Economics and Discrimination

Blog category: The Economics of Discrimination

By: *Alexandria MacMaster

While the awareness of discrimination and its effect on the economics of those being discriminated against is on the rise, there is still an unknown and subtle discrimination that directly hurts the economics of struggling groups.  One group in particular that is struggling, especially in the criminal court system, is African American women.  Geneva Brown writes in her Article, “The Wind Cries Mary” in the Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development that African American women are targeted as a group to become imprisoned in some of the “for-profit” prisons through the criminal justice system.  She also goes on to point out the harm of having many of these African American women imprisoned goes much further than just potentially harming these specific women.  A point that should be emphasized in our conversations regarding discrimination and economics is that having African American women incarcerated is taking away the matriarch of family units in struggling families.  Regardless of whether or not anyone agrees with the high number of incarcerated black women being a product of discrimination, the fact alone that so many are incarcerated  is reason enough to break down why they are incarcerated, and how that can be rectified.   African American women being taken away from their families displaces their children, many of whom end up in foster care, or become homeless or criminals themselves.  This is not something that does our society or our economy any good. Communities and families’ futures are limited when African American women are incarcerated and it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

For a review of the article, click here.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.


*Alexandria MacMaster is currently a staff member on the Widener Journal of Law, Economics and Race. To learn more about Alexandria MacMaster, Click here to visit her page: Alexandria MacMaster

Who holds the discretion when determining whether someone has a justifiable legal defense? Police Officers or Prosecutors? Instead they focus on race relations.

Written by: Jade Morrison

If Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by another black teenager, President Obama wouldn’t have weighed in, Al Sharpton wouldn’t be holding rallies, and the media would not be running this on television for hours. Liberals in the media like to show their good racial manners, they don’t shine a spotlight on dysfunctional behavior in some black neighborhoods, and that’s also how the civil rights establishment wants it because they don’t want to air dirty laundry in front of the whole nation.

– Berine Goldberg

Historically, a large percentage of African Americans protest revolves around racial motivated crimes. More specifically, we have seen the Black Community come together to fight against police brutality. This was most recently seen in the Sean Bell case in 2006 and Amadou Diallo in 1999. Today, once again, the Black Community had joined forces to fight against a potential racial crime committed by George Zimmerman against Trayvon Martin. There is absolutely nothing wrong with our community coming together to fight racial inequality, but it becomes an issue when we turn a blind eye to intra-racial crimes. Not once in the few last years has there been a protest against gang violence within the Black Community. Neither have there been reports of the Black Community taking a stance against the effects of drugs in our inner city schools. Many political leaders today remind us, that race related issues are not the only topics African American’s should take a stance against. We need to first help stop crimes in our own neighborhood and need to take a pledge to uplift the Black Community as a whole. At a press conference Jesse Jackson stated, “[I] would like to see the Black population turn its anger over the death of Trayvon Martin into an energy directed at voter registration, economic inequity and other issues of discrimination and racial injustice. I would hope that the movement would turn into Trayvon Martin voter-registration rallies.”

Those protesting for the arrest of George Zimmerman should be focused on the Stand Your Ground laws and how it impacts society as a whole. More specifically, whether there had been an increase in crimes rates due to these laws? Or whether Stand Your Ground laws give an excessive amount of discretion to police officers? And lastly, whether theses laws give police officers total power to determine ones innocence or guilt before making an arrest? Some argue that the Black Community predominantly protest race related crimes because the purpose of Civil Rights leaders is to protect the Black Community from the “White” majority. But whose responsibility is it to protect African American from their “own people?”

Are we as a society now promoting self help? The New Black Panther Party (NBPP) has found Zimmerman guilty based one “street law” and will award $100,000 for his “capture.” I ask, why are law student’s not analyzing whether this speech is protected by the First Amendment? And whether it should have First Amendment protection at all? This is not what the discourse is about today. We see media stations continuously interviewing the NBPP and spreading the word of their bounty. Many law students are feeding into the ideals of the general population and wearing black hoods as a symbol of Trayvon Martin. Law students should be applying the concepts they have learned in criminal law, criminal procedure and constitutional law to educate our society on the workings of our legal system.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.


1)         Main article

2)         Bernie Goldberg

3)         Jesse Jackson:

4)         Mayor Nutter’s Speak Out:

5)         Black Panther party

6)         Bernie Goldberg

Crack v. Powder: A “Fair” Question

Written by:  Brandon Perloff

In recent years, a drastic change in sentencing guidelines has taken place with regards to penalties imposed on the “crack” or “rock” versus the powder form of cocaine.  The Fair Sentencing Act, which President Obama signed into law in August of 2010, substituted the old guidelines in which an accused convicted of 1 gram of “crack” cocaine would receive the equivalent sentence of another convicted of dealing 100 grams of the powder form of cocaine, with a less disparate guideline of a 18-1 ratio.  (See reference 1.)  The impetus for this change has been traced to “the reality that cocaine crimes resulted in harsher penalties for blacks than for whites, a racial divide not as clear for any other illegal drug.”  (See reference 1.)  This divide arises from the reality that blacks received harsher punishments more often for dealing the “crack” or “rock” cocaine, and whites more often received a lesser punishment for dealing powder cocaine.  (See reference 1.)

