The near-total absence of Black people from their ranks, according to the authors of the report, results in “systemic bias.” Changing the racial demographics among prosecutors, they argue, is the key to making progress on two of the biggest issues in criminal justice: shrinking the American prison population and holding police officers who use improper deadly force against unarmed black people accountable for their actions.
Why are there so few Black prosecutors? To begin with, there are just not that many Black lawyers: According to the American Bar Association, they accounted for just 4.8 percent of lawyers surveyed in the 2010 census (up from 4.2 percent a decade earlier). The reason so few of them become prosecutors, said Melba Pearson, president of the National Black Prosecutors Association, is that historically, Black law students eyeing the job market with the hopes of helping their communities and combating injustice have believed that their best shot at doing so was to become defense attorneys. In that job, a person could use his or her legal expertise to aid the wrongly accused, fight for leniency on behalf of the accused, and generally act as an adversary to those in power. The prosecutor, Pearson told me, has been seen as “the means or the vehicle to oppress others—and why be part of the oppression