WASHINGTON – Racist rants are much less of a threat to equality than the more subtle, everyday racism of the criminal justice system, Attorney General Eric Holder said at a commencement speech at Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore, on Saturday.
In a reference to recent remarks by L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, Holder said the country has seen “occasional, jarring reminders of the discrimination — and the isolated, repugnant, racist views” that have “rightly been condemned by leaders, commentators, and citizens from all backgrounds and walks of life.” Holder continued:
. . . Codified segregation of public schools has been barred since Brown. But in too many of our school districts, significant divisions persist and desegregation has reoccurred — including zero-tolerance school discipline practices that, while well-intentioned and aimed at promoting school safety, affect black males at a rate three times higher than their white peers.
There are other examples.
For instance, in our criminal justice system, systemic and unwarranted racial disparities remain disturbingly common. One study released last year by the U.S. Sentencing Commission indicated that — in recent years — African American men have received sentences that are nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes. Another report showed that American Indians are often sentenced even more harshly. The Justice Department is examining these and other disparities as we speak — and taking a variety of steps to ensure fair sentences that match the conduct at issue in individual cases. Like a growing chorus of lawmakers across the political spectrum, we recognize that disparate outcomes are not only shameful and unacceptable — they impede our ability to see that justice is done. And they perpetuate cycles of poverty, crime, and incarceration that trap individuals, destroy communities, and decimate minority neighborhoods.