"our criminal justice system is largely fair and just"

That’s the argument Martin Hyde made in a Pit thread about the current, ah, controversy in Missouri:

There are a few issues in play in this quote, but I’d like to focus on the primary assertion being made in the first sentence.

Would you call the American criminal justice system “largely fair and just”? Take any tack you want (racial, socioeconomic, or whatever), since if it is, it HAS to be so in every way, or else it’s not.

Well, the rest of the post shows that racism is alive and well. Why it’s a huge shock to think that plays a part in our justice system (for the worse) is beyond me.

I mean, a racist can post on this board. Is it a shock that a cop might be racist too?

There is no shortage of statistics that show that, in spite of the racist view that blacks just need to stop being criminals and they’ll be just fine, that isn’t the case.

Whites and blacks use drugs in the same numbers but one group gets disproportionately punished. The sentence discrepancies between crack and cocaine users - even though they are the same drug only one is used by blacks more than the others - was finally addressed by Obama. The death penalty? If you’re a black who kills a white person you are exponentially more likely to be sentenced to death than the other way around.

These statistics show that sentencing for the very same crimes are a lot more harsh for people of color than Caucasians. That flies in the face of any idea that things are fair.

Clearly the rich are not significantly sanctioned by the criminal justice system for their white collar crimes (for example the massive bank fraud of the last few years).

The death penalty discussion is not very relevant since very few are actually executed anymore.

But take a look at something like violence against women. I would guess that white men are sanctioned more for violence against white women by the criminal justice system than black men are sanctioned for violence against black women.

I have read in the past that police commonly ignore violence in interracial marriages until they escalate into murder. I’ve never heard anything one way or another about their attitude on black/black domestic violence though. The police pattern as I recall is usually in straight relationships to arrest the man, in lesbian relationships arrest the bigger woman, and in gay & interracial relationships avoid interfering until it escalates to death.

The system may be fair and just, on paper, but no system can be better than the people operating it.

What Alessan said. And unfortunately, bigotry against certain groups is endemic. In some jurisdictions police are knee-jerk biased against chicanos, in some the mentally ill, in many places transsexuals are despised, and in quite a few places blacks are treated abysmally.

So blacks react to police with panic.

The vast majority of black people in America are law-abiding and peaceful. All the statistics show this. Thus, any talk of “educating blacks” about violence is utter bullshit. Most blacks don’t need to be “educated” on violence, because most black people are not violent. Assigning collective responsibility like this is counterproductive and foolish.

That is a laughable assertion. Well, it would be funny if it weren’t so horribly and violently untrue.

The justice system, in this country and in most, is an oppressive tool of an oppressive and unjust state. The “strongarm of the rich” basically. It is the opposite of fair and just and anybody who says the words in the title of this thread unironically has no experience with our justice system. (And no, “white guy paying a traffic ticket” is not “experiencing the justice system”.)

I can’t speak to whether the system is racist. I can speak to the fact that the system heavily punishes the poor. In another thread, it was brought up that many blacks in MO get pulled over and arrested for warrants. I would contend that the system is overloaded in fines that put the poor into such a position that just about of course, they have warrants.

At the core, this is the issue.

“Fair and just” relative to what?

Relative to our history?

Relative to the rest of the world?

Relative to the rest of the developed world?

Relative to the platonic ideal of Justice?

That said, I think that this is the wrong question to ask. Martyn Hyde talks about “educating blacks…” that our system is fair and just. Focusing on the “fair and just” part will just result in meaningless bickering about the definitions of those two words. And focusing on the “blacks” part, while an appropriate realm of criticism (and a wonderfully inappropriate phrasing from Martin) isn’t on topic for this thread.

Instead, I propose we refocus on Martin Hyde’s assertion that we need “education.” Here is a question that is slightly more topical, and also that is more amenable to factual discussion: Does the public have an accurate perception of the frequency and likelihood of miscarriages of justice in our justice system?

And the alternative is…?

From the passage the OP quoted, I’m guessing that Martin Hyde is not black.

If a black person, who knew other black people, said something like that, I might consider taking it seriously.

Even I, a relatively sheltered white guy, have heard enough to believe that there is at least some nontrivial amount of racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system in at least some areas.

There is certainly a racist component to our justice system, but it’s the wealth of the defendant I think that has the most to do with whether they will face justice.

Whether stealing millions in a white collar crime or taking a crowbar to an ATM, the amount stolen or the race of the perpetrator doesn’t matter as much as the financial resources of the defendant to avoid hard time.

No, you haven’t.


As Matt Tiabbi pointed out on The Daily Show, a guy caught with a single joint can do jail time. In certain situations, he could have his car or even house (or his parent’s house) seized by the state and never returned. And bankers who are caught laundering money for drug cartels pay a fine do not even suffer the indignity of an arrest. And they don’t even pay the fines themselves, the bank pays. Then it gets written off their taxes. There are no seizures of any kind.

So no, not fair and just.

The vast majority of whites in America are not racist. Thus, any talk of “educating whites” about racism is utter bullshit. Most whites don’t need to be “educated” on racism, because most white people are not racist. Assigning collective responsibility like this is counterproductive and foolish.

It’s not fair even on paper, since the wealthy can afford representation that the poor cannot. Whether that makes it unjust is a value judgment I am content to leave for others.


Is it fair – do people have an expectation that the outcome of their experience with the justice system would be unchanged if their race/gender/money/status were different?

I doubt that.

Is it just – Here you get into various theories of justice but if you said “does the justice system deliver decisions that marry the needs of the community to what the accused deserves” then I’d say no. The lack of fairness in sentencing speaks to the differing, institutional views that members of differing races/genders/money groups deserve differing punishments.