The blog of the Urban Institute
July 16, 2013

Is American criminal justice color-blind? The statistics say no

July 16, 2013

Noting that there are racial disparities in the American criminal justice system is hardly newsworthy. From stop-and-frisk to motor vehicle searches at traffic stops to sentencing, racial disparities abound in modern America. However, until the George Zimmerman trial for Trayvon Martin’s death, one gaping disparity had received little attention.

Black Americans are far less likely to be adjudicated as justified in using deadly force in a firearm-related death. The difference between rates of justifiable rulings in cases with a white shooter and a black victim and cases with a black shooter and a white victim are astonishing.

In fact, they dwarf every other racial disparity in an already racially unbalanced criminal justice system. The differences are so great that any notion that justice in America is color-blind is at risk.

The numbers below require little explanation. Drawing from Supplemental Homicide Reports (SHR) submitted by local law enforcement to the FBI between 2005 and 2010, we see that in cases with a white shooter and a white victim, the shooting is ruled to be justified less than 2 percent of the time. If the shooter is black and the victim is white, the rate of justifiable homicide rulings drops to almost 1 percent. However, if the shooter is white and the victim is black, it is ruled justified in 9.5 percent of cases in non-Stand Your Ground (SYG) states. In SYG states, the rate is even higher—almost 17 percent.



Now consider the situation that occurred in the Zimmerman case (and I note that none of these facts are in dispute). When there is a homicide with one shooter and one victim who are strangers, neither is law enforcement, and a firearm is used to kill, a little less than 3 percent of black-on-white homicides are ruled to be justified. When the races are reversed, the percentage of cases that are ruled to be justified climbs to more than 29 percent in non-SYG states and almost 36 percent in SYG states.

The one gap in the SHR data is the setting where the homicide occurred. If it turns out that almost all the white-on-black homicides occur in residences or businesses and almost all the black-on-white homicides happen on the street, then perhaps there is no racial animus. But if you look through data compiled by the Tampa Bay Tribune on cases in which a SYG defense was used, you do not see much of a difference in setting. Some may think that white-on-black shootings are justified more often because it involves the black person as an intruder while black-on-white shootings happen in different scenarios. This is not the case. Black-on-white shootings also occur in the shooter’s home.

None of this is definitive. The answer to the question being asked across America today—would the verdict have been different if Zimmerman and Martin’s races had been reversed—is unknowable. But the available statistical evidence certainly suggests that Zimmerman walked into the courtroom with an advantage that Trayvon Martin would not have had.


As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.


This report reveals what? What is indicated? Why is there such a disconnect in conduct between the two groups. What are the core values that are held or not held within each group and attitude towards the other group? There is more than just racism indicated in the measures counted in these groups.
Zimmerman was Hispanic, not Caucasian ...
You want stats? Blacks murder at a rate of 54 : 1 over whites. That's a stat. Blacks and Hispanics are the offenders in 93% of all murders committed in the USA. That's a stat. I have lots of stats. You want more?
Justice by statistic is hard to justify in reality. Statistically 5 times more men than women are incarcerated. Clearly this is statistical injustice. But only liberals would try to use it to release 80% of the prison population, or jail 5 times as many women. Even they might have trouble with that logic.
Or could be that whites are more likely to be victimized by blacks, and are therefor more likely to shoot a black person in self defense.
Maybe if black males aged 15-50 didn't commit 40% of the crimes we wouldn't have these discrepancies that disturb you so much. In the meantime, those of us who pay the taxes that support Section 8, Food Stamps, and welfare are going to defend ourselves whether you like it or not.
Pretending both cultures are identical in behavior is idiotic. Blacks commit over 50% of all violent crime. Therefore it's reasonable to assume self defense of whites against blacks is going to be FAR more prevalent. This is a complete distortion and flawed analysis of statistical data.
Maybe the answer is that blacks ARE perpetrating most of the crimes!!!
First problem with your article: In a "justifiable" homicide, the person holding the weapon is not the "perpetrator" and the dead guy is not the "victim." The dead guy is the perpetrator and the live guy is the survivor.
Zimmerman had the advantage in the courtroom, because he wasn't a criminal. Trayvon Martin was. Our politically correct society wants to demonize whites, because they are the easiest scapegoat for all the nation's ills. People of color overall do not want to accept responsibility for their actions and need someone to blame. Everyone has free will. You either chose to work hard and better yourself or you chose to live off the government and complain that enough isn't being done for you.
I believe Dr. Roman's analysis is in error. The data actually indicate no bias in justifiable homicide rulings. His error is that he normalized by attack rates rather than by victim rates. Essentially his percentages, and the claim that they should be equal, imply that the number of times a group member is attacked and ends up killing the attacker in self-defense should correlate with the number of times a member of that group goes out and kills without provocation. That makes no sense. The number of self-defense killings should correlate with the number of times the group is attacked, not with the number of times it attacks. If we assume blacks and whites respond the same to being attacked (both equally likely to end up killing their attackers in self-defense) we would expect the number of justifiable homicides to track the number of times each group attacks the other. That is just what we find. According to FBI statistics interracial crime is black-on-white at about an 8:1 ratio. Taking the lower left plot in the article shows a total of 14 justifiable black-on-white homicides (2.8 percent of 499) and 80 justifiable white-on-black homicides (29.3 percent of 272). The ratio 80:14 is about 5.7:1, or a little less than the 8:1 expected ratio. The other plots show similar results. So when accurately analyzed, the data show that whites have the odds stacked slightly against them in having a homicide ruled justified. In truth with such a small data set NO conclusions are strongly supported, but certainly the claim that the data show a bias against blacks is simply wrong.
I think you need to look at the crime rate per 100,000 in same race murder to define a significant difference. Using CDC 2012 rates homicide rate is at 19.08 for blacks and 3.16 for whites. Since most homicide is same race on same race it shows the homicide rate per 100,000 to be about 6 times higher for black than white. If the 6 time higher were to hold just for crimes in the population including attacks of blacks against whites vs whites against blacks the different conviction rate actually makes sense. It is comparable to same race murders. The CDC which does not deal with convictions but only homicide as one person killing another. Now I have to switch to UCR for interracial murders. B kills W was 431. W kills B was 193. So the rate is 2.23 times higher for blacks killing whites in raw numbers. Using percentage figures of population blacks are much higher offenders per 100,000 population than whites. About 15 times higher. But then there is the repeat offender factor. Since blacks are 1/6 the population of whites the equal number is actually a murder rate 6 times higher than the rate for whites for intraracial and about 15 times higher offense rate for blacks killing whites. Assuming the B/B numbers reflect no bias, the much higher murder rate on intraracial plus the higher interracial raw numbers indicate there may be some validity in the higher conviction rates in mixed race homicides.
Especially when the subject is a "hot-button" issue, attaching a graphic like an easy-to-read bar graph (with incomplete information) along with an article that few will read is one way public opinion is erroneously represented. So many people will lazily trust the graphic to represent the truth, whether the article is accurate or not.
With all these white cops killing our black boys, girls, women and men, what due black cops have to say? I know there has to be a black cop with the whit cop sometime.
I look at this article and read the comments and I'm like WOW!!! It saddens me but disgust me more how some of people think. Term used in some the comments like "those people" are a part of what’s supporting the racial divide. Fact, every white person is not racist. Fact, every black person is not a criminal, have criminal tendencies, is a thug or believes that every situation is about racism. The insensitive stance and lack of acknowledgement that racism, even overt racism might be taking place is infuriating. This is no different than the time when men told women they were being too sensitive if they complained about being harassed. Men just couldn't understand how their actions made women feel. Today, most men (not all) know better and do better. One comment said Zimmerman was not a criminal and Martin was. How did they draw that conclusion? Treyvon Martin was a teenager with no criminal history. Yes he did some dumb things like a lot of teens do however, the suggestion that his "past" actions made him deserving to be shot feeds that insensitivity of racism. Why is the victim being victimized? You say Zimmerman feared for his life. How do you think Martin felt having a strange man follow him especially when he was doing nothing but minding his business walking home? I guess he doesn’t deserve to have fear because of the dumb stuff he did in the past. Far too many people want to bring up a person’s past to justify why that person deserved their fate. Isn't that what we used to do to sexual assault and rape victims? I can go on and on with this but one thing is for sure, you can’t fix a problem until you recognize and admit there is one. I am sure someone will find fault with what I wrote and that’s ok. Just think about this, if your spouse says something that hurts your feelings, how would you feel if they then told you’re imagining things because what they said was not hurtful? Yeah that’s how I feel when I’m told a racist situation doesn’t include racism. Black people shouldn’t expect to make a situation it racism to fit their needs and white people can’t say that it’s not racism to fit theirs.
Your observation merely confirms that blacks commit more actual crimes that justify their being shot.
I am shocked at the lack of critical thinking on this blog. While a statistical correlation may exist between white and black crime rates and sentencing, it is invalid to draw a conclusion, such as the cause being due to racism. There may be many other causes. Thank you for your attention to this vital matter.
The thing missing is the fact more crime is perpetrated by black people.
So I guess all the blacks in prison were set up? Come on this is stupid. Blacks commit more crimes, it's a fact this story is a fairytale.