It is against this backdrop of significant change in the “letter” and “spirit” of the law that Kennedy presents evidence to support his claim that much remains to be done to make the administration of the criminal law racially just, both in theory and in practice. He cites a 1995 Gallup Poll which reported that one-half of Blacks questioned believe the American criminal justice system is biased against them, and two-thirds believed the police to be anti-Black (Kennedy, 1998:1). For Kennedy, these public perceptions reveal one of two significant dimensions of the racial divide in American justice; the other significant dimension is the racial demographics of both crime and criminal law enforcement in the United States. He notes the wide racial gap in rates of imprisonment for American males and the extreme disparity in rates of homicide and other violent crime victimization for Blacks compared to Whites.
Kennedy uses these statistics to disclose the essence of the dilemma faced by Blacks vis-à-vis the justice system—that not only are Blacks more likely than Whites to be arrested and punished for crime, they are also more likely to be crime victims. Thus, in comparison to other racial and ethnic groups, Blacks are in greater need of the protection afforded by the justice system and would, therefore, stand to gain most from a justice system that provides effective crime deterrence and expeditious punishment. According to Kennedy, the current reality is that the ability of the American justice system to provide the protection needed by Blacks is severely compromised by the persistence of racial bias and discrimination on the part of the protectors.
Kennedy discusses three major areas of justice administration: (1) tactics used by the police for the surveillance of persons suspected of committing crime, (2) use of peremptory challenges in jury selection, and (3) sentencing and punishment for crime, particularly the imposition of the death penalty. This essay examines the social science and jurisprudential evidence of racial bias in each of these areas.
After 1950, Americans of all races came increasingly to believe that the nation had finally come to grips with the legal and social problems stemming from its racist past. Many social analysts and activists believed that the civil rights and due process “revolutions” were capable of eradicating not only the last vestiges of de jure racism, but also of promoting truly equal treatment under the law. It was hoped that civil rights and legal reforms would help promote economic and social equality. In the criminal justice arena, progressive Whites and Blacks concerned with the reduction of racial disparities embraced reforms aimed at (1) ensuring the