Is there racial disparity in disciplinary actions within the Armed Services

Black sailors more likely than white sailors to be referred to court-martial, report says

Brock Vergakis, The Virginian-Pilot, 7 June 2017.  The VP summarizes:

Black sailors were 40 percent more likely than white sailors to be referred to a court-martial over a two-year period examined by an advocacy group that focuses on military justice. . . .

But the report notes that the disparity between black and white sailors “nearly disappeared when considering only post-referral outcomes.”  . . .

For example,

In 2014, 68% of white sailors with a case referral were diverted from special or general court-martial, compared to 67% of black sailors. There was also little difference between the rates for 2015 (74% of white sailors and 75% of black sailors). The proportions of black and white sailors convicted at special or general court-martial were highly similar as well.

Can we interpret this last point to be positive in how a military judge or members panel view and evaluate the evidence at trial?

The report referred to is here at Protect Our Defenders, and is based on data from 2006-2015.

Protect Our Defenders (POD) is dedicated to exposing and eradicating bias within the military justice system and to ensuring that all service members are afforded a fair, efficient, and impartial system of justice. Through our work, we have witnessed what appeared to be indications of racial disparities in the military justice system. These indicators were consistent with the experiences of POD’s President, Col Don Christensen (ret.), as a military attorney and with data he knew had been tracked by the Air Force for decades.

Of interest, according to the report, the Services fall out as follows

Air Force: 71% more likely.

Army: 61% more likely.

Navy: 40% more likely, although this is based on figures only for 2014-2015.Marine Corps: 32% more likely.

Marine Corps: 32% more likely.

The Coast Guard does not have such data.

The report forms a basis for the continued push to have lawyers, not commanders, “determine when to refer a case to court-martial, thereby reducing the potential for bias based on familiarity, friendship, race, or ethnicity.”  I notice the report does not look at gender?

The Findings do note:

Findings for other racial groups varied, with some evidence that non-black people of color may have higher military justice or disciplinary involvement than white service members in some service branches. The primary exception was Asian service members, who appear to have lower military justice or disciplinary involvement than their white counterparts.

And a related conclusion:

Evidence for other racial groups was mixed. For example, Asian service members appear to have lower military justice or disciplinary involvement than their white counterparts, although this data was only available from the Army and the Navy. However, combined groups of non-black service members of color (and typically those of unknown race) often had higher military justice or disciplinary involvement. As such, it appears likely that disparities also exist for other racial groups, but the size and nature of these disparities may vary by race and service branch.

How was the data gathered?

On March 7, 2016, Protect Our Defenders (POD) submitted requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to each military service branch, seeking demographic information on disciplinary and military justice proceedings.

I have not seen an official response, will advise.


A spokesman for the Pentagon said officials will review the report. “It is longstanding Department of Defense policy that service members must be afforded the opportunity to serve in an environment free from unlawful racial discrimination,” said Johnny Michael, a Pentagon spokesman. “The department will review any new information concerning implementation of and compliance with this policy.”

Tom Vanden Brook, USA Today, 8 June 2017.

The study’s findings appear to mirror how blacks are sentenced and imprisoned by civilian courts around the country. The Sentencing Project, in June 2016, found that blacks are imprisoned at five times the rate of whites in state prisons across the country, and roughly 10 times the rate in five states.

Greg Price, Newsweek, 7 June 2017, see also,

“The report, while certainly eye-opening, should only be truly surprising if we believe that the United States military is a colorblind institution, which it is not and has never been,” said Chad Williams, a professor of African and Afro-American Studies at Brandeis University. He said the same racial biases in the civilian criminal justice system are also in the military justice system.

“The report reflects the continuation of a long historical practice of viewing black servicemen and women as a ‘problem’ that must be controlled through various measures, mostly notably the military justice system,” he said.

Safia Samee Ali, NBC News, 7 June 2017.

And now for something completely different from the Washington Times.

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