stl prosecutor

Infographic: The US’s elected prosecutors are literally a bunch of white dudes

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 10.40.44 AMA new study offers a (rare!) but damning indictment of a criminal justice system managed and directed overwhelmingly by white men, revealing yet another gap between those with enormous power in the system and the people they are elected to represent.

Released Tuesday by the Women Donors Network’s Reflective Democracy Campaign, Justice for All*? tracked the race and gender of elected prosecutors nationwide. How big is the gap? Of the 2,437 elected prosecutors in this country:

  • 95 percent are white and 79 percent are white men;
  • 60 percent of states have no elected black prosecutors;
  • Latinos are 17 percent of the population, but only 1.7 percent of elected prosecutors;
  • Just 17 percent of elected prosecutors are women — and only 1% are women of color.

And if you were wondering if there is any state in America that meets at least one measure of adequate representation? Well hooray — there is just one where the percentage of women prosecutors matches their percentage of the population (50%). Shout out to you, Maine.

As many have noted, this lack of representation matters. Discussing mass incarceration for the New Yorker back in May, Jeffrey Toobin wrote:

In the U.S. legal system prosecutors may wield even more power than cops. Prosecutors decide whether to bring a case or drop charges against a defendant; charge a misdemeanor or a felony; demand a prison sentence or accept probation. Most cases are resolved through plea bargains, where prosecutors, not judges, negotiate whether and for how long a defendant goes to prison. And prosecutors make these judgments almost entirely outside public scrutiny.

Given that prosecutors often wield more power than judges and the police, that 85 percent of them are re-elected unopposed, and the current overrepresentation of white people, and white men in particular, it is unsurprising then that people of color are more likely to be considered criminal for nonviolent drug-related offenses. That women, particularly poor women of color, are criminalized for their pregnancies or for surviving domestic violence. That police officers are rarely indicted or convicted for murdering unarmed Black people from Ferguson, to Staten Island, to Cleveland.

If prosecutors overwhelmingly shape our legal understandings of who is considered “criminal,” they also almost exclusively determine who is a “worthy” victim. For victims of anti-Black racism, rape, abusive partners, hate crimes, and other violence, this study helps clarify one more reason why charges against our attackers are rarely brought forward successfully: it’s not just because juries are biased or judges are assholes — it’s because the gatekeepers to the system that are supposed to be our champions are literally a bunch of old white dudes.

Read more of the study here.

Header Image Credit: AP

Mahroh Jahangiri is the former Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization working to end gender violence in schools. She cares about the ways in which American militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally. You can say hi to her at @mahrohj.

Mahroh Jahangiri is the former Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization working to end gender violence in schools.

Read more about Mahroh

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