The Instigator
Con (against)
The Contender
Pro (for)

There is racial bias in the US Law Enforcement System.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/19/2016 Category: Society
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 1,020 times Debate No: 93886
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (23)
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In the past decade the US Justice System has come under much scrutiny for bias against minority groups within the nation. Much of the rhetoric established in this discussion has been politically charged and is therefore heavily biased to one point of view. This debate is an attempt to debate without any influence of bias from said sources in order to arrive at a closer understanding to what is causing the current events in the Justice System. That is to say, we are hoping to find if there truly is any bias in the Justice System and if that is true why this bias occurs. Alternatively if there is no bias inherent in the Justice System then we are hoping to understand why certain groups seem to be affected more than others by the Justice System.


1) Sources must all be from non-biased sources. Sources that are obtained through a biased source (such as a study obtained through a news report/article) are acceptable but only the actual source, and not the report/article, may be linked.
2) Any images to graphs or other visual aids must be cited.
3) Anecdotal evidence is not acceptable and will be ignored.
4) FBI statistics are deemed acceptable but it must be noted that White includes White Hispanics in these statistics.
5) Statistics concerning the Justice System in other countries is OK as long as the person presenting them clarifies the differences in recording such statistics from the US (if such differences exist).
6) Argument MUST contain at least 3 credible sources.
7) In text citations required (simply use number of the source; ex: "This is a cited sentence"[1]) and a list at the end of argument is also required.


White = Any person of European/Australian origin or descent (excludes Spain).
Black = Any person of African descent or Black American descent (Australian aboriginals exempt).
Hispanic = Any person of Latino origin or descent (Includes Spain).
Asian = Any person descended from East Asian countries.

All remaining races will be listed as "Other".


1) Three rounds.
2) First round is acceptance.
3) Second round is presentation of argument.
4) Third round is counter-argument of opponents second round.


I Accept.
Debate Round No. 1


I should specify that my argument is contained to the 50 States of the US and is not meant to analyze the law enforcement system in any other places controlled by the USA. I also wish to clarify that I do not mean by the title of the resolution that the number of arrests/convictions are unequal when looking at race but that the reasons for these numbers being unequal is due to factors other than race. That is to say, for example, that "X is arrested more often than Y because X commits more crime than Y, not because X looks like X and not like Y".

To begin looking at the law enforcement system, and how it is enforced, I will breakdown the process someone usually goes through before being sent to prison where there could potentially be racial prejudice. I do this because once someone is in prison it is useless to analyze the population of prisoners to assess prejudice since it says nothing about the conditions during their arrest or evidence used to prove them guilty of a crime.

1) Arrest

The first area I believe that racial prejudice may be experienced is just before or during an arrest. That is to say that if there is racial bias it is either when someone is suspected of a crime or during the arrest in terms of what force is used to apprehend the suspect.

A recent study, conducted by Roland G. Fryer Jr., found that there was no bias during police shootings. [1] That is to say that when a cop decides to shoot a suspect he was unable to find any difference, for that decision by cops, that was due to race. In fact it has been argued by Peter Moskos that whites are more likely to be killed by cops when adjusting for the rate at which cops are feloniously killed by whites versus blacks (and other races). [2]

While Fryer did find differences in use of police force based on race I was unable to find if he adjusted for the prior crimes committed by subjects. That is to say if he noted that when a police officer is sent to apprehend a subject that perhaps when he is briefed on the previous criminal activity of a person, if such information is available, that it may lead to a difference in use of force. If we consider that whites are less likely to commit multiple crimes than blacks or latinos, and Asians even less than whites, then it may not be that the difference in force used against certain races is due to racial bias but rather due to the cop having information that changes he perception of the person because of their criminal record. What must also be considered is the geographical location in which most suspects are apprehended. The largest cities in America typically have the highest crime along with the most police killings. [3]

(Data created using the City Comparison Tool)
In these cities the areas with the highest crime tend to have the highest population of blacks & latinos. These areas also tend to be the poorest in each city and when cops are sent to these areas to search for a suspect they may hold bias due to the area being known as dangerous rather than because the person is a certain race. I believe that if a study was conducted accounting for the previous crimes committed and geographical location of the arrest then the disparity seen in use of force could potentially be explained by these factors rather than race.

2) Conviction
The next part in the justice process that one could experience bias is when being sent to court for a potential conviction of said crime. It is often said that blacks/latinos are more likely to be convicted or that they get harsher sentences for the same crime as whites.

In 1994 (revised in 99) the Bureau of Justice (BoJ) commissioned a survey of prosecutors in state courts. In this study it was found that there was a lower prosecution rate of blacks than for whites. [4] This surveyed 75 different urban areas.

What is consistently argued is the disparity in sentencing for two particular drugs which are crack and powdered cocaine. The main reason behind this is due to the nature of crack being easier to distribute and get high off of. In 1994 the infamous "Crime Bill" was passed mostly by black legislators who believed that doing so would help clean up their neighborhoods. In an unfortunate event since most dealers who distributed crack were black this added to the perception that blacks are given harsher sentences for the same crime.

Furthermore as far as I have been able to find there has yet to be a study that adjusts for certain factors when considering whether or not harsher sentences are given to certain races. They are as follows:

1) The history of the judge and how harsh their previous sentences were
2) The history of the suspect and how many crimes (and how severe the crimes) they committed
3) The lawyers available to the suspects and their track records

Especially when considering point #2 I am also unable to find statistics on which race is more likely to have a history of crime. However we can say which races are more likely to commit certain type of crimes thanks to a large report called the "Color of Crime" report. [5] It found that blacks are only arrest more than they are the reported perpetrator for seven crimes: homicides, counterfeiting/forgery, embezzlement, fraud, stolen property offenses, drug offenses, and gambling. Paraphrasing from the report these crimes are either victimless (embezzlement, fraud, stolen property offenses, drug offenses, and gambling), or crimes for which there is usually no witness available (homicides, counterfeiting/forgery). While this falls more into the category of "arrests" it may help explain why there are sentencing differences especially in homicides. It is widely known that most homicides/murders go unsolved and that this is a problem that specifically plagues the black community especially in Chicago where just 26% of all homicides were solved.

(While I realize this is one city it would be impossible to go through more cities as the number of sources my opponent would have to read through would become to large)

This is perhaps an explanation as to why there is a disparity in charges for blacks versus most other racial groups. In an attempt to help curb the violence those who are caught suffer greater sentences. Since blacks are shown to commit murder at a much higher rate than any other race it is possible that this is the reasoning that harsher sentences are given to them and not because they are black despite the fact that most murders are unsolved. Even if a murder is unsolved many of them may have reported a black offender thus adding more to this perception. This is similar to the attempt by black legislators to clean up their areas when supporting the 1994 Crime Bill.

When looking at studies/reports that tend to support the notion that cops/legislators (or the justice system in general) is racially biased a few trends have been noticed. They tend to compare population percentages to arrest/prison percentages but do not consider the rate at which different races commit crime and attempt to make conclusions through this. They also tend to disregard the past criminal activity of the person and even studies/reportes against this notion do this. When accounting for these factors (as was done in the color of crime report) the disparities seem to be explained.


2) COP IN THE HOOD Peter Moskos (
3) MAPPING POLICE VIOLENCE: City Comparison Tool (
4) *PROSECUTORS IN STATE COURTS, 1994 Department of Justice (
5) COLOR OF CRIME REPORT Edwin S. Rubenstein (

* = You will have to download the "codebook" pdf to view as it is no longer hosted online.


The Resolution

There is obviously a racial bias in virtually any organization that exists. It’s much more difficult to argue that racism is pervasive or dominant in United States law enforcement but the resolution simply requires that a racial bias exists in law enforcement.

The burden of proof is a low bar. The resolution was not racism is typical, common etc. Con clearly stated in round 1, “we are hoping to find if there truly is any bias in the Justice System.” Of course there is. All systems are made up of flawed individuals and it’s virtually impossible for anyone to avoid racial bias. It’s a problem we all have to live with.

Affirmative Action in State Universities

The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of affirmative action at Texas University that specifically encourages a racial bias toward minorities. These policies are common in the conservative and liberal colleges alike. This blatantly supports the idea that it is legal for Universities to have a racial bias when it comes to recruitment standards. It essentially ruled that this racial bias in certain instances is not a violation of the law [8]. It is 100% legal to have a preference for minorities in state subsidized universities.

Affirmative Action in Government Institutions

Many government institutions have programs to specifically target minorities in the hiring process [9]. Again a racial bias is legally encouraged to correct for inequalities. NASA, the DIA, The Smithsonian HHS and many others have programs that specifically target minorities for hiring and promotion.

Whether you agree that this is positive or not, at the very highest levels our law enforcement encourages a racial bias to promote minority hiring. If this is account for historical imbalances it is still an obvious bias.

If Affirmative Action programs correct for negative racial bias you now have two major sources of racial bias in United States law enforcement. One subsidized and one that is subversive.

Implicit association leads to an innate bias towards your race including Law enforcement officials.

Note that while there is most certainly a pervasive racial bias in humanity this by no means equates the issue with racism. Studies have shown that there is an innate racial bias toward your own race in the United States. [1] [5].

This can be devastating in Law Enforcement where it is much more likely for police officers to accidentally shoot an unarmed black American when apposed to whites indicating a racial bias. This has been proven both in lab room testing and in the field statistics.

This carries over to sentencing where images of black men who had been convicted of murdering white victims were analyzed. Those who were rated by observers as stereotypically black received a death penalty at a rate of 57% while those rated as less stereotypically black were executed at 24%.

Multiple studies confirm that racial bias is innate and common. There is no reason to expect that law enforcement is an exception. People are slower to identify traits as positive and faster to identify them as negative after viewing an image of a minority in the U.S when compared to whites. When considering a Caucasian job candidate more positive facial expressions can be found then when considering a minority on average.

Overall we have a bias towards ourselves. People that look like us and share culture and a similar background. Denying this is only destructive. Recognizing the bias and recognizing when it causes problems is productive as opposed to denying that it exists in any company agency group etc.

It has been well established humans are biased towards our own race and background, it is pervasive and universal [3]. There is no reason to suspect that U.S Law enforcement is an exception.

There are multiple studies that link this innate racial bias to voting, physician treatment hiring and firing. The list is endless. There are many objective and independent testing methods used to establish that this type of bias is pervasive in the U.S.

Examples of racial bias in U.S. law enforcement are abundant and Con did not specify a degree.

-The New York Stop and Frisk program alone shows a bias.

In 2012 while 84% Those Stopped and frisked are Black or Latino a weapon is found in 1 out of 49 whites that are searched while it takes 71 Latino frisks to find a weapon and 93 searches of black Americans [7]. Contraband is found in 1 of 43 searches of whites while you need 57 and 61 searches of Latino and Black Americans respectively to find contraband.

Either justified or unjustified there is clearly a Bias here. The evidence available suggests it is unjustified.

-Diving While Black/Native

Blacks are 31% more likely to be pulled over than White Americans and Native Americans are pulled over around [8]. Blacks are twice as likely not to be given an explanation for being pulled over and they are more that twice as likely to be searched. They do not have a higher instance o weapons or contraband to justify the discrepancy.

-Sentencing of Black Americans

Sentences given to blacks are 20% longer in comparable crimes when compared to whites [1]. The figure is common on both sides of the argument. They are 23 times more likely to be sentenced to life without parole for non-violent crimes than whites. The discrepancy is far too high to be explained by a difference in crime rates and these are comparisons for the same crimes.

Con’s Concessions

Con has conceded several points I would have tried to make this round. Per the rules, I will not offer a rebuttal to his explanation this round but it saves me time to lay out Con’s concessions:

1) Blacks are more often charged with and given stricter sentences when compared with other races for the same crimes.

To Quote Con, “This is perhaps an explanation as to why there is a disparity in charges for blacks versus most other racial groups. In an attempt to help curb the violence those who are caught suffer greater sentences.”

2) Areas that receive the most criminal convictions have a higher concentration of Blacks and Latinoes.

“In these cities the areas with the highest crime tend to have the highest population of blacks & latinos.”

3) Blacks are more likely to be arrested for seven broad categories of crime when there is no reason to suspect that the perpetrator is black.

“It found that blacks are only arrest more than they are the reported perpetrator for seven crimes: homicides, counterfeiting/forgery,

embezzlement, fraud, stolen property offenses, drug offenses, and gambling.”

4) Justified bias vs an unjustified bias. Con has conceded there are several instances of racial bias (justified from his perspective.)


Affirmative Action programs are common and encouraged by United States Law enforcement and are specifically a bias towards minorities in hiring and promotions. Implicit association makes a racial bias inevitable and U.S. law enforcement is not an exception. Minorities in the U.S. receive a bias both in sentencing and application of the law.











Debate Round No. 2


Due to the generalization in the resolution, if this debate is judged solely on "racial bias" as pro has determined it then I implore you vote pro as he as given good points that I cannot refute based on this term. I will say that Pro should have waited to mention anything from my argument until his third round (as stated in the rules) but I am fine with the manner in which it was done.

However I will continue my debate as if debating "racism" which I should have clarified to begin with.

Since this debate is on Law Enforcement I will be ignoring Pro's points about the education system and other government institutions as it is beyond the scope of this argument. In particular affirmative action is not something I would deem relevant to prove racial bias in law enforcement as this program is not used for such a thing. While it is an example of racial bias that is legally encouraged this argument is not dealing with legally encouraged racial bias but rather bias that is illegal. So while it is a good example of bias existing in government systems it does not explain why there would be bias in a system that does not legally protect such bias. Keep in mind when referring to racial bias this means either arresting or convincing someone solely because of their race and not simply stating that a larger percentage of one race is arrested/convicted more than the other. The later does not explain the reason for there being an unequal percentage but simply that it is there and to jump to racial bias as an answer avoids any other variables that could contribute.

I will agree with pro that there is implicit bias towards your own race as pro has cited many reliable sources and the science has been well defined on the topic for years. There is good consensus in the scientific field that all races are implicitly biased towards their own race. That being said there are very good review documents that give well practiced strategies for reducing such biases [1].

Though it is impossible to completely reduce bias to a null it is possible to monitor law enforcement and analyze data on their actions to see if bias reaches unacceptable levels or levels that should not be possible if proper bias reducing strategies are being practiced.

1) New York Stop and Frisk

While pro mentions that the NY frisk program stops more blacks/Latinos, but it takes less searches of whites to find a weapon, he neglects to mention that among young teens that blacks and Latinos are much more likely to be carrying an illegal weapon [2]. Most people stopped are in fact teens and young adults. If pro specified the data by age group we would be able to arrive at a more clear answer and reduce variables that confound this. Thus pro has not provided ample evidence to say for certain that racial bias is clear in this case.

2) Driving while Black/Native

Again according to [2] among the teen and young adult population minorities (non-Asian) are much more likely to either commit a traffic violation, have previous arrests, carry contraband, or be in possession of an illegal weapon. While I cannot do the calculations with the time left this (as in point 1) brings into question what confounding variables remain in pro's answers and justification for claiming that racial bias is present.

3) Sentencing of Black Americans

This is something I brought up in my argument. It is a consistently driven point that minorities (especially blacks) receive much longer sentences for the same crime. What these studies never control for is previous arrests/convictions, location of the arrest, the judge's record of sentences, and the lawyer available to the defendant. I will refer readers back to my first argument to see it with full citations and claims.

My Concessions

Pro takes several of my quotes out of context namely for points 1 and 2. I will refer the reader back to my previous argument and implore them to read the quote in full context both above and below the quote.

The reiterate the reason I claimed why minorities (non-Asian) are arrested more or given stricter sentences is that they are statistically much more likely to commit crime (expect for arson), much more likely to have committed multiple crimes, and much more likely to resist arrest and/or shoot at or attempt to harm an officer.

Point 3 of mine is also protected by this reasoning. While it is true that blacks are arrested more often then the perpetrator is suspected to be black they are still not arrested more often than they are statistically likely to commit these types of crimes. In fact many cities cite under policing as a major issue in most communities especially with homicide which I mentioned in my argument above.



(I am very sorry for the short and ill formatted counter-arguement. I unfortunately am in the middle of moving and nearly forgot that the debate was due today. I am sorry to pro and all voters for dissapointing in this debate and woud love to debate pro again on another subject on which I promise to dedicate myself to fully to ensure a fun debate for all. I understand if I lose this debate as this was very quickly thrown together but I hope you enjoyed our debate. Thank you!)
This round has not been posted yet.
Debate Round No. 3
23 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Murdoc 2 years ago
Ok, we probably agree. Writing a resolution is very difficult so I would like to challenge myself like that more often. I've read about some terrible examples of racism but I am not sure if it's the pervasive. I'll read up and see if we have a good discussion here. We could work out the resolution ahead of time so there isn't any confusion.
Posted by FrankyG170 2 years ago
"do you think there are at least areas of the country where racism in law enforcement is common?"

Of course. There is no doubt in that. It will always be something but it is in a very small amount. In terms of it being something pervasive in the entire system (what this argument of mine dealt with) then I would say no.

Then again my resolution wasn't exactly clear that this was dealing with a national trend instead of isolated events. While NYC is a huge portion of the population that police department is only one of 17,000. So as far as the Law Enforcement System as a whole goes I'm arguing that that there isn't a nation-wide system of racial bias.

Though once again the resolution should've been much clearer and the definitions a bit less lose.
Posted by Murdoc 2 years ago
Well, at least skim this... best new info I think is in my, crux of Con's arguments, section. Can I ask, do you think there are at least areas of the country where racism in law enforcement is common? This issue is so confounded by poverty's influence on crime but I think I could prove that.
Posted by Murdoc 2 years ago
Thanks to Con for encouraging me to respond and I"ve enjoyed the discussion. There are many biases and managing them effectively is important but racism is a conscious assertion that another race is inferior. Biases are often subconscious but manageable. I have provided examples where racism and bias occur regularly in law enforcement.

Bias vs Racism
When you are not able to manage a bias it becomes racism or other forms of bigotry. Con indicated something similar when he suggested that the debate is about bias that is illegal. My argument would have taken a different track if this were the case and if the wording were adjusted.

Unlike a bias if you are racist you actually believe another race is inferior. If you recognize a natural in group/out group dynamic the bias is controlled and you are much more likely to produce policies that are cooperative and productive for society.

The crux of Con"s arguments

According to Con, Certain minorities are frisked more often because they commit more crime therefore they are arrested more often and sentenced longer and so they are stopped and searched more often. This explanation is circular.

Con needed proof of some somewhere in that loop. He needed to provide a reasonable explanation as to why certain minorities are involved in more crime.

He conceded that there is a natural racial bias, which provides the only plausible explanation. A natural racial bias causes non-Asian minorities to be pulled over and frisked more often. Assuming crime rates were flat across races this would cause there to be a higher rate of crime, leading to a deceptively higher crime rate and increased sentencing.

The natural conclusion then would be that there are higher crime rates amongs those minorities and more traffic stops and frisks. From there the cycle continues.
Posted by Murdoc 2 years ago
Arguments about State School and other Government Affirmative Action are not out of scope.

I get Con"s point but these practices are not only legal they are encouraged. Law enforcement agencies are well aware of these practices and do not take any action. I would consider the laws that are on the books or omitted to be part of the law enforcement system.

They are the guidelines police officers use. I think this is easier to see with an example of a negative bias like preventing minorities from voting. If that were legal I would say that"s a problem with enforcement since a there is a situation that denies the right to vote and there is no law leading to effective enforcement.

By not stopping these practices the law enforcement system is offering implicit approval of these practices. Affirmative action in government and state funded schools is a valid argument to make.

1)New York Stop and Frisk
While Con has a possible explanation as to why Blacks/Latinos are far more likely to be frisked vs. Whites it is still a bias and an illegal one. Since whites carry weapons/contraband at a much higher percentage there is a gap between the higher frisk numbers.

If it is true that teen Blacks and Latinos are more likely to carry guns or contraband than how do you reconcile this? Cops have an unlawful bias toward minorities.

The problem looks to be that teens are more likely to carry guns and contraband but they got it exactly backwards (at least in NY) and simply frisk a much higher percentage of minorities when the issue was age in high crime areas.

Another issue was that my statistics were local while Con"s were national. It points to an area of the country where there is an illegal bias.
Posted by Murdoc 2 years ago
2)Driving while Black/Native

Con suggests that certain minority groups commit more crimes so they are pulled over and frisked more often. This argument is inconclusive especially considering that there is a natural racial bias toward your own race.

Isn"t it more probable that since whites are they majority they act on a subconscious bias and pull over and search minority races? Since they are being stopped and frisked more often, more criminal activity is discovered. Since they have more crimes on their record they are in tern given longer sentences.
Con was not able to connect the chain of events to his explanation. I provided a natural bias argument that makes my explanation more plausible.

3)Sentencing of Black Americans
My argument from 2) (above) applies here. Con is resting his argument than non-Asian minorities commit more crime they receive stricter penalties like in a 3-strike situation/enforcement strategy. If they are being pulled over on the road more often due to a natural racial bias of course more crime is being discovered. This is more plausible since Con did not offer an explanation as to why these minorities would commit more crime.

Con"s Concessions
I"ve addressed my objections giving better context.
Thanks to Con for the near infinite time. I learned a lot taking a second look at the issue. This obviously should not count toward votes if this debate ever ends.
Posted by Murdoc 2 years ago
I'll respond within a week. Thanks again for your consideration.
Posted by FrankyG170 2 years ago
I'm sorry that you are going through something Murdoc I hope it resolves itself soon.

Is this going to be updated so people can vote or do I have to do something in order to make that happen?
Posted by Murdoc 2 years ago
*I, good afternoon, good evening and goodnight.
Posted by Murdoc 2 years ago
My compulsion to repeat made it obvious I would have to create a caricature of my previous account. I was just as honest about the doc as I was about you guys. I did it quick so you wouldn"t get murdered for realz a86;. It was painful for the both of us since I am anything but positive.

It wasn"t helpful. I"ll just focus on debates next time.
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