Racial injustice is the act of being unjust to an individual or group based on race, particularly concerning legally recognized rights. It includes discrimination based on race or ethnicity in voting, employment, housing, and the administration of justice. In regard to criminal laws, it refers to conduct such as racial profiling and the imposition of harsher penalties on convicted criminals, including the death penalty, based on race.
The issue of racial discrimination is recognized as a global problem. Intergovernmental bodies like the United Nations (UN), as well as individual States, have addressed the issue. Racial discrimination is prohibited under international human rights agreements. In the US, federal civil rights legislation and state racial justice laws have been enacted to prevent the denial of legal rights or the misuse of the law based on race.
In 1965, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was also adopted by the General Assembly. Each State signatory to the ICCPR agrees to assure that the civil and political rights listed in the covenant will be protected in its own territory without regard to race or color. The US adopted the ICCPR in 1992.
In the US, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 addressed the legal rights of newly emancipated slaves. In 1871, civil rights laws were enacted to protect African-Americans, Jews, and other groups from the violence and racial injustice of hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The Klan, as it is sometimes called, is a secret society of white men formed in the southern US after the Civil War and devoted to the principle of white supremacy. The Civil Right Act of 1964 outlawed racial segregation and other forms of racial discrimination, including interference with voting rights based on race.
The use of “racial profiling” in criminal investigations is an issue of racial injustice in some countries. Profiling refers to a set of behavioral patterns or characteristics that police use to identify the type of person who may have committed a particular kind of offense. Many argue that race, in the absence of an identified suspect, has no legitimate purpose in profiling. In the US, only about half the states have a legal prohibition against racial profiling.
Racial injustice involved in the use of capital punishment is an international legal issue. Statistically, people of color in the US receive the death penalty in a higher proportion to whites. Some states that have the death penalty have enacted laws to guard against racial prejudice in its use. The State of North Carolina passed the Racial Justice Act in 2009, which allows a person facing a death sentence to present evidence of racial bias related to the imposition of sentence. On 9 March 2011, the State of Illinois became the 16th state to abolish capital punishment, concluding in part that it was not possible to devise a system certain to be free from racial discrimination.