August 12, 2014

Vast majority of blacks view the criminal justice system as unfair

Over the weekend, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen was shot and killed by a police officer in a St. Louis, Missouri, suburb. Following the shooting, the predominately black city of Ferguson erupted into protests, prompting U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to launch a federal investigation into the incident.

Vast majority of blacks view the criminal justice system as unfair The shooting comes only weeks after the New York City Police Department was criticized for subduing a black man who later died in police custody. Both deaths have led to questions of whether discriminatory practices contributed to these incidents.

Blacks are much more likely than whites to say that blacks faced unfair treatment in dealing with police or in the courts, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey. And blacks perceived racial biases to be greater in the criminal justice system than in other institutions.

Seven-in-ten blacks said that blacks in their community were treated less fairly than whites in dealings with the police. In comparison, 37% of whites and 51% of Hispanics held that view. Also, 68% of blacks said that the court system was unfair to blacks, far more than whites (27%) or Hispanics (40%).

While half or more blacks said that blacks were treated less fairly than whites at work (54%) or at school (51%), those are still smaller percentages when compared with perceptions of unfair treatment by police or in the court system.

Additionally, younger black men are more likely to report unjust treatment by the police. Nearly one-quarter of black males ages 18-34 said they had been treated unfairly by the police in the last 30 days, according to a Gallup poll conducted June to July 2013. This represents a similar percentage with those 35-54 (22%), but double the rate cited for those 55 and older (11%).

Topics: Criminal Justice, Discrimination and Prejudice, African Americans

  1. Photo of Monica Anderson

    is a research associate focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.