African-American military service members are more likely to be punished than their fellow white service members, according to a new study released Wednesday by Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group that has focused on military justice reform.
Depending on the branch and kind of punishment administered, black troops are 29% to 161% more likely to be court martialed or otherwise punished by their commanders than white troops, according to the study.
Protect Our Defenders obtained the demographic statistics of military punishments by submitting requests to each military branch under the Freedom of Information Act. The stats gathered from each branch were from 2006-2015, except for the Navy, which only had figures from 2014-2015.
Evidence from their findings also hinted at other non-white racial groups being more likely to be punished than whites.
Here are the key findings from the study:
- Black airmen were on average 71% more likely to face a court martial or some other form of non-judicial punishment than white airmen.
- Black Marines were on average 32% more likely to be found guilty of a court martial or non-judicial proceedings than white Marines.
- Black sailors were on average 40% more likely to be “referred to special or general court-martial and 37% more likely to see action taken against them in the case in an average year.”
- Black soldiers were on average 61% more likely to face a general or special court-martial than white soldiers.
Black Marines were also 161% more likely to be found guilty at a court-martial hearing than white Marines, while they were 29% more likely to be found guilty at a non-judicial proceeding.
Black sailors were also more likely to be referred to military justice, but in post-referral outcomes, the disparity practically disappeared.
Protect Our Defenders recommends reforming the military justice system “to empower legally trained military prosecutors, instead of the commander of the accused, to determine when to refer a case to court-martial, thereby reducing the potential for bias based on familiarity, friendship, race, or ethnicity.”
They also recommend that each military branch collect and publish “racial and ethnic data regarding military justice involvement and outcomes.”
They further suggest that data should be collected about the victims of crimes to check for any racial or ethnic bias, and that research should be conducted to figure out why these racial and ethnic disparities in the military justice system exist.
A dearth of minority officers might be a factor in these racial and ethnic disparities, Don Christensen, the president of Protect Our Defenders, told USA Today. “In 2016, about 78% of military officers were white, and 8% were black,” the site wrote.
“It is longstanding Department of Defense policy that service members must be afforded the opportunity to serve in an environment free from unlawful racial discrimination,” Pentagon spokesman Johnny Michael told USA TODAY. “The department will review any new information concerning implementation of and compliance with this policy.”