Systemic racism in the criminal justice system

  • Rajai Denbrook is Programme Co-ordinator at Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda

An opinion-editorial was written by an incarcerated, young black male last week, providing his experience and calling out embedded systemic racism in the judicial system.

His opinion speaks specifically to the unfairness of the jury-selection process in Bermuda. He refers to the prosecution “stacking the deck” against the accused through having the right to stand down unlimited jurors, while the defence team can stand down only three.

He went on to say “44-3, that is the score. That doesn’t sound fair, right? But who needs to be fair when systemic racism and oppression are involved.”

He continues, “How is that racism? Take a guess who the prosecution stands down? In this case, it was every young or middle-aged black person. Versus who they allowed, which was white people who looked conservative, who looked to be middle-aged or older. With the one or two conservative black people. What happened to having jurors who represented my peers?”

As our community focuses on “racial justice”, “social change” and the Black Lives Matter movement, we must look at strategies for meaningful change.

Right now, the Law Reform Committee is working to update and modernise our existing laws; hopefully with a goal to ensuring that the bias and unintended negative consequences of these laws don’t continue to play out in our community. Once this job is complete, who is it that we rely on to interpret and enforce those laws and policies?

Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda calls for the introduction of equality impact assessments in its racial justice platform to enable full analysis of the racial impact of these changes and to address those concerns.

However, the legal system was designed, and functions, to maintain the status quo — a status quo that values and protects whiteness, patriarchy, wealth and property. Those that have been trained in the legal system, who preside over the courts, were trained within this system and our understanding of “justice” is framed by that system.

How can it ultimately provide justice for those it was never designed to protect? Especially in circumstances where the legal system requires a person to be able to afford legal representation to convince that system to protect their rights?

These are some of the questions that, as a society, we need to begin asking when we talk about reform. Jahmico Trott’s opinion piece is also an important reminder that those that have been the most negatively impacted by a system know the most about the unfairness embedded in that system — and we need to centre their voices in discussions about reform and meaningful change.

Curb supports Jahmico Trott and his legal team launching a civil lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the jury-selection process and hopes their efforts will bring to light many of the other issues in our criminal justice system.

However, his views speak to the wider issue of colonialism. The discussion now needs to focus on ending more than four centuries of colonialism in this island.

Rajai Denbrook is Programme Co-ordinator at Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda