A report published Wednesday found that blacks in the U.S. military are twice as likely as whites to receive punishment in a given year.
The report, produced by military justice advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, combed through data from 2006 to 2015 and concluded that strong racial disparities exist in administering judgment, although differing datasets released by the services make inter-service comparisons difficult.
“Over the past decade, racial disparities have persisted in the military justice system without indications of improvement,” the report obtained by USA Today notes. “These disparities are particularly striking for black service members, who face military justice or disciplinary action at much higher rates than white service members in every service branch.”
“In fact, the size of the disparity between white and black service members’ military justices involvement has remained consistent over the years, and, in the case of the Air Force and Marine Corps has increased,” the report said.
In the Marine Corps, blacks were 2.6 times more likely to be found guilty at a court-martial. In the Air Force, blacks were 71 percent more likely to face court-martial.
That trend carried over to the Army as well, where black soldiers were 61 percent more likely to face court-martial.
The study completely neglects to include any mention of incidences in the services among the races, which means that it’s not strictly possible to determine if the disparity is generated by discrimination or by higher rates of failure to comply with rules. The report argued that the military functions as a kind of control for factors linked with criminal involvement, and yet disparity in punishment rates still exists.
However, because the controls are imperfect and incidence rates were not examined, the report cannot extend beyond the terminology of “raising questions.”
That flaw did not prevent figures like New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand from calling for reform via passage of the Military Justice Improvement Act.
“From the findings of the study, race appears like it plays a big role, which is disheartening,” Protect Our Defenders President Don Christensen told USA Today. “It seems to have a sizable role in determining if somebody’s going to go to court or receive non-judicial punishment. I’m really not sure what exactly explains it, and that’s what is really troubling. The military has known about these numbers for decades and has done nothing about it.”
Christensen thinks that unequal punishment in the military may be driven by the fact that blacks are underrepresented in the officer corps. For example, out of all officers, 78 percent are white and only 8 percent are black. Of those whites, it skews heavily male.
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