In every service branch, black troops more likely to be punished by commanders, courts: Report
Breanna Edwards, The Root | 6/7/2017, 12:03 p.m.
Black service members are up to two times more likely to face court-martial or other forms of military punishment than their white counterparts in an average year, an analysis by advocacy organization Protect Our Defenders has revealed.
According to USA Today, which received an advance copy of the study, the advocacy group for victims of sexual assault in the military went through Pentagon data from 2006 to 2015 to compile its report, and came up with the perhaps not-so-surprising results.
“Over the past decade, racial disparities have persisted in the military justice system without indications of improvement,” the report states. “These disparities are particularly striking for black service members, who face military justice or disciplinary action at much higher rates than white service members in every service branch. In fact, the size of the disparity between white and black service members’ military justices involvement has remained consistent over the years, and, in the case of the Air Force and Marine Corps has increased.”
A spokesperson for the Pentagon said that officials will look over the report while keeping in mind the Department of Defense’s policy that service members be able to serve in a discrimination-free environment.
“It is long-standing Department of Defense policy that service members must be afforded the opportunity to serve in an environment free from unlawful racial discrimination,” Johnny Michael, a Pentagon spokesman, said, according to USA Today. “The department will review any new information concerning implementation of and compliance with this policy.”
As the site notes, military services did provide different sets of data in response to the request from Protect Our Defenders, which does make comparisons between the branches of military more difficult. As an example, the Air Force gave proceedings from court martial and nonjudicial punishment from 2006 to 2015, while the Marine Corps handed over information concerning guilty findings for court martial and nonjudicial punishment for the same time period.
Nonetheless, with the information provided, researchers discovered that the Marine Corps had some serious issues surrounding race, particularly in cases where the harshest penalties are an option. Black Marines were 2.6 times more likely than their white colleagues to get a guilty finding at a general court-martial.
Also noted in the study: Black airmen were 71 percent more likely than their white airmen to face court-martial or nonjudicial punishment.
In the Army, black soldiers were 61 percent more likely to face court-martial, while in the Navy, black sailors were 40 percent more likely to be court-martialed.
“From the findings of the study, race appears like it plays a big role, which is disheartening,” Don Christensen, president of Protect our Defenders and a former chief prosecutor for the Air Force, said, according to USA Today. “It seems to have a sizable role in determining if somebody’s going to go to court or receive nonjudicial punishment. I’m really not sure what exactly explains it, and that’s what is really troubling. The military has known about these numbers for decades and has done nothing about it.”
Christensen also pointed to a lack of diversity within the military as a possible reason that black troops see a disparity in justice. In 2016, approximately 78 percent of military officers were white, while about 8 percent were black.
“If you look at the leadership of military, it skews very dramatically white and male, and you would imagine that the closer relationships will be with white male subordinates,” Christensen said. “Hence, they probably get the benefit of the doubt that the African-American males don’t.”