Racism in the criminal justice system requires our attention | Editorial

Accusing anyone of racism is a sure way to elicit a defensive response. Suggest that institutional racism is rampant, and most white Americans will react with the same reflexive denial, insisting they neither practice nor condone it.

But institutional racism isn’t an attitude, or a policy; it’s an outcome. To diminish it and ultimately eradicate it, we first have to measure it.

So we’re asking leaders in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties to undertake an extraordinary effort: Gather the data necessary to document, and quantify, the racial inequities that infect each county’s criminal justice system, following the example of civic leaders in Washtenaw County. 

The dedicated and methodical group of grassroots activists known as Citizens for Racial Equality in Washtenaw, or CREW, had no idea what they’d discover when they undertook to analyze 3,600 felony charges brought in Michigan’s sixth-largest county between 2013 and 2019. The racial disparities they documented in the prosecution and sentencing of criminal defendants astonished them, and their discoveries have challenged Washtenaw’s top law enforcement officials to reexamine the procedures, protocols and culture undergirding every facet of that county’s criminal justice system.

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