State lawmakers are pressed to factor ‘racial impact’ into bills

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

View results

President Obama touched on the topic during his impromptu remarks last month on the Zimmerman verdict.

“The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case,” Mr. Obama said.

But other analysts voice doubt about requiring racial impact statements.

George Washington University law professor Christopher Bracey said there is “undoubtedly” a problem of racial bias in the criminal justice system, but he questions the effectiveness of requiring racial impact statements. For example, he said, even though Iowa has required racial impact statements for several years, the state still has significant racial disparities in arrests, incarcerations and the like.

“The deeper problem is the pervasiveness of racial bias, both conscious and unconscious, throughout our society,” Mr. Bracey said. “Let’s be honest about it. For centuries, Americans have been fearful and suspicious of certain racial minorities. Current attitudes that connect race and criminal suspicion are part of the legacy of white supremacy in this country. These attitudes find their way into all aspects of American life, including the criminal justice system.”

Others suggest that racial disparities in prisons are partially the product of policy problems, not a racially biased judicial system. Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, said a better approach to addressing racial disparities in the legal and prison systems would include decriminalizing drug use and prison alternatives for nonviolent offenders.

Oregon’s Mr. Gallegos, though, maintained that the race statements serve a need.

“It is important to present the message that the work to decrease racial disparity is in the interest of all citizens in Oregon,” he said. “It is a step, albeit a small step, in the right direction. But didn’t someone say that every journey begins with the first step?”

blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks