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Posted 10.14.05

African-Americans Doubt 'Color-Blindness' of Justice,' Study Finds

COLUMBIA, MO -- Although inroads have been made in remedying past discrimination against African Americans, many still believe the United States has a long way to go to achieve total equality. In particular, many people think that law enforcement and judicial systems are biased against African Americans due to the disproportionate number of African Americans arrested and imprisoned across the country. A recent study by a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher examined African Americans' attitudes toward the judicial system's treatment of African Americans.

L. Marvin Overby, MU political science professor, and his colleagues at the University of Mississippi, surveyed 671 people in Mississippi, 177 of which were African Americans. Respondents were asked to evaluate judges on whether or not they treat all defendants equally regardless of race, whether criminal sentences are meted out without regard to race and, in general, whether the state judicial system treats everyone fairly regardless of race. They found that, in general, African Americans are significantly more skeptical of the judicial system than are whites.

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"African Americans in our sample displayed significantly less confidence in the fairness of the judicial system in Mississippi," Overby said. "From the behavior of judges, to the apportionment of sentences, to the overall fairness of the state judicial system, blacks were considerably more skeptical than whites regarding the purported color-blindness of justice."

Interestingly, because Mississippi has a large African-American population, it has 892 black elected officials, more than any other state. In fact, Overby notes, 10 percent of all black elected officials live in Mississippi. Despite the presence of black judges in the judicial system, however, African-American populations still were wary of the way the state's judicial system works. In fact, Overby and his colleagues found that black Mississippians living in areas of the state with larger numbers of black judges were more skeptical of the quality of justice they received.

"If there is any limited effect in the black community from the election of black judges, it has been toward greater rather than less cynicism regarding the dispensation of justice," Overby said.

This study recently was published in Social Science Quarterly.



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