Michael Brown, age 18. Tony Robinson, age 19. Amadou Diallo, age 22. Oscar Grant III, age 22. Freddie Gray, age 25. Akai Gurley, age 28. Jerame Reid, age 36. Eric Garner, age 43. Tamir Rice, age 12. These are just some of the names of innocent Black men (and, in the case of Tamir Rice, boys) who fell prey to the use of deadly force by police officers over the past few years in the United States. Although these victims vary considerably in terms of their age, their place of residence, and the circumstances surrounding their death, a common thread unites them; they all poignantly bring to light race-based injustices within the criminal justice system.
Unfortunately, racial disparities in the courts have long been noted (Alexander, 2010; Snowball & Weatherburn, 2007; Sudbury, 2013). For example, research from the United States shows that Blacks are nearly seven times more likely than Whites to serve time in prison by the time they reach their early 30s (Pettit & Western, 2004). Though some argue that these disparities are based on different rates of offending and other legitimate factors (see Klein, Petersilia, & Turner, 1990), studies show that after controlling for various legally relevant factors, race-based differences in criminal justice outcomes still exist (see Austin & Allen, 2000; Bales & Piquero, 2012; Mitchell & MacKenzie, 2004). In short, racial disparities can be found throughout the criminal justice system.
To a certain extent, race-based injustices such as the ones noted above may be (partly) explained – though certainly not excused – by the implicit associations that exist between race and crime (see Eberhardt, Goff, Purdie, & Davies, 2004). Specifically, Yogeeswaran, Devos, and Nash (Chapter 11, this title) note that implicit biases originate from socialization processes and operate outside of awareness. As such, crime-related stereotypes about Blacks may lead police officers and others within the criminal justice system to unintentionally misinterpret ambiguous information in a stereotype-consistent manner (see Levinson & Young, 2010). When involving life-or-death decisions, these basic cognitive biases may give rise to the unnecessary use of deadly force. In other words, basic psychological processes that underlie stereotyping and implicit biases may (partially) account for the noted racial disparities found in the courts (for a detailed review of the literature on implicit biases, see Yogeeswaran et al. (Chapter 11, this title).