Laws as Tools for Racial Injustices in the American Society

The judicial system is a perfect reflection of the American society. Historically, African-Americans were marginalized and discriminated based on their skin color. During the slavery period, the Blacks were considered chattels. The Whites enacted laws that regulated every aspect of lives of the former. Today, the criminal courts and justice system imprison more Blacks than Whites. The law hence continues being used as a tool for racial injustices in America.



As early as the 1640s, criminal rules and punishments were put in place to benefit the Whites. They prosecuted Africans without a fair trial. Free Blacks who found themselves on the wrong side of the law were automatically convicted to death, banishment or lengthy trials. Murder by lynching was the crudest form of torture for them. For instance, in the case of the United States versus Shipp, the law enforcers did little to protect the Blacks from lynching. The Whites also attacked Blacks based on vengeance as seen in the case of murder in paradise. The state passed rigid laws to punish any slave who attempted to escape.

The Supreme Court looked at Blacks as non-persons. In the case of Dred Scott versus Sandford, the Court decided that Dred was not a US citizen since he was a slave. According to the Constitution, a slave was prohibited from accessing the courts of justice. Even after slavery ended, Blacks were not allowed inside the halls of justice. Moreover, African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics were not allowed to testify against the Whites. They further could not legally defend themselves in courts. An example of these due process deprivations is evidenced in The Trial of Celia, a slave who was hanged for murdering her master. She confessed that she killed him to protect herself against rape. The law protected women against rape. However, this law did not apply to Celia since she was a slave. She was not allowed to testify because the Missouri law prohibited Blacks from testifying against the Whites. After slavery was abolished, the lawmakers did nothing to protect women of color. Even today, legislation against rape only applies to the Whites. An example of such a case is that of Recy Taylor in Alabama. Taylor was accused of raping a black maid called Nafissau Diallo and was brought to court. Despite the clear evidence provided during the trial, the question of rape or consensual sex was not taken into account. The case ruled to favor Taylor since evidence given was not credible according to the jury.

After the abolishment of slavery, states enacted Black Codes to maintain the social and racial hierarchy of the slaves. These laws made African Americans slaves in everything. Additionally, the Black Codes subjected them to harsh punishments and longer sentences. The Blacks signed land lease contracts that forced them into involuntary servitude. The farms were infertile thus leaving them in debts. It was considered to be a criminal offense to break the contracts. The Bailey versus Alabama case is an example of how Black Codes were used to oppress African Americans. Bailey did not honor the contract he had signed with a white man. He was, therefore, arrested and imprisoned for defrauding his employer.

The judicial system also gave the police too much power. For instance, Ed Johnson was charged with raping Nevada Taylor. She, however, failed to identify the person who was guilty. Nevertheless, Captain Joseph Shipp went on to arrest Johnson for the crime despite evidence showing that he was working that fateful day.

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Historically, laws have been used to favor the Whites. Legislation was harsh to both the free Blacks and slaves. The state judicial system made sure that African Americans had little power in Court. Moreover, it looked at the Blacks as non-persons or just properties. The system imposed harsh penalties and punishment on the latter even after proving them innocent. It is, therefore, evident that the American judicial system has been continuously used as a tool to deny racial justice over the years.

How Laws Have Been Used as Tools to Remedy Racial Injustice in American Society

There is no doubt that racial and ethnic inequality have greatly contributed to shaping the American history. For many years, crimes, penalties, and punishments have given numerous examples of the racial division in America. During the slave era, lynching, mob violence, torture, and judicial bigotry were common for the people of color. It was also normal for Africans to be tried by an all-white jury. Furthermore, the police used excessive powers towards the slaves. Nevertheless, there are instances where the use of laws protects people from racial injustices.

The Court Involvement in Punishing White Mobs Members

In January 1923, a white mob planned and attacked Rosewood town in Florida as a way to revenge the attack on a white teacher by two black men. After some time, investigations showed that the white woman was raped and murdered by a white man. Years later, the victims presented their claim for damages in the case of Arnett Goins, Minnie Lee Langley, et al., versus the state of Florida. The victims did not receive any financial compensation but the fact that the Supreme Court acknowledged their pain was in itself a step towards racial justice. Another case where the American judicial system is seen to support racial justice is in the Case of James Byrd, Jr. The court found three white men guilty and sentenced them to life in prison.

Police Brutality Check

Many times the American Federal government has tried to enact criminal stature to protect African Americans under the law. An example is in the case of Screws versus United States. The courts also, in some cases, protected Blacks from unreasonable seizures, as in the case of Mapp versus Ohio. Dollree Mapp, a black woman, rented out a room to a man. The police wanted information about the person and they forcefully searched Mapp house. They arrested her after they found pornographic materials. In court, Mapp presented evidence that the materials found belonged to the man. The Supreme Court ruled in the favor of Dollree Mapp.

Protection against Abuse in Prison

It is evident that prison life in America is characterized with discrimination and violence. An example is in the case of Hudson versus McMillian. Keith Hudson took legal action against white correctional officers Arthur Mezo, Jack McMillian, and Marvin Woods. The Supreme Court ruled and favored Hudson. It recognized that police powers over prisoners must be limited.

Including People of Color in the Juries

Blacks have struggled to maintain and secure their rightful place in the American Court Systems for decades. In the Batson versus Kentucky case, the court allowed the prosecutor to strike off all the four Blacks from the jury. The court found Batson guilty since there was no evidence of discrimination in the case proceedings. He, however, appealed the court decision. The US Supreme Court stepped in. It held that the equal protection clause limits a prosecutor from using the peremptory challenge to reject potential jurors solely on basis of their race or assumption that black jurors would fail to judge fairly.

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Inclusion of Black Witnesses in Court Proceedings

As seen in the case of Celia, Blacks were not allowed to testify in court. However, in the mid-twentieth century, they gained access to witness stands. An example of this is in the Hamilton versus Alabama case where the Supreme Court allowed Mary Hamilton to testify . Nevertheless, during the case, discriminatory treatment from the judges, prosecutors, and court workers was evident. Mary Hamilton was allowed to testify in court, but the prosecutors refused to acknowledge her by her full names since she was black.


To sum up, discrimination based on race is morally wrong and contributes to violating the principle of human rights and equality. During the slavery period, African Americans were seen as properties by the Whites. The courts did nothing to uphold the Blacks dignity. After slavery was abolished, amendments to the Bill of Rights that granted all people equal treatments were passed. Henceforth, the laws have protected the Blacks from white mobs attacks, police brutality, and abuse in prison. Moreover, they were allowed to testify and participate in court proceedings as jurors. The American judicial system is far from being perfect. Nevertheless, efforts have been made to reduce racial injustices in the court systems.

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