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Race, Ethnicity, and Criminal Justice

The Color of Justice (6th ed, 2017), by Samuel Walker, Cassia Spohn, and Miriam De Lone is a comprehensive examination of race and ethnicity in American criminal justice.

The Color of Justice: Race, Ethnicity, and Crime in America
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  • It examines all racial and ethnic groups in America.
  • It covers the entire criminal justice system: police, courts, corrections.
  • It critically reviews the social science evidence on all aspects of criminal behavior, the conduct of criminal justice agencies, the impact of public attitudes toward race and ethnicity, and the social and economic factors underlying crime in America.
  • By examining the evidence, it challenges existing myths and stereotypes.
  • The Color of Justice is widely used in college and university courses across the country.
  • Now in its 4th edition, The Color of Justice has been praised for its comprehensiveness and balance.


Racial Profiling

The question of racial and ethnic bias in police traffic stops, searches, and arrests has been one of the major controversies in American policing for more than a decade.

Civil rights activists demand that police departments collect data on traffic stops, with data on the race and ethnicity of drivers. The data are then analyzed with respect to the racial and ethnic composition of the resident population. For a discussion of the problems with using population data as the benchmark, see Walker’s article, “Searching for the Denominator.”

There are serious limitations with the approach described above. Read about these issues and Internal Benchmarking,  using police Early Intervention Systems for the data.

Citizen Complaints Against the Police

As a controversy in policing, the issue of citizen complaints has been primarily a racial issue. For over a half a century, African American civil rights groups have demanded civilian review of the police as a way of providing independent evaluations of complaints.

Read about citizen complaint procedures, including the history of the controversy, the two basic models of citizen oversight of the police, and what we know about the effectiveness of citizen oversight, in Police Accountability: The Role of Citizen Oversight.

Learn more on the citizen oversight page.

Mediating Citizen Complaints

Some experts argue that mediation is a more effective alternative to investigating citizen complaints against police officers.

Some argue that mediation is particularly effective with regard to complaints that have a racial dimension: that is, the complainant and the officer are of different races.

Read Walker’s Justice Department report, Mediating Citizen Complaints Against Police Officers.

The History of Police-Community Relations

On the history of police-community relations, read Samuel Walker, Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice.

There are a set of very valuable reports on major crises related to the history of police-community relations. They are available on the web site of the Police Assessment Resource Center:

Especially valuable are:

  • The Kerner Commission Report on the riots of the 1960s.
  • The 1991 Christopher Commission Report on the Rodney King beating and the LAPD.
  • The 1994 Mollen Commission report on corruption and brutality in the NYPD.

Federal Pattern or Practice Litigation

Under Section 14141 of the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, the U.S. Department of Justice is authorized to sue law enforcement agencies where there is a “pattern or practice” of abuse of citizens rights.

Go to the Federal Pattern or Practice Litigation page.

In almost every case, the victims of these patterns or practices have been primarily African Americans or Latino Americans. Thus, federal litigation is an important tool for achieving racial justice. Read Samuel Walker and Morgan Macdonald’s law review article reviewing the federal litigation effort.