The racism of the US criminal justice system in 10 charts



The shooting of Michael Brown offers Americans yet another reminder that their criminal justice system is riddled with racial disparities. From encounters with police to prison sentences, Ferguson is another drop in a very full bucket.

Produced by German Lopez, Joss Fong, Dara Lind, Joe Posner & Lauren Williams Design & Animation by Joe Posner & Joss Fong Music by Shay Lynch

CARD 1 OF 13 LAUNCH CARDS Who was Michael Brown? Michael Brown was an 18-year-old black man who was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014. Brown was unarmed.

Brown was visiting his grandmother, Desuirea Harrison, when he was shot in the working-class St. Louis suburb. He graduated from Normandy High School in St. Louis in the spring of 2014, and was scheduled to start classes at Vatterott College, a Missouri trade college, two days after he was killed.

Michael brown mother

Tears roll down the cheek of Lesley McSpadden, the mother of slain teenager Michael Brown. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Ferguson Police say Brown stole some cigars in a convenience store robbery prior to the shooting. But Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson also clarified that Wilson, who shot and killed Brown, was unaware of the robbery allegations during "the initial contact with Brown." Wilson, instead, initially stopped Brown for jaywalking. (Jackson later told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that, after the initial stop, Wilson realized Brown could be the suspect of the robbery when he spotted the potentially stolen cigars in Brown's hand.)

Brown had no criminal record at the time of his death, according to police.


The shooting of Brown, like so many similar incidents between police and unarmed black men, renewed conversations about racism in the American justice system and, more specifically to Ferguson, deep-rooted racial disparities in local government and law enforcement.

To the majority-black community in Ferguson, Brown's death was seen as something that could happen to them or their own sons. Darnell Hunt, an expert on race relations and civil unrest, compared the situation to the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012: "Not only was this something that affected people in country, but other people realized that the fate of Trayvon was possibly the fate of their own sons."

Brown's death, in other words, brought the long-simmering racial tensions in the community of Ferguson to a boil. And the subsequent clashes between police and residents captivated the nation for several tense days.