According to Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for victims of sexual assault and military justice, Black military service personnel were more than twice as likely to face court martials or other forms of military punishment. The group analyzed Pentagon open records from 2006 through 2015 and found that in an average year, Black troops received harsher punishments than their white counterparts.
According to the report, “Over the past decade, racial disparities have persisted in the military justice system without indications of improvement. These disparities are particularly striking for Black service members, who face military justice or disciplinary action at much higher rates than white service members in every service branch. In fact, the size of the disparity between white and Black service members’ military justices involvement has remained consistent over the years, and, in the case of the Air Force and Marine Corps has increased.”
After the P.O.D. report was made public, the Pentagon issued a statement that said, “It is longstanding Department of Defense policy that service members must be afforded the opportunity to serve in an environment free from unlawful racial discrimination. The department will review any new information concerning implementation of and compliance with this policy.”
The military branch with the harshest punishments and most significant race issues for Black service members was the Marine Corps. A Black Marine was 2.6 times more likely to be subjected to a general court martial than one of his white counterparts. The study also showed that a Black service member in the Air Force had a 71 percent greater chance of facing a court martial or non-judicial punishment as a white airman. While at a lower percentage than the other two branches, Blacks in the Army and the Navy were 61 percent and 40 percent more likely to face a court martial respectively.
Don Christensen, the director of the organization that conducted the study and a former top prosecutor for the Air Force, said “From the findings of the study, race appears like it plays a big role, which is disheartening. It seems to have a sizable role in determining if somebody’s going to go to court or receive non-judicial punishment. I’m really not sure what exactly explains it, and that’s what is really troubling. The military has known about these numbers for decades and has done nothing about it.”
According to Christensen, the issue comes down to a lack of diversity in the ranks of those serving as Officers. In 2016, a staggering 78% of military officers were white, while only about 8% were Black. He said, “If you look at the leadership of the military it skews very dramatically white and male and you would imagine that the closer relationships will be with white male subordinates. Hence they probably get the benefit of the doubt that the African American males don’t.”