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Systemic Racism in Criminal Justice System Explained by Black Female Judge

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Too often we, as a country, focus only on the incidents of violence perpetrated on African Americans by police officers instead of looking at the total picture of racism that perpetuates the criminal justice system from the streets to the courtrooms, says Judge Gayle Williams Byers, of the South Euclid Ohio Municipal Court.

Racism goes well beyond what happens in the streets, she says. It truly is systemic.

Judge Byers complains of over-policing in minority neighborhoods.

“Overall, the issues related to police brutality and its intersection with black folk is “ground zero.” While the media has largely focused on the overreaching and many times illegal police tactics employed while interacting with the black community, they have overlooked the role that City Councils and Courts often play in setting these confrontations in motion,” says Judge Byers.

She also claims that City’s use courts and over-policing as revenue streams.

“Often, local governments use police forces and courts as revenue generating ATMs or piggy banks. They pressure police chiefs, officers (with required ticket quotas) and court officials to increase traffic and low-level criminal enforcement fines and fees without regard to public safety or tangible outcomes. The vast majority of the people who are targeted with these often heavy-handed enforcement measures to meet these monetary targets are Black, brown and poor people,” she adds.

Under these processes, blacks are often stopped and searched with little reasonable suspicion and arrested with only the barest probable cause. They then are expected to post bonds that many times, Mark Zuckerberg couldn’t afford and the scheme, in many cases, is to make it hard for them to keep their court date, she notes.

If they are working, then often they are forced to choose between keeping their job or maintaining their court obligation. If they don’t come to court, their bond is forfeited to the city/county government and a warrant can be issued for their arrest. Reasonable or tangible access to justice is not even considered, according to Judge Byers.

While in court, blacks are confronted by an often-times confusing system that is dominated by whites and stacked against the defendants.

Judge Byers says that to effectuate true reform that the whole criminal justice system must be scrutinized and not just the activities of the police in the streets.

“The problem is that the system itself is inherently broken,” Judge Byers says “and we haven’t even tipped the iceberg about the Racism that masquerades as disrespect but is far more insidious.

Judge Byers has initiated a “night court’ in her jurisdiction to make it easier for people to come to court, because true access to justice should be more than a mere modern day slogan.