Racial bias easing in justice systemThe general tone of a community discussion Monday night revealed that racial disparities do exist in Minnesota’s criminal justice system, but the issue is continuously improving.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
The general tone of a community discussion Monday night revealed that racial disparities do exist in Minnesota’s criminal justice system, but the issue is continuously improving.
During an event sponsored by the Red Wing Human Rights Commission in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a panel of speakers shared their thoughts on racial bias.
“We’ve had race issues ever since this country was founded,” First Judicial District Judge Larry Clark said.
Back in 1993, a Minnesota Supreme Court Task Force developed a report on racial bias in the judicial system. It showed differences in everything from the number of police stops to the amount of time spent in custody between people of different races.
“That report … said statistically, for whatever reason, that people of color are being arrested more,” Clark said.
While the judicial system is based on laws, discretion plays a part on a regular basis, the judge noted. Law enforcement officials use discretion while determining whether to give people a ticket or book them into jail, attorneys use discretion when considering what type of sentence they should recommend at trial, and judges use discretion when setting things like bail and conditions of release.
All of those areas “can allow for subtle or even unconscious bias,” Clark said.
“We’ve made a lot of strides since the 1993 report, but we have to remain ever vigilant.”
Douglas Bayley, another speaker at the event, agreed. The public defender said he hasn’t experienced any flat out racism during his time working for Goodhue County, but he thinks his minority clients would disagree.
“They would say that they are targeted,” Bayley said, noting that more than one-fifth of his 130-plus open cases feature clients who are African-American or Hispanic.
Bayley said he thinks everyone tries to suppress racial disparities, but people aren’t always successful in doing so. However, improvements have been made over the years.
“I do think that we are getting there. Slowly. Bit by bit,” he said.
Prior to hearing from the speakers, the Red Wing Human Rights Commission presented a video of a speech given by civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on April 3, 1968.
“This is arguably Dr. King’s most compelling speech,” former Human Rights Commission Chair Joanne Pohl said.
The speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” was King’s last.
He was assassinated in Memphis the next day, something many people felt he knew was going to happen based on the way he talked during his final speech.
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now,” King said. “I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
King was shot the following evening while standing on the balcony in front of his room at the Lorraine Motel. He was pronounced dead at a Memphis hospital.
“It was indeed almost a prophecy when he said he might not get there with you,” Pohl said.
“To me, he seemed to be a man at peace with that,” Clark said. “He had come to grips with the fact that his life was minute to minute.”