Justice is Not Blind

May 4, 2000 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


WASHINGTON — The groundbreaking report issued today by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights clearly demonstrates for the first time ever that criminal justice reform is a civil rights emergency that belongs on the agenda of all organizations that care about civil rights.

There can no longer be any doubt that America’s justice system is not blind. Indeed, as today’s report from the nation’s oldest, largest and most diverse civil and human rights coalition reveals, ‘lady justice’ sees skin color all too well. The report documents that black and brown Americans are routinely shunted to ever harsher treatment at every stage in the criminal justice system while their white counterparts are handled preferentially.

Sadly, the report is both timely and necessary. It follows a year during which the Senate passed a “juvenile justice” bill that eliminated all requirements that states with glaring disparities between the confinement rates of minority and non-minority youth take steps to address them.

It was a debate characterized by blatantly stereotypical assumptions and assertions. Senators openly declared that if black and brown children are treated more harshly by our criminal justice system it is simply because they commit more crimes than white children.

Today’s report answers those charges, recounting study after study demonstrating that minority youths are more likely than whites to be treated as harshly as possible at each step in the criminal justice system even when compared only to youths of similar age, gender, offense and record.

The consequences of the racial disparities that taint the criminal justice system – both for youth and adults – cannot be overstated.

Unequal enforcement of our nation’s laws has inevitably eroded the public’s faith in the criminal justice system, affecting the safety and security of all Americans. As today’s report demonstrates, police, prosecutors and judges encounter minority witnesses and juries so seared by previous encounters with a racist criminal justice system they are reluctant to cooperate.

We are not asking Congress to be soft on crime. Minorities are no less fearful of becoming a crime victim than are whites. Any contradiction between law enforcement and civil rights is unnecessary. But to ensure that such contradictions are erased, Congress must include a civil rights analysis of any new crime bill it passes.

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights’ report, “Justice on Trial: Racial Disparities in the American Criminal Justice System,” can be found at:

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The Latest in Smart Justice

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About Smart Justice

Smart Justice issue image

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to challenge racism in the criminal legal system.