According to the most recent data from the American Bar Association (ABA), there were 1,300,705 licensed lawyers in America in 2015. Of that total, only 5% or 65,035 were Black lawyers! Consider the fact that white people are approximately +/-66% of the American population but make up 88% of all lawyers in the country. While Black people are +/-13% of the population but only 5% of our people are lawyers. Why is this low representation in the legal industry a catastrophic problem for the overall Black population you ask?
Take for example what occurs when a Black person enters into a courtroom anywhere in America to face any kind of criminal charges. There is a slim chance that the judge, the prosecutor, or their own defense attorney will be a Black person. When this happens, there isn’t someone there that can understand and relate to your journey in life. The person standing accused of a crime now has to hope they might have a person in the judicial system that can be sympathetic to their plight.
For a Black person entangled in the justice system, you are at the hands of the mercy of the prosecutor assigned to your case because they are the ones directly responsible for bringing charges against you. The prosecutor alone gets to decide whether to dismiss your case, offer you a plea deal, or have your case proceed to a trial. Coupled with the possibility of having a judge who cannot relate to you as a person, the accused has a tough uphill climb of having a fair and impartial journey through the court system.
In order to reduce the number of false imprisonments or unnecessary prosecutions of Black people in America, the Black community needs to make it a point of having our children understand the importance of becoming judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. While these are vital roles in the justice system, there are numerous other positions in the legal industry where Black lawyers are needed.
We have all seen how easy Blacks are convicted of even minor crimes and receive extended prison sentences. While on the other hand, when white police officers are seen on video killing unarmed Black men and women, they are rarely ever convicted or even face any charges. We as a community need to be vigilant and realize we have a vital role to play in the criminal justice system. While many people have called for more Black police officers in order to reduce the killings of Black citizens, we need to understand that their jobs do not have the ability to force relevant changes. If we increase the number of Black lawyers in the court systems, we can force policy changes from within the system.
It is imperative to have more Black attorneys because according to a 2011 study of cases in the New York County district attorney’s office, a Black defendant stood a 19% higher chance of receiving a plea bargain or jail time conviction versus a white defendant who wasn’t prosecuted. The study also showed that Blacks accused of minor crimes or drug offenses were more likely to be held in jail while waiting to be arraigned. The lack of Black lawyers in the legal industry directly correlates with the fact that 58% of the people locked up in 2012 for drug offenses were Blacks or Hispanics.
The call for more Black lawyers was summed up precisely by the the former head of the National Black Prosecutors Association, Bruce Brown, who stated, “When you have African Americans in the room making decisions, challenging decisions, folks are forced to look at the motives behind what they’re doing, and it’s not until all those motives are questioned that we make sure that our system is working, not only effectively, but also efficiently and fairly for everyone involved.”