After the signing of the Fair Sentencing Act, an issue arose as how the act affected those who committed the crime prior to the signing, but sentenced after.  Attorney General Eric Holder, has said that the government urges the courts to apply the new 18-1 ratio to anyone sentenced after the Act’s signing, no matter when their crimes had occurred.  (See reference 1.)  This Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear a one-hour oral argument on the matter, in the context of two cases concerning the prison sentences imposed on two defendants convicted of trafficking cocaine.  (See references 2 & 3.)  The threshold issue is essentially one of statutory interpretive concerning whether the 2010 act was meant to apply retroactively.  However, no person involved in the matter can deny the “crack v. powder” controversy and the racial implications and overtones surrounding these arguments.  It leads one to question whether “fair” sentencing should only be afforded to those who waited just a bit longer prior to dealing or possessing cocaine?

1)  Lyle Denniston, Argument preview: The crack cocaine controversy, SCOTUS blog (April, 12, 2012, 6:38 pm), (last visited April. 13, 2012).

2)  Dorsey v. United States: SCOTUS blog, (last visited April. 13, 2012).

3)  Hill v. United States: SCOTUS blog, (last visited April. 13, 2012).

How accurate are cross-racial witness identifications?

Written by:  Tetra S. Shockley

The Teach Your Jurors Well: Using Jury Instructions to Educate Jurors About Factors Affecting the Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony article articulates the challenges of convictions based solely on eyewitness testimony.  Mistaken identity from eyewitness testimony is the single largest cause of wrongful convictions in capital cases.  One of the greatest difficulties in eyewitness identification is cross-racial identification.  This occurs when a witness of a crime is of a different race than the perpetrator.  Many studies have shown that people have an easier time identifying members of their own race and tend to make more errors when having to identify members of other races.

Wrongful convictions based on cross-racial identifications have sparked debate about whether to allow expert testimony on the difficulties of making such identifications.  I believe the question is not whether to allow expert testimony in these cases, but how to implement it in a way that assists rather than hinder jurors.  Jurors are ordinary citizens who may or may not know the scientific or social data surrounding memory, how it works, and how it can be affected.  Likewise, they are not always aware that the “own-race” bias even exists.  It is the job of the courts to ensure that jurors have all the information they need to make an informed, educated decision based on the evidence.   This can be done through jury instructions, as well as expert testimony.  Currently, jurisdictions are divided and there is no uniform approach.

Derek Simmonsen, of the Maryland Law Review, gives an in depth look into the science behind eyewitness testimony (including cross-racial identifications), what jurors do and do not know about this topic, and the legal system’s struggle with the incorporation of eyewitness research in trials.

The link to Derek’s article:

Ready, Aim, Fire?

Written by: Amy C. Hummler

The Ready, Aim, Fire? District of Columbia v. Heller and Communities of Color article presumes that the Supreme Court’s failure to articulate a standard of review or what constitutes a reasonable regulation of firearms will likely increase litigation on a municipality’s ability for regulating the possession and use of firearms within their own city limits. I found this article interesting as it describes that this is not just an issue about public, health, and safety but also a civil rights issue because African Americans are statistically more victimized by gun related violence than other races. There are several municipalities who have similar regulations to D.C. that prohibit firearms, and the Court’s invalidation of this ordinance will require widespread restrictions to become lenient in areas where violence is rampant. The article notes that handguns in urban areas pose distinctive dangers and African Americans usually bear the largest burden from these dangers. I agree with the authors’ main assertion that municipalities should have  broad power to enact laws regulating firearms based upon their own circumstances. These laws should be determined by local citizens, and especially by African American communities, who are affected by handgun related violence.

Link to “Ready, Aim, Fire? District of Columbia v. Heller and Communities of Color” by Michael B. de Leeuw, Dale E. Ho, Jennifer K. Kim, and Daniel S. Kotler.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.

The Disparate Impact of the One Strike Eviction Policy

Written by:  Shloka Joshi

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” – Maya Angelou

Authors Wendy Kaplan and David Rossman, professors at Boston University’s Law School, recently examined the issue of juvenile delinquency and its effects on a family’s ability to obtain and maintain public housing in the United States.

In their article, published in the Duke Forum of Law and Social Change, they go into great detail about how the federal government’s One Strike Policy allows public housing authorities to evict families from their housing programs if their children commit any type of criminal act, regardless of its severity and without consideration of the child’s level of participation in that act. The authors argue that policies such as these create and foster many more problems than they seek to solve: Here, the government is hoping that such policies reduce and deter criminal activity among those utilizing public housing. In practice, the policy is allowing public housing authorities to displace families that first, should not be displaced, and second, are relying on this housing.

The proposed solutions to the problems raised by this type of policy are not only constructive, but also appear to be easily applied to impact change. They include changes at the political level, within the administrative agencies and housing authorities, as well as changes in the juvenile justice system to address the systemic problems created by this policy.


