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Race in the criminal justice system is a life & death issue

Recent events have reminded us that racial tensions are still high in many parts of the United States. A particularly strong reminder of this problem is the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this summer. Protests continued for weeks after a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed, African-American teenager during an altercation.

Protests have since died down, but the Governor and other state officials have been preparing for the threat of more protests and perhaps even violence pending an announcement by a grand jury as to whether the officer involved in the shooting will face criminal charges. This case and others have highlighted race issues in the criminal justice system around the country, including here in Louisiana.

Studies have shown that racism in the criminal justice system is not merely a perception issue, and that there may be reason for African Americans to fear interactions with police officers. According to a study conducted by ProPublica, African-American young men or boys are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than their white counterparts. This conclusion was reached after studying data on police-committed homicides in the United States between 1980 and 2012.

There is essentially one circumstance in which it is necessary and therefore appropriate for officers to shoot a suspect. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1980s that the only justification for deadly force is when a suspect poses a threat to officers or others at the scene.

In many of the shootings in which officers killed black suspects, no explanation or justification was provided in reports. Between 2010 and 2012 alone, 15 teenagers were shot and killed by police officers while trying to run away; 14 of whom were African-American.

Each of these hundreds of cases occurred in a context that was only experienced by those who were there. But it is hard to believe that all or even most of these shootings were justified. It is also hard to ignore the fact that “blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population.”

No matter how the grand jury rules in Ferguson, this is clearly a national issue that can no longer be ignored.

Source: Equal Justice Initiative, “Young Black Men Are 21 Times As Likely As Their White Peers To Be Killed By Police,” Oct. 19, 2014

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Meet Attorney Guillory

Attorney Joshua S. Guillory was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. Upon graduating high school from Alexandria Senior High, he enrolled in classes at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree. Josh was a member of Mu Kappa Tau, a national honor society for marketing majors, while attending... Read More

Joshua S. Guillory

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