Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and a law firm filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Milwaukee Police department of operating a "vast and unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program" that targeted African-Americans and Latinos. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of six plaintiffs who had been stopped, sometimes multiple times, by officers with no reasonable suspicion that they were involved in criminal behavior.
"These sting operations have used tremendous public resources to investigate and prosecute a large number of principally minority individuals for fictitious crimes," wrote the 7th Circuit's chief U.S. district court judge in a 73-page ruling.
Two criminal justice experts have cast serious doubt on the legality of many police activities in Milwaukee. Just as many African-Americans and Latinos have claimed for years, the evidence shows that they and their neighborhoods are being unfairly targeted for police stops and pat-down searches -- often with no legal basis.
An unfortunate fact about our criminal justice system is that minorities are frequently sentenced to more time for the same crimes as whites. In the U.S., African-Americans, for example, make up 13.3 percent of the population but account for 38 percent of people incarcerated in state prisons, according to federal data.
In a highly unusual move, a nine-judge panel of district judges from around the 7th Circuit is hearing arguments on whether certain drug sting operations run since the 90s by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were racially discriminatory.
In many ways, news that disparities exist in the U.S. criminal justice system based on race evoke thoughts of Captain Renault, Claude Rains' character in "Casablanca," shutting down Rick's Café and exclaiming, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"