Black troops are significantly more likely to face military punishment than white service members, according to a new report released on Wednesday.
Previously undisclosed data shows vast racial disparities inside the military justice system, where black service members are up to 2.6 times more likely to face court martial or disciplinary action. Protect Our Defenders, a group