Justice in America

The Separate Realities of Blacks and Whites

Justice in America

As reactions to the O. J. Simpson verdict, the Rodney King beating, and the Amadou Diallo killing make clear, whites and African Americans in the United States inhabit two different perceptual worlds, with the former seeing the justice system as largely fair and color blind and the latter believing it to be replete with bias and discrimination. Drawing on data from a nation-wide survey of both races, the authors tackle two important questions in this book: what explains the widely differing perceptions, and why do such differences matter? They attribute much of the racial chasm to the relatively common personal confrontations that many blacks have with law enforcement – confrontations seldom experienced by whites. And more importantly, the authors demonstrate that this racial chasm is consequential: it leads African Americans to react much more cynically to incidents of police brutality and racial profiling, and also to be far more skeptical of punitive anti-crime policies ranging from the death penalty to three-strikes laws.


“After decades of conjecture and speculation about a fundamental question about justice, Mark Peffley and John Hurwitz, finally, provide a rigorous and definitive analysis of how the different realities of African Americans and whites influence their perceptions of justice and their relation to the legal system. Through the use of new data collected explicitly to explore conceptions of justice and applying the latest experimental techniques, the racial differences in attitudes toward crime and justice are deep and seemingly inexorable. Justice in America makes clear the larger consequences and duplicity that come from individuals who are most must vulnerable to crime and who are most dependent on the legal system to also believe system is stacked against them. We are taught that fundamental beliefs about justice and punitive policies are at stack.”
—Darren Davis, University of Notre Dame

Justice in America is an authoritative account of the racial divide in public opinion about the American criminal justice system. Mark Peffley and Jon Hurwitz trace the divide to differential experiences of discrimination by law enforcement and, as a consequence, divergent views on the fundamental fairness of the police and courts. The insights that emerge from this ambitious study—namely, that it is beliefs about fairness, more so than beliefs about race, that separate blacks and whites in the domain of crime and punishment—demand attention from scholars and policymakers alike.”
—Claudine Gay, Harvard University

“With rigorous and innovative scholarship, Peffley and Hurwitz demonstrate the enormous gulf between whites’ and blacks’ experiences and perceptions of the American criminal justice system. What is more, they show how these perceptions generate a vast racial divide in understandings of crime and anti-crime policies in the US. An eloquent study that anyone interested how race continues to shape Americans’ lives will find indispensable.”
—Martin Gilens, Princeton University

Justice in America takes on a controversial subject with elegance, creativity, and thoroughness. I learned a lot reading this important book. It is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the disparate worldviews of Black and White Americans.”
—Vincent L. Hutchings, University of Michigan


Winner, 2011 Robert E. Lane Award, Political Psychology Section, American Political Science Association
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