Book: Racial inequality is baked into the legal system

Race and class inequalities are embedded in the American legal system, a new book argues. The author says major changes are vital to fixing things.
A young Black man stands with his hands up looking at a wall of police officers in front of him on the street

Race and class inequalities are embedded in the American criminal legal system, the author of a new book argues.

For Matthew Clair, the protests following the death of George Floyd are a stark reminder of the US’s turbulent racial history.

“In 2012 when I was in graduate school, I attended several protests in Boston following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager,” says Clair, an assistant professor of sociology at Stanford University.

“Trayvon’s death and the emergence of the Movement for Black Lives in 2014 in the wake of Ferguson profoundly affected me.”

Clair became interested in criminal justice issues after seeing how the legal system plays a central role in the lives of Black people in the United States.

“As I conducted interviews and ethnographic observations among police, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, and defendants in courthouses in the Northeast,” he says, “I began to understand just how massive the legal system’s imprint is in US society, and how it intersects with racial and economic injustice.”

As a professor, he has continued to add to the body of work around race and injustice in the US. His book Privilege and Punishment: How Race and Class Matter in Criminal Court (Princeton, 2020), will come out in November.

Here, Clair outlines how mass criminalization is a root cause of racial inequality within the US and racial and economic inequalities are part of the country’s legal system:

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