Healing the Blind Goddess: Race and Criminal Justice

Once again, issues of race, ethnicity, and class within our criminal justice system have been thrust into the public spotlight. On both sides of the country, in our nation’s two largest cities, police are being called to account for acts of violence directed toward poor people of color. In New York City, a West African immigrant named Amadou Diallo was killed by four white police officers, who fired forty-one bullets at the unarmed man as he stood in the vestibule of his apartment building in a poor section of the Bronx. Did race influence the officers’ decisions to fire the fatal shots? Did the social class of Mr. Diallo or of the jury in Albany, to which the officers’ trials were transferred, influence the decision to acquit the officers? In Los Angeles, a former officer with the CRASH Unit of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart Division has described, in excruciating detail, at least thirty police officers’ repeated misuses of their authority in an impoverished area of predominantly Latino immigrants. The scandal, which the Police Department itself conservatively estimates to implicate a staggering 120 cases, involved the shooting of unarmed people, conspiracies to put the innocent in jail, planting guns on suspects, and orchestrating the deportation of witnesses to police abuses. Could such massive and flagrant abuses of police power have festered for so long if they had instead transpired in a white, middle-class neighborhood?