There is no question that there are indefensible racial disparities in our criminal justice system. Beginning with disparate policing practices like “stop and frisk”, and money bail; and continuing on with implicit bias in jury selection, and disparate sentences for minorities, these things are all on display each and every day. The shocking video of the death of George Floyd, puts systemic racism front and center before us. The continued denial of systemic racism within law enforcement agencies, by so many in positions of power, has caused outrage by people who feel that they are not being heard. Make no mistake about it – rooting out systemic racism is hard, and it will require hard work and change. Here are three suggestions to combat systemic racism in our justice system that are endorsed by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. First, law enforcement agencies need greater transparency and accountability, as it relates to police misconduct. In most states, misconduct complaints against police officers are handled internally, and are treated as confidential employment records. These complaints must be opened up for the public to see, so that they are no longer swept under the rug. Second, establish an accountability database for police misconduct, that prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers, and the public can all view, to help make informed decisions in a criminal case. Awareness of prior police misconduct can help all parties and the courts make important decisions such as: if it was truly a proper stop by an officer, the lawfulness of a search, or if a suspect really confessed. Third, there must be federal legislation which outlaws the use of the choke-hold during an arrest; which promotes training for officers; and which sets uniform standards for the use of force by police officers making arrests. In short, there must be a mechanism put in place that ensures that the force used by an officer respects a person’s constitutional rights. These suggestions are by no means a cure-all for the larger problem of systemic racism in our criminal justice system. But, they do provide a starting point for us to begin taking larger steps toward combating the deep seeded problem of systemic racism in our criminal justice system.
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