The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.


One Strike and You’re Out!

Written by:  Megan Hunsicker

One strike and you’re out… what happened to three?  While strict liability maximizes deterrence and eases enforcement difficulties, the policy is a bit extreme when applied to the public housing context.  Kaplan’s article, entitled Called “Out” at Home: The One Strike Eviction Policy & Juvenile Court discusses the federal government’s One Strike policy, in which public housing authorities are encouraged to evict an entire household for any individual household member’s criminal act, no matter how trivial.  Where the basis for eviction is juvenile delinquency, the family agrees to either dispossess one of its children or stay together and find itself out on the street.  How does homelessness reduce crime levels?  A correlation between the two has yet to be systematically measured.  Modification of the existing law is obviously needed to brunt the harsh effects of the One Strike policy at least until its effect has been proven.

Link to Article: Called “Out” at Home: The One Strike Eviction Policy & Juvenile Court, by Kaplan & Rossman in the Duke Forum for Law & Social Change.

Stand Your Ground against Skittles and Ice Tea!

Written by: Sara Horatius

In wake of the Trayvon Martin Case, the “Stand Your Ground” statute in Florida has been subjected to a lot of scrutiny over the last couple of days. African American communities all across the United States are concerned that “Stand Your Ground” laws will have a drastic effect on African American males in the future if this law is not repealed in Florida and in many other states.

On Feb. 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida, 17 year old Trayvon Martin, who was visiting his father in a gated community, went out to the store to buy snacks. On his way back to his father’s house, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman, called the police and told them that Trayvon looked suspicious and that he looked as if he was on drugs. Zimmerman proceeded to follow Trayvon, even after the 9-1-1 dispatcher told him not to. By the end of the night, the result was a dead 17-year-old teenager and a man who was able to walk away free from being arrested because he claimed the stand your ground defense.

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute allows people to use deadly force inside or outside of their home if there is a reasonable belief that they had to defend themselves from death or serious bodily injury. People who have killed another person out and claim this type of self defense will be provided with immunity from being arrested or prosecuted. Let’s look at how this law was applied in the Trayvon Martin case and how it might have an effect on African American communities in the future.

First, African American males should not wear hoodies because any African American male that wears a hoodie is presumed to be suspicious, as claimed by Zimmerman and Geraldo Rivera. Second, you are allowed to follow an African American male in a community that has a low ration of them, even after you are told not too, because most likely that male does not belong there. Make sure to scream the stand your ground defense, especially when you realize that the African American male who you have just killed was not really a threat because all that he has on his person is a bag of Skittles and a bottle of ice tea; however, you might have had a reasonable fear that he would have thrown some Skittles in your eyes or splashed some ice tea in your face. Finally, do not worry; the police will most likely believe you because African American males, like Trayvon Martin, always gets away and are probably up to no good.

For more on this case and the “Stand Your Ground” Law,0,1383205.story shooting/story?id=15988474#.T291RHKwWUZ

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.

Justice for Trayvon Martin?

Written by:  Shauna Lee

It is probably too early to tell.  Maybe the world will never know what exactly happened on the evening of February 26, 2012 between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.  However the handling of this teenage boy’s death by the Sanford Police and their refusal to arrest George Zimmerman has reignited the racial divide in that small town.  Was it that Trayvon was wearing a hooded sweatshirt?  Was it that there was an African-American male walking around in a gated community?  There seems to be an unspoken rule that a young black male must rebut the presumption that he is up to no good.  The outrage comes not only from the fact that a young man lost his life, but from the inaction taken to arrest George Zimmerman and charge him with the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.  The “Stand Your Ground” statute passed by the Florida Legislature in 2005 allows individuals to meet force with force and act in self-defense.  The discrepancy comes as to whether Zimmerman lost that privilege when he decided to follow Trayvon after the 911 dispatcher advised him not to.  With the possibility of an indictment by the grand jury next week, the overarching social question regarding the assumption that young black males are up to no good still needs to be addressed.

For more information regarding the Trayvon Martin case, see:

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.

Law Enforcement/Intelligence Gathering in Muslim and Immigrant Communities After 9/11

Written by:  Elizabeth L. August

The aftermath of 9/11 certainly left its mark on law enforcement tactics in the United States.  Shortly after the attacks, various agencies reached out to Muslim communities, creating partnerships to sniff out homegrown terrorist cells.  These efforts have been largely successful.  However, another commonly used police tactic threatens to erode these terror-fighting partnerships.  As David A. Harris argues in the New York University Review of Law & Social Change, the use of informants to gather intelligence in mosques sends a conflicting message to Muslim communities.  It is a blatant threat to the sanctity of a place of worship.  This, combined with the “assumption of the risk” doctrine that has been applied to law enforcement’s use of informants, further threatens the positive relationships that have been built.  The author argues that a mutually beneficial arrangement is achievable by limiting the use of informants, and bringing that limited use under the Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment.  Reinforcing these community partnerships will benefit law enforcement, Muslim communities, and everyone else.

Click here to read the article this blog discusses.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.