DANIEL BYRD, Ph.D and BRUCE MIRKEN I The Greenlining Institute

Rightly or wrongly, the existence of such a strong media narrative may contribute to perceptions that the government treats blacks better than it treats whites. On the other hand, there are also areas in which federal laws and policies appear to greatly disadvantage blacks and other communities of color.

Disparities are particularly evident in the criminal justice system. Of the 62 people currently awaiting federal execution, 50% are black, while blacks make up only 12% of the U.S. population (Death Penalty Information Center, 2011). Between 1995 and 2000, U.S. Attorneys were two times more likely to recommend the death penalty in cases that involved a black defendant and a white victim than they were in cases that involved a black defendant and a black victim (Death Penalty Information Center, 2011).

Racial disparities also abound in the “war on drugs.” For example, while federal survey  data indicate roughly similar drug use rates among whites, Latinos, and African Americans (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2011), arrest rates differ sharply. According to the most recent federal report, 30.2 % of Drug Enforcement Administration arrestees were black and 44.5 % were Latino (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2010). Among cocaine arrests, arrestees for crack cocaine are disproportionately black, while most powder cocaine arrestees are white. Federal prison terms for crack are 18 times more severe than for powder cocaine – a disparity that had been 100-fold until a reform measure was passed in 2010 (Abrams, 2010).

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