The US Is Coming to Terms with Institutional Racism


Yesterday, two events relating to institutional racism coincided and competed for headlines.  A federal judge ruled New York City’s infamous stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutional because it amounted to racial profiling by targeting African-Americans and Latinos. And US Attorney General Eric Holder announced an end-run around “draconian” Congressional drug laws by ordering the Justice Department to discontinue aggressive pursuit of low-level, non-violent drug offenders.

Both events were marked by explicit condemnation of the very real racial injustices of these institutions.

Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote in her decision, “It is impermissible to subject all members of a racially defined group to heightened police enforcement because some members of that group are criminals.”

83% of the stops made by the New York police between 2004 and 2012 were of African-Americans and Latinos. Around 90% of the people subjected to the stops were never charged.

Mincing no words, Judge Scheindlin held Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly accountable. “I also conclude that the city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” she said.

Likewise, Attorney General Holder, speaking before the American Bar Association, emphasized the racial sentencing disparities that account for the obscenely disproportionate incarceration rates of people of color. “People of color often face harsher punishment than their peers,” he declared. “In recent years, black male offenders have received sentences nearly 20% longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes. This isn’t just unacceptable. It is shameful,” Holder stressed.

Here are portions of Holder’s policy announcement:

The author of The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander describes the deleterious effects of these practices on the black community in this excerpt from MEF’s new release White Like Me:

Attorney General Holder echoed Alexander in his remarks yesterday:

Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it.

You can stream a White Like Me in its entirety by going to