Post-Trayvon and post-Ferguson, the nation has turned its attention to gaping racial disparities in local police forces, which are often overwhelmingly white even though they patrol mostly black neighborhoods. It's a serious problem. But there's another group with far more power to influence criminal cases and the delivery of justice to poor, minority communities: elected local prosecutors.
A new study out this morning shows that nationwide, those elected offices are absurdly skewed toward white guys. A full 95 percent of the posts nationwide are filled by whites. Florida is no exception: There's not a single black elected prosecutor in the Sunshine State.
“Elected prosecutors have an enormous influence on the pursuit of justice in America, yet 79 percent of them are white men whose life experiences do not reflect those of most Americans," says Donna Hall, president and CEO of the Women Donors Network, which funded the nationwide study.
The group worked with the Center for Technology and Civil Life to survey every one of the 2,437 elected prosecutorial offices nationwide. The data released this morning is eye-opening.
Fifteen states have exclusively white elected prosecutors, and nationwide, 79 percent of the jobs are filled by white men, who make up just 31 percent of the population as a whole.
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Florida doesn't have as many elected prosecutors on the state level as some other states (like Missouri, which has more than 100 and just a single nonwhite prosecutor). But there's a glaring lack of diversity in the data. Of the 19 elected posts statewide, 18 officials are white, and all but three are men.
That's a problem for defendants, Miami's Melba Pearson, president of the National Black Prosecutors Association, tells the New York Times.
“They have to see someone that looks like them,” she tells the Times. “When you walk into a courtroom and no one looks like you, do you think you are going to get a fair shake?”
Only Miami and its longtime local prosecutor, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, rescue Florida from a total whitewash in the statistics. Rundle, who has held the job since 1993, is the only Hispanic female prosecutor in the state. Nationwide, just 1 percent of elected prosecutors are Hispanic females, the study shows.