America’s elected prosecutors are almost all white and male, and it’s skewing our justice system

In the wake of numerous non-indictments in cases of white police officers using unnecessary and in some cases lethal force on African-American suspects, a new study shows that prohibitive majorities of elected state prosecutors are white men. From The New York Times:

About 95 percent of the 2,437 elected state and local prosecutors across the country in 2014 were white, and 79 percent were white men, according to the study, which was to be released on Tuesday by the San-Francisco-based Women Donors Network. By comparison, white men make up 31 percent of the population of the United States.

There are fifteen states in which every single prosecutor is white. And while some of those states have almost exclusively white populations (Maine, Vermont, Wyoming, e.g.) others don’t (New Jersey, Tennessee, e.g.). Kentucky and Missouri have one non-white prosecutor each.

As Shaun King at the Daily Kos noted, racial disparity in prosecutors produces a racial disparity in outcomes. Prosecutors are said to be able to “indict a ham sandwich” if they so choose, but often they don’t — especially when the suspect is black:

Ferguson prosecutor Robert McCulloch, via DonkeyHotey / Flickr

Ferguson prosecutor Robert McCulloch, via DonkeyHotey / Flickr

What we’ve learned is that it’s not a matter of evidence, and it’s certainly not a matter of public demand, but it all comes down to whether or not a prosecutor truly wants to see an indictment. In spite of a clear video of Eric Garner being choked to death by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the case never went to trial. In spite of a horrific video of an unarmed Dillon Taylor being shot and killed by police in Utah, the case never even went to trial. In spite of clear evidence that Ezell Ford was shot in the back by the LAPD and a police review that determined his murder violated half a dozen policies, the prosecutor didn’t call for a trial

…And what we know about this is that race, not just the color of someone’s skin, per se, but also the culture behind it, matters. White Americans and African Americans experience and view police brutality in wildly different fashions.

What’s more, in what few examples we have, non-white prosecutors are more likely to push for justice in cases involving non-white victims. In Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby earned herself national attention when she — gasp! — did her job by prosecuting the police officers involved in the highly-suspicious death of Freddie Gray.

Of course, as these positions are elected, the problem is difficult to solve. There are systemic reasons why more white men are running for these positions, and winning them, that will take years to correct for. But putting a number on the disparity shows us how much work there is to do: lots.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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5 Responses to “America’s elected prosecutors are almost all white and male, and it’s skewing our justice system”

  1. SensualHarassment says:

    Shaun King is white by the way. Not black. Not mixed. 100% white. If you don’t believe me, ask him yourself.

  2. goodmorningladies says:

    Yeah, too much logical thinking is a bad thing.

  3. Indigo says:

    They’re elected? Then they ran for office. The thing that needs to happen is to encourage women and minorities to also run for that office. They can get elected but not unless they’re on the ballot.

  4. 2karmanot says:

    ” ……it all comes down
    to whether or not a prosecutor truly wants to see an indictment…” One of the main pillars of a prosecutor’s machina is ‘ testilying’ here:

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