Newspaper article International New York Times

Racial Divide over Views of Justice ; despite Years of Change, Vastly Different Attitudes toward Police and Courts

Newspaper article International New York Times

Racial Divide over Views of Justice ; despite Years of Change, Vastly Different Attitudes toward Police and Courts

Article excerpt

A nation with an African-American president and a nascent black middle class remains as deeply torn about the justice system as it was decades ago.

Paul McLemore, the first African-American to become a New Jersey state trooper, was on the streets of Newark in 1967 when riots following a police beating of a black taxi driver left 26 dead. He spent decades as a civil rights lawyer and years as a municipal judge in Trenton. His wife and children have gone on to enjoy accomplished careers.

"Of course, there's been a lot of progress" since Newark's days of rage, he said in an interview on Tuesday.

But asked whether a young black man today could find the justice that was believed to be absent in Newark 47 years ago, he gave a response that was starkly different.

"No, period," he said. "There's pervasive racism -- white racism."

For whites and blacks alike, that duality may be the takeaway from a grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson, a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a young black man: Much has changed, and nothing has changed.

A nation with an African-American president and a nascent, if struggling, black middle class remains as deeply divided about the justice system as it was decades ago. A Huffington Post-YouGov poll of 1,000 adults released this week found that 62 percent of African- Americans believed Officer Wilson was at fault in the shooting of Mr. Brown, while only 22 percent of whites took that position.

That whites and blacks disagree so deeply on the justice system, even as some other racial gulfs show signs of closing, is perhaps not as odd as it seems. Decades of changing laws and court decisions mean that the two races now work together, play sports together, attend school together. But they frequently go home to separate worlds where attitudes and experiences toward the police and courts not only are not shared, but are not even understood across the racial divide.

At the end of 2013, 3 percent of all black males of any age were imprisoned, compared with 0.5 percent of whites. In 2011, one in 15 African-American children had a parent in prison, compared with one in 111 white children.

Patricia J. Williams, a Columbia University law professor, said that the war on drugs disproportionately affected blacks -- in California in 2011, a black man was 11 times more likely than a white man to be jailed for a marijuana felony -- and that three- strikes laws kept many in jail.

Beyond such disparities, "it's the little things, like stop-and- frisk, like racial profiling and million-dollar block demarcations" - - law enforcement tactics that saturate a high-crime area with police officers -- that reinforce blacks' negative attitudes toward the justice system, she said.

Kenny Wiley, 26, a black man who grew up in a white upper-middle- class suburb of Denver, is one who has seen both sides. …

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