If Justice For All Is to Be Obtained, the Ends Must Never Justify the Means

Justice Talks

Submitting Author: Virginia Barron, JD, Justice Talks Chair

On June 16, 2023, the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division issued a report regarding its investigation of the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Police Department. While the findings are without a doubt alarming to anyone at all tuned into our Justice System, they unfortunately were not surprising. They point to a larger problem of systemic bias and prejudice against people of color within our justice system. The investigation concluded, among many other things, that the "Minneapolis Police Department engages in racial discrimination in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Safe Streets Act." The investigation found that the "Minneapolis Police Department stops Black and Native American people disproportionately compared to their shares of the population."

The report goes on to state the "Minneapolis Police Department has often used a strategy known as pretext stops to address crime. When police use this strategy, they stop cars and pedestrians typically for minor violations, then use the stop as an opportunity to look for evidence of some other crime, like possession of an illegal weapon. Pretext stops are highly discretionary. To conduct a stop, an officer only needs reasonable suspicion to believe a person has violated a law. Even low-level ordinances that prohibit things like obstructing the sidewalk or being out after curfew can legally justify a stop." Even more alarming is that the report states the "Minneapolis Police leadership has persistently encouraged using traffic enforcement and stops of suspicious people and vehicles as a way to reduce violent crime and get guns off the street. One Minneapolis Police Department presentation we reviewed described traffic law enforcement stops as the top tactic used by Minneapolis Police Department for illegal gun recovery."

After accounting for race-neutral reasons, the report found that compared to White people behaving similarly, Black people stopped by the Minneapolis Police Department are subjected to 27% more searches, 37% more vehicle searches, and 24% more uses of force. Compared to White people behaving similarly, Native American people stopped by the Minneapolis Police Department are subjected to 23% more searches and 20% more uses of force.

While I was born and raised in Minneapolis, this type of situation is happening all across our country — in towns and cities big and small. The truth of the matter is that bias and/or racial discrimination bring more people of color into our justice system to begin with. Our justice system is plagued with racial bias before a case is ever charged.

Those in the Academy may want to stop to think about this, and how it impacts the work they are doing. Every time science gets stretched past its appropriate bounds and limitations, the individual work being done then compounds the racial disparity and outcomes in our criminal justice system. Instead of being a part of a solution and fighting the good fight, unjustifiable science is turned into a weapon that only helps foster racial disparities in our criminal justice system. Victims, defendants, families and friends of the victims, communities, and the science itself does not win in these situations. Instead of doing scientifically defensible work, one becomes part of the larger systemic problem, even if your intentions are good. That is not justice in its truest form; and it most definitely is not Justice For All. Let's start thinking and talking more about this.

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