by Frederick Lowe
When Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby stepped before the microphones last May and announced the indictment of six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray, Jr.,25, it was a rare event for two different reasons.
Prosecutors almost never indict police officers in the questionable deaths of black men, armed or unarmed.
And Mosby is one of a few elected black women state’s attorneys in the nation, according to a report released by the Women Donors Network, a San Francisco-based community of progressive women philanthropists.
The Women Donors Network released a study titled “Justice for All,” which shows that 95% of elected prosecutors in the U.S. are white and 79% are white men. In 2014, there were 2,437 elected prosecutors. Some 60% of states don’t have an elected black prosecutor, according to the study.
Only 1% of prosecutors, like Mosby, are women of color. Only 4% of prosecutors, like Brooklyn, N.Y., District Attorney Ken Thompson and Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams, are men of color. Craig Watkins, who served eight years as Dallas District Attorney, was defeated last November by Susan Hawk, a white-women Republican. Watkins was the first African American elected district attorney in Dallas. He was the first in the nation to launch a unit to investigate wrongful convictions by police and prosecutors.
The report says, “This reveals a stark imbalance between those with enormous power in the criminal justice system and those they are elected to represent.”
Prosecutors decide whether to pursue a criminal case or not, whether a crime will be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, and even whether prison time is served and how long,” the report stated. “In the U.S. positions responsible for criminal prosecution range from county district attorneys to states attorneys in general.
The report found:
1) that three of five states, including Illinois, don’t have elected prosecutors.
2) in 14 states, all elected prosecutors are white;
3) outside of Virginia and Mississippi, only 1% of elected prosecutors are African American.
“Americans are taking a new look at the relationship between race, gender, and criminal justice — in failures to indict police officers from Ferguson to Staten Island, the rogue prosecutors of women from Indiana to Idaho, who terminated their pregnancies, and in the epidemic of mass incarceration,” said Donna Hall, president and CEO of the Women Donors Network. “Elected prosecutors have an enormous influence on the pursuit of justice in America. Yet 79% of them are white men whose life experiences do not reflect those of most Americans.”
The report stated 85% of incumbent prosecutors run unopposed.