AFRICANGLOBE – White Americans make up 95% of elected prosecutors across the US, according to a study that cites the non-indictments of white police officers in the high-profile deaths of unarmed Black men as the “shocking” reality of a disproportionate and non-diverse criminal justice system that relies on prosecutorial power.
The study, from the San Francisco-based Women’s Donor Network, also found that that just 17% of elected prosecutors in the US are women – and just 1% are Black women.
The combination of these racial and gender disparities means that white men, who represent 31% of the population, hold 79% of the 2,437 elected prosecutors in the country at a time when growing attention to issues of misrepresentation in the criminal justice system has led to calls for reform.
“If we’re going to make progress in creating greater justice, eliminating overincarceration and excessive punishment, we are going to have to address the shocking lack of diversity in elected prosecutors across this country,” said Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.
According to the report, Black Americans represent less than 4% of elected prosecutors, and Latinos less than 2%. A full 60% of states have no elected Black prosecutors at all. More than half (33) of the 61 identified Black prosecutors are found in just two states: Mississippi and Virginia. In 15 states, including New Jersey, Washington and Colorado, every elected prosecutor is white.
Since the report looks solely at elected prosecutors, not all states are represented equally. Kentucky has the most elected prosecutors, with 161, and three states – Alaska, New Hampshire and Hawaii – have none.
Also, because the study was based on data collected in the summer of 2014, the number of Black female prosecutors does not include Marilyn Mosby, the Baltimore prosecutor whose office charged six city police officers with crimes related to the murder of Freddie Gray.
Mosby, who is Black, garnered national attention for her swift actions in Baltimore, months after the drawn-out grand jury proceedings in Ferguson, Missouri – overseen by Robert McCulloch, who is white – led to no indictment of the white officer who murdered 18-year-old Michael Brown, but did lead to further protests and increased turnout in local elections.
Prosecutors wield enormous discretion over how cases are pursued, how severe charges become and how convicts are sentenced. Other studies have demonstrated that such power can have a racially disparate impact: a 2012 study published by the University of Michigan Law School on charges in federal cases found that prosecutorial discretion led to Black defendants facing “significantly more severe charges than whites”, even after controlling for all the relevant variables.
The Women’s Donor Network study is part of a campaign by the progressive group which found last year that that 90% of elected officials in the US are white, and that 65% are white men.
Even so, campaign director Brenda Choresi Carter said she was surprised by the group’s latest findings. “I did not expect the numbers to be encouraging, but I didn’t expect them to be this stark,” she said. “It raises serious questions about what kind of outcomes we can expect from our criminal justice system.”
Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow