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Racial discrimination and the U.S. justice system

In Georgia as in the United States, individuals differ greatly when it comes to their views on race and crime. The divisions tend to lie along political lines, and have widened in recent years. A new study conducted by the Pew Research Center reveals that the U.S. population has become, in some senses, less biased toward foreigners and people of color. Unfortunately, our justice system and other institutions have yet to catch up with popular opinion.

Racial Discrimination

In the past few years, Democratic views of racial discrimination have changed, which has led to a shift in public opinion. Right now, 41 percent of Americans cite racial discrimination as the primary reason many black people are unable to get ahead. Surveys have been conducted for more than 20 years, and this is the largest percentage of Americans who have shared that view.

However, it is important to note that 49 percent of Americans still believe that black Americans are unable to get ahead due to their own actions. These views may contribute to deep-seated, systemic racial discrimination that can be prevalent in employment, housing and - especially - the criminal justice system.

The statistics are unsettling. African-Americans comprise more 34 percent of prison inmates, even though they make up just 12 percent of the general U.S. population. And this has nothing to do actual crimes committed. Black Americans and white Americans use drugs at nearly identical rates, yet the imprisonment rate for the black community is more than five times that of whites.

Immigration

Views of immigrants are also more positive now than at any time in the past 20 years. About 65 percent of Americans believe that immigrants benefit the country due to their talents and hard work. And a strong majority believes that immigrants currently in the country should be offered a path toward citizenship.

Nevertheless, a stigma persists. Despite studies demonstrating that immigrants commit fewer crimes than U.S.-born individuals, recent newspaper headlines make clear that immigrants - and individuals who merely look like they might be foreign-born - are being targeted by police officers. Deportation programs are on the rise, and it has become increasingly common for individuals to be removed from the United States even when there is no legal basis for doing so.

Fighting back

Many find that working with a qualified and experienced attorney is the surest means of asserting their rights. The legal system is inherently biased against minority and low-income individuals; a lawyer can help even the playing field. In Georgia, at least, a number of firms offer affordable and effective representation.

Meanwhile, we will wait - and hope - that, when it comes to disadvantaged individuals, the justice system will become a little more just.

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