A Common Interest in Justice

Article excerpt

THE divergent reactions of many black Americans and white Americans to the O.J. Simpson verdict point to, more than anything else, Americans' divergent experiences with their justice system.

Even economically comfortable, politically moderate African-Americans are much more likely than their white peers to have been treated rudely by the police.

Witness the strong reaction, last week, of columnist Clarence Paige to the suggestion by a fellow McNeil-Lehrer commentator that resentment against racist law enforcement was concentrated in the black underclass. Paige, himself black, pointed out that even higher-income blacks of his acquaintance had encountered police mistreatment. (A recent Wall Street Journal editorial, chronicling the experience of one of the Journal's executives with New York City transit police, underscores the point.)

Examinations of black incarceration patterns statistically bolster the view that blacks' experience of law enforcement is a world apart from whites'. A new study from the Washington-based Sentencing Project indicates that nearly 1 in 3 African-American men, ages 20 to 29, is under criminal-justice supervision (jail, probation, or parole) on a given day.

The question, loudly reiterated in discussion after the O. …