A basic premise of the Racial Democracy, Crime & Justice Network is that the deepest meaning of “the color line” is not the fact of “race-based distinctions” but the fact that such distinctions constitute a barrier to the full realization of citizenship. The intersection of race, crime, and justice has many expressions, including lynching, police brutality and profiling, the death penalty, inadequate legal protection and recourse, the loss of voting and other democratic rights, the crisis of mass imprisonment, exposure to violence and other forms of victimization, and structurally-based participation in crime. We seek to expand knowledge of the ways in which these realities impact the struggle for racial democracy, that is, the full inclusion of all (racialized) groups in the rights of citizenship.
We seek to produce a body of rigorous and original work on the racialization of crime and criminal justice, with a focus on shedding new light on the relevance of race – as an identity, ascribed status, social organizational effect, and otherwise –to issues of crime and justice. Existing research on race, crime and justice has failed to adequately capture the “race/ethnicity-effect” in analyses of the experiences of people of color in the criminal justice system. We attempt to address three primary concerns that hinder progress towards explaining the race/ethnicity-crime and justice link: (1) reliance on narrow conceptualizations of race and ethnicity; (2) reliance on hypotheses drawn more or less exclusively from criminological and criminal justice theories, which do not take into account the broader racial/ethnic structure of society; and (3) inattention to the perspectives and interpretations that a broad range of underrepresented scholars bring to bear in examining crime and justice issues.
We seek to learn and communicate through our research new insights, and to contribute to the progress of the fields of sociology and criminology. Our initial step in this regard was to publish The Many Colors of Crime: Inequalities of Race, Ethnicity, and Crime in America, (2006, New York University Press), a collection of articles on race, crime and justice by network members. Since then, we have published five additional volumes: “Race, Crime, and Justice: Contexts and Complexities”, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (Vol. 623, May 2009); “Between Black and White: Theorizing Racial Democracy, Crime and Justice”, Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice (Vol. 27, Issue 3 2011); Punishing Immigrants: Policy, Politics, and Injustice (2012, New York University Press); “Examining Racial Disparities in a Post-Racial Era”, Race and Justice: An International Journal (Vol. 4, Issue 3, 2014); and Deadly Injustice: Race, Criminal Justice and the Death of Trayvon Martin (2015, New York University Press).
While the academic study of race/ethnicity, crime and justice has as yet failed to fully grasp and adequately articulate this connection, there are signs of enduring legacy within the context of the United States, and elsewhere. The contemporary news wire carries stories of race-related hate crime in Russia, marginalized youth rioting and rebelling in French ghettoes, the stigmas and vigilantism American-exported Latino/a gang members experience on return to their Central American nations, and the like. Indeed, there is no historical coincidence or irony in the peculiar existence of Native American police in the American frontier, the crime problem in South Africa, the plight of black police officers around the world, the rise of women and ethnoracial minorities in the U.S. justice workforce, and the French parliament observing that it has no African or Muslim members. Each of these reveal but a handful of the threads in the gnarled, enduring, and increasingly global strands attaching notions of race and the politics of difference to the issues of crime and criminal social control in particular, but ultimately the question of democracy.
The study of race as it relates to issues of crime and criminal justice cannot be regarded as new. “Race” has from its very invention been tied to issues of crime and justice, not merely as a sort of symbolic noose, signifying and rationalizing criminological and penal tendencies, but as a rope in a civic tug-of-war. This contest, at base over the meaning, representation and socio-political significance of race, taps by extension into the livewire of struggles for racial democracy. By beginning the study of race, crime and justice from this perspective, focusing less on individuals (i.e., those accused) in the balance than the scaling of democracy and freedom, we can powerfully expand the relevant range and approaches to addressing our concerns.