The Road to Solutions: Systemic Racism and Implicit Bias in Prosecution
By Margaret Olson and Ivy Telles
This article explores an uncomfortable topic. Not least among the incredible events of 2020, our country and our state saw an outpouring of outrage, protest, and even violence in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others. The undersigned authors, like many, tried to stay quiet and do some listening. To understand. To rethink all we previously believed and open the commonly accepted narrative to new information and perspectives. We have endeavored to listen with humility to the pain, suffering, and loss our communities of color continue to endure.
It’s easy to resort to defensiveness. To be a racist is a bad thing. No one wants to think of him or herself as a racist. We throw up the usual defense mechanisms: I was raised better than that. I have BIPOC friends. I don’t see color. Now, we humbly attempt to set these impulses aside and start down a difficult road to solutions.
As prosecutors, we believe we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to start this conversation and shine light on the criminal justice system’s role in these problems. We must name it. We must identify areas in which prosecutors are part of the problem. As professionals who have devoted our careers to the criminal justice system, we must be willing to examine our current and historical roles in institutionalized racism, not rush to justify them. We offer the following thoughts about how prosecutors can be part of the solution in this dawning era.
First, we must acknowledge and combat unconscious bias within ourselves. What are our implicit biases? What experiences have we had with people that have influenced how we see, react, respond, or deal with a situation? What is our mindset? How are we approaching the day?
Second, have we, as prosecutors, failed to challenge a judge, police officer, or co-worker for fear of risking the relationship? Have we failed to follow up invidious examples of bias and discrimination because we were not personally involved? How many missed opportunities for training and meaningful discussion have been lost because we mind our own business and “stay in our lane”? How many times have we failed to critically examine new information presented by defense...