San Franciscos DA Makes Significant Prosecutorial Changes To Further The Fight Against Anti-Black Racism And Implicit Bias In The Justice System -…

Chess Study

Attorney balance advocate antique beautiful blind blindfold

Last year, the San Francisco district attorneys office released its plans to address issues related to implicit and explicit bias in the justice system. A year later and after the death of George Floyd, some law enforcement agencies have coordinated efforts to implement implicit bias training to address growing concerns about ongoing incidents of police brutality and police misconduct toward Blacks. But some have criticized such efforts noting that implicit bias training in policing only scratches the surface and does not necessarily change behavior. However, it appears that San Franciscos DA office was ahead of the curve when the former DA announced that the office would begin a program to help address implicit and explicit bias in prosecutorial decisions. Many applauded the initiative and now San Franciscos newly elected DA is aggressively building on that momentum to answer a much-needed call to action to address racial disparities and inequities in the justice system.

During a press conference in 2019, San Franciscos former District Attorney, George Gascon, said that the office planned to launch a program that would allow prosecutors to prosecute individuals without knowing the persons racial or geographical background. This blind review process would also include not having immediate access to similar information about the victim of the crime to reduce the potential for implicit bias in prosecutions. The former district attorney shared that the office would begin using an artificial intelligence system engineered by Sharad Goel, an assistant professor at Stanford University that would remove racial and other identifying information from cases provided by the San Francisco Police Department. Gascon said that this effort would allow prosecutors to review cases, through the lens of the behavior that is being alleged, and whether or not that is criminal behavior. Cases would also no longer include identifying information from police and would replace police narratives with generic terms such as, victim and suspect as well as identifying information of the arresting officers. Gascon said that this would minimize the likelihood that the prosecuting attorney would be able to make inferences about the suspects ethnic or racial background.

This was one of several plans in which the district attorneys office has used cutting edge technology to become more progressive in addressing racial disparities. However, the software system does have a few limitations. When reviewing applicable video and audio footage, identifying information has to be released and the process is not used in sexual assault, homicide, or domestic violence cases as of yet. Additionally, the program is not used for officer-involved shootings or other use-of-force reviews, due to there being different legal parameters for what constitutes a crime in those situations and a prosecutor would need to know a persons law enforcement background.

That said, for qualifying cases, prosecutors can make their initial charging decisions using the blind review process and then review evidence a second time after identifying information is released. Any changes that occur between the two review processes would then need to be justified. Although the program has received some criticism for geographical information being pertinent to reviewing evidence, many support the initiative and argue that it compliments current efforts that some police departments have initiated. One of the most common recent responses to accusations of racist policing has been to implement implicit bias training, which typically includes a seminar that examines the psychological assertion that unconscious stereotypes can cause people to make dangerous instantaneous judgments. For example, unconscious associations of Black men being more dangerous or criminally minded could make some police more likely to view them as suspects.

However, little research has been done to examine if such training is effective in addressing implicit bias among members of law enforcement. Some argue that implicit training might change minds but not necessarily behavior. There has also been growing discussion about the need for measures to be taken beyond law enforcement and policing. Steve J. Martin, a former corrections expert for the Department of Homeland Security and a current federal court monitor for litigation involving the use of force at New Yorks Rikers Island jail argues that police brutality and racial disparities do not stop once a suspect enters the jail and that excessive and even lethal force is common in most jails. Similar concerns have been shared about prosecutors.

Prosecutors possess extreme power and stand at the entryway of detrimental decisions that can mean life or death. They can also perpetuate racist policies by enabling, defending, and building upon some officers abusive behavior toward BIPOC. Prosecutors decide to charge and what to charge. If they are working from a biased explicit or implicit lens, those biases can likely shape their determination. Several cases have received widespread media attention for not only wrongfully prosecuting Black men but also, wrongfully convicting them as well. This is devastating trend that has been evidenced though cases such as the Central Park Five and Clifford Williams Jr. and his nephew Hubert Nathan Myers who both served more than 40 years behind bars after being wrongfully charged and convicted of the murder of two women in 1976.

Some argue that there are hundreds if not more similar cases in which an innocent Black persons life was destroyed due to racial bias or flat out racist policies present in the justice system. Recognizing this disparity and the profound power that prosecutors have, San Franciscos newly elected DA, Chesa Boudin, cleaned house by firing at least six prosecuting attorneys two days after he was sworn in to further efforts to address racial inequities that were present in San Franciscos DA office. In an article written by theWashington Post,a Washington D.C. public defender, Rachel Cicurel, wrote, In theory, a prosecutors job is not to maximize convictions any more than a police officers job is tomaximize arrests. But walk into any criminal courtroom in D.C. Superior Court, where I practice as a public defender, and youll see prosecutiontreatedlike a sport, Cicurel said. Criminal defendants, disproportionately Black, arent evaluated as people with futures at stake; they are interchangeable chess pieces in agamethat encourages hiding facts, overcharging to coerce pleas andwinning at all costs.

A study conducted by The Yale Law Journal in 2013 found that federal prosecutors were almost two times more likely to bring charges carrying mandatory minimum sentences against Black defendants compared to white defendants accused of a similar crime. Similarly, TheVera Instituteof Justice found that prosecutors were 143% more likely to bring first-degree murder charges against Black defendants with white victims than any other racial combination and 2016 data was released that showed convictions that led to murder exonerations with Black defendants were more likely to involve police misconduct than with white defendants.

In theWashington Postarticle, Rachel Cicurel shares accounts of prosecutors fighting to keep officers misconduct asecretafter theyve unconstitutionally charged, stopped, and searched a person of color along with an incident in which a Black homeless drug addict was charged with felony drug distribution afterundercover officerspaid her to buy them heroin. The D.C. public defender goes on to say, Ive witnessed prosecutors so indiscriminately argue for incarceration they dont even realize theyve mixed up one defendant with another. And Ive listened to prosecutorsabsurdlyclaim that a chronically ill Black man was as likely to contract Covid-19 at home as he was inside acrowded, filthy jail.

Although some do not see the need for police reform, many are pleading for it. Thousands of Americans also see the grave need for reform in the overall justice system. Although not perfect, the plan under the former DA was a powerful step in the right direction toward this end. While meaningful change toward racial equity might take some time, the efforts that former District Attorney Gascon made along with the bold moves that DA Boudin is currently making are leading the way to not only reform and restructure racist and oppressive policies in the justice system, but also to create a culture of accountability and reflection for individuals who have been given the esteemed honor to protect and serve as both members of law enforcement and as prosecuting attorneys.

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San Franciscos DA Makes Significant Prosecutorial Changes To Further The Fight Against Anti-Black Racism And Implicit Bias In The Justice System -...

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