The Equal Justice Society is working to deepen awareness of unconscious bias through the use of storytelling in television and movies (read more about our related activities). There are a host of interesting stories that can be packaged to Hollywood to both entertain and educate people on the ways that unintentional racism still permeates.
We are looking for real examples of unconscious bias that can serve as the basis for fictional storylines. Here are a few examples:
Imagine: Ten years ago, a black man and a white man who were both in interracial marriages were convicted in the brutal murders of their wives. The white husband was sentenced to life in prison while the black husband was sentenced to death row. A lawsuit ensues.
Something like this happened. McCleskey v. Kemp was decided by the Supreme Court in 1987. Warren McCleskey, a black man, was convicted of armed robbery and murder in the Atlanta area of Georgia. He was given the death penalty. After his conviction, McCleskey appealed the death sentence arguing that the death penalty was administered in a racially discriminatory way, violating the Fourteenth Amendment which, generally, prohibits state sponsored discrimination. McCleskey, with the help of statistical research provided from a law professor, was able to show that the state of Georgia administered the death penalty in a discriminatory manner. Indeed, the professor’s work showed that one found guilty of murdering a white person was 16 times more likely to be sentenced to death than had the victim been black. The Supreme Court held that since there was no discriminatory intent, the Fourteenth Amendment was not violated. On September 28, 1991, Warren McCleskey was executed by state of Georgia’s electric chair.
Imagine: A city has a policy of targeting black barbershops. One day, police raid a black barbershop and the cops shoot an unarmed suspected.
This could be based off a true story. Gordon v. City of Moreno Valley concerns the asserted unconstitutionality of a police raid of black barbershops in the city of Moreno Valley, California in April of 2008. Inspectors and armed police officers wearing bulletproof vests conducted warrantless searches of the barbershops during which officers ran warrant checks of individuals therein. When one owner complained, he was arrested. The plaintiffs, barbershop owners, employees and customers argued that their Fourteenth Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights (which protect individuals from unlawful searches and seizures by the state). The Fourteenth Amendment claim was that the state specifically and unlawfully targeted black barbershops. The district court held that their was discriminatory intent on behalf of the state and that the Fourteenth Amendment was violated. With regards to the Fourth Amendment, the court found that the searches were not routine inspections for which a warrant is not necessary because these were raids and far broader than a inspection done to further regulatory purposes.
These are just two examples. We’re interested in more and hope you can help.
If you have stories from your files, dockets, or recollections and can provide us with details, please contact Brando Simeo Starkey, our EJS Judge Constance Baker Motley Civil Rights Fellow at firstname.lastname@example.org.