain why 32% of white defendants’ cases, but only 20% of non-white defendants’ cases, last for more than 8 court appearances. Among both the Public Defender’s clients, and the jailed defendants, where difference in resources are presumably not significant, whites get more continuances. The relationship between race and continuances was somewhat surprising to the authors of this study, who had assumed that it would be more or less camouflaged in other categorizations rather than visible on the surface. The sample data points to the conclusion, however, that lawyers—and probably judges, states’ attorneys, and the system as a whole—pay less attention to Negro defendants and take less time with their cases.[1] Read more

Consumer Racial Profiling: The Crime without Redress or Repercussions

America has a very long and documented history of racial profiling against people of color. Discriminatory practices like stop and frisk and poll taxes have been present in this country since the dawn of our government. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 aimed to outlaw these forms of discrimination, many of these practices simply morphed into much “subtler” versions of themselves. In particular, the unfair treatment of Blacks by law enforcement and the judicial system has been as present as ever. This continued stain of Black enslavement and repression is evidenced by disproportionately high arrest rates and stricter prison sentences for Blacks, as well as targeted efforts to vilify the Black population. Thanks to the efforts of President Barack Obama, Black Lives Matter, Social Media, and activists throughout the country, many of these issues are now being brought to the political mainstream, yet there still is much to be done in the fight against racial injustice. This fight is especially challenging in the realm of retail and private businesses. You see, just as police and judicial abuse against Blacks represents a legacy of Black legal inequality, Consumer Racial Profiling represents a legacy of public and societal inequality.

Consumer Racial Profiling (CRP) is the act of storeowners and/or their employees following, harassing, or ignoring individuals while they shop in their stores simply due to the shopper’s apparent race. While CRP affects people of all colors and backgrounds, it is Blacks that are most frequently targeted. In a 2004 Gallup poll, 65% of Black respondents reported widespread racial profiling when shopping in malls and stores. Hence why CRP is also known as “shopping while Black”, drawing on the similarities to “driving while Black”. These racially charged interactions often lead to Black people being publicly embarrassed due to unfounded accusations of stealing, being searched for goods that they did not steal, or even being wrongly detained or apprehended by police officers.

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Profiting off of Black Bodies: Racial Prejudice a Major Factor in Denying Pay to Elite Collegiate Athletes

College sports have become an extremely lucrative business. The National College Athletic Association (NCAA) is contracted to receive $7.3 billion from ESPN for game broadcast rights between 2014 and 2026, and $11 billion from CBS and Turner Sports to broadcast “March Madness” basketball games over the next 14 years. In 2013, NCAA Football revenue topped $3.4 billion dollars, making it one of the most profitable sports, college or professional, in North America. To put that into perspective, the revenue generated by NCAA football comes relatively close to the NHL ($3.7 billion), the NBA ($5 billion) and the NFL ($6 billion). With all of this money being generated by college sports, especially basketball and football, the way colleges compensate their athletes has also come under great scrutiny.

Although the revenue generated by college football rivals that of other professional sports, the difference is those leagues have unions, and their players get a large piece of the revenue, while collegiate athletes are “paid” with scholarships that cover tuition, room, and board. When you add up all of the time a collegiate athlete spends practicing, training, playing in games and participating in team events, it is evident that they “work” the equivalent of full-time hours for the universities they play for. The value of these scholarships, when compared to the hours worked and revenue generated, would be considered an insignificant compensation in any other industry or setting. Additionally, the opportunity to obtain a college degree for free, one of the major justifications for not paying collegiate athletes, often takes a back seat to the sport itself.

However, despite the above facts, there is still strong opposition against paying collegiate athletes wages comparable to their work and revenue generated. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, 64% of people oppose paying collegiate athletes. To add insult to injury, the NCAA actually restricts athletes from receiving other forms of compensation (such as selling their own merchandise, working at a job that pays them more than $2,000 annually, and accepting monetary help from coaches). Yet this lack of adequate compensation is not considered exploitation in the eyes of the general public. So what could be the reason society feels that these dedicated and hardworking athletes should not receive all of the fruits of their labor? It turns out that reason just may be racial prejudice. Read more

Black Youth in the Special Education System: Overrepresented or Underrepresented?

For years it has been a truism that, due to over-identification and racial bias, school districts have disproportionately funneled Black students into the special education system. Racial justice advocates, education leaders and researchers have asserted that school districts often use special education placement as a way to segregate black students from their peers. When these students are placed in special or remedial education programs, students of average or above-average intelligence quickly fall behind their peers, creating a wide education gap and obstacles to success that will persist for many years. Read more

Black, Low-Income and Special Needs Students Pushed Out through Suspensions and Arrests, NYCLU Analysis Finds

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education held that equal access to public education is essential to the progress of a democratic nation. By law, race could no longer be used to exclude children from school. Brown’s promise of equal educational opportunity has never been fully realized in New York City. It continues to be impeded by harsh disciplinary and school safety policies that disproportionately exclude low-income students, black students, Latino students and students with disabilities from classrooms. As a result, these students are denied Brown’s guarantee of equal access to an education, adding to their greater risk of being pushed through the school-to-prison pipeline (STPP).

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Racial Justice Project Releases Food Deserts Report

Unshared Bounty Report

The New York Law School Racial Justice Project and the Racial Justice Program of the American Civil Liberties Union have co-authored a report on food deserts —areas with either no access or limited access to fresh, affordable food—and the impact on communities of color.  The report is titled Unshared Bounty:  How Structural Racism Contributes to the Creation and Persistence of Food Deserts.  Approximately 23.5 million people in the U.S. live in low-income neighborhoods located more than 1 mile from a supermarket.  African Americans are half as likely to have access to chain supermarkets and Hispanics are a third less likely to have access to chain supermarkets than are whites.  Moreover, studies have found that minority communities are more likely to have smaller grocery stores carrying higher priced, less varied food products than other neighborhoods.

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