The Deep-Rooted Racial Discrimination in the US Highlights Its Hypocrisy on Human Rights
China Society for Human Rights Studies
The United States is a multi-racial country. Its present racial structure and race relations have their historical roots in European colonial expansion and African slave trade, and the influx of immigrants in modern times.
The 2010 census showed that the US had a total population of 308 million. Based on their color, blood lineage, and places of origin, the US administration divides the population into: whites, 72.4 percent of the total population, including 63.7 percent non-Hispanic whites; African Americans, 12.6 percent; Asians, 4.8 percent; native Americans, 1.1 percent; other races, 6.2 percent; and mixed races, 2.9 percent. The non-Hispanic whites are deemed to be the majority racial group in the US, while the other 112 million people including the white Hispanic and Latino Americans are called minorities.
Races are an important marker of US social division of category. Thomas Sowell, a US scholar, writes in his Ethnic America: A History, “Color has obviously played a major role in determining the fate of many Americans...” It is such differences that give rise to a hierarchy formed among different races that defines the status and power of each group. The fundamental control of state power by the European whites, the dominant race, and their systematic discrimination against all other races are the conspicuous feature of the American racial hierarchy. Racial discrimination in the US is in essence the discrimination of the European whites against all other racial minorities. Racial discrimination is the root cause and the supporting mechanism of the American racial hierarchy.
I. Forms of Racial Discrimination in the US
The UN “International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination” requires all state parties to take active measures to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms, and to guarantee the right of everyone to equality before the law, civil rights, political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights without distinction as to race, color, or national or ethnic origin. The United States, a signatory to the Convention, has failed miserably in meeting these requirements. Racial discrimination in the US is found in every aspect of people’s lives, particularly in law enforcement, the judiciary, the economy and society.
1. Racial discrimination in law enforcement and the judiciary
Equality before the law for everyone is a basic principle in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; it is also recognized in America’s political philosophy and legal system. In reality, however, many practices of US law enforcement and the judiciary run counter to this principle, with racial discrimination worsening in certain areas and the basic human rights of racial minorities willfully violated.
One of the most visible of these is the frequent shooting and killing of African Americans by the police in acts of abuse of power. In 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed and barehanded, was shot by a white police officer six times and killed in Ferguson, Missouri. In 2015, 24-year-old Jamar Clark was shot and killed by police when he was already handcuffed and subdued. US federal government statistics show that young African American males are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than young white males. For African American males between 15 and 19 years old, the chance of getting shot and killed by police is 31.17 per million, while the figure for white males of the same age group stands at 1.47 per million. According to the Mapping Police Violence website, in 2013 at least 301 African Americans were shot and killed by the police; the figures were 320 in 2014, 351 in 2015, 309 in 2016, 282 in 2017, and 260 in 2018. A report on The New York Times website from June 7, 2018 says that by 2017, only one police officer had been sentenced to jail in 15 cases involving the killing of African Americans that had attracted wide public attention.
The double standards of US police are very much reflected in the ways that law enforcement handles different ethnic groups. On February 17, 2016 Paul Gaston, an African American who had just crashed his car and was confused about his surroundings, was shot and killed by three police officers in Cincinnati. The police said that Gaston was reaching for a gun that was later proven to be a fake. Just a day earlier, the Cincinnati police chose not to open fire at a white male who had pointed the same kind of fake gun at the police, but instead arrested him without a scratch and charged him with threatening the police. An article on the New York Daily News website commented that the different results of two similar incidents provides clear evidence of the great disparity in police treatment of African Americans and white people, and that double standards on ethnicity do exist in the US. The incidents referred to above are not isolated cases. A report on The Washington Post website from December 6, 2016 says that Edgar Maddison Welch, a 28-year-old white male, entered a restaurant in Northwest Washington with a semiautomatic rifle. Welch surrendered and walked out of the place with his back facing the police, unarmed and with his hands up. Police did not shoot him. In sharp contrast, on September 16, 2016 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Terence Crutcher, an unarmed 40-year-old African American who had his hands up and his back turned to the police, was killed by white police officers who tasered him before shooting him.
Law enforcement in the US is rife with racial discrimination. First, African Americans are much more likely to be arrested by police than any other ethnic group. Statistics from 1,581 police stations showed that African Americans were three times more likely to be arrested than people from other ethnic groups; data from at least 70 police stations showed that African Americans were ten times more likely to be arrested than people from other ethnic groups, and some of these stations had arrested 26 times more African Americans.
Second, the police are in favor of white people in law enforcement. Data from police departments across the country show that in areas which practice “zero tolerance” in street-level law enforcement, police mainly arrested African Americans from poor neighborhoods while turning a blind eye to similar acts in affluent white neighborhoods.
Third, police use entrapment strategies against minority groups. Of all the anti-narcotic operations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 91 percent of the suspects detained using entrapment strategies are racial minorities. A report of the American Civil Liberties Union says that Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and Whites, yet Blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.
Systemic racial discrimination plagues the judiciary of the US. A study by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that 51 percent Americans think that African Americans and other racial minorities suffer from unequal treatment in the criminal justice system, and 78 percent of African Americans think they are victims of unequal treatment of the judiciary. The incarceration rate for African American males is 5.9 times higher than the rate for white males, while the rate for African American females is 2.1 times higher than the rate for white females. African Americans only constitute about 13 percent of the US population, but they account for 36 percent of federal and state prisoners.
The United States Sentencing Commission found that on average the terms for African American males were 19.1 percent longer than those for white males. The National Registry of Exonerations, analyzing relevant cases from 1989 to October 2016, concluded that African Americans are more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder, sexual assault, and drug-related crimes than white persons. Of the 1,900 defendants in known exoneration cases, 47 percent are African Americans.
Annette Gordon-Reed, professor of American Legal History at Harvard University, once said that African Americans are not yet full citizens. Blacks, especially young African Americans, are presumed criminals and in practice they are denied full citizenship.
The UN is gravely concerned about racial discrimination in law enforcement and the judiciary of the US. In its 2016 report, the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent of the UN Human Rights Council pointed out that the American government has failed to fulfill its duty of protecting the rights of African Americans, and that continued institutional and structural racism adversely affects African Americans’ civil rights, political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights. The report criticized police violence and racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, pointing out that most of such acts go unpunished. According to the report, “Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching. Impunity for state violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.” The report also found that the killing of unarmed African Americans by the police is only the tip of the iceberg in what is pervasive racial bias in the judiciary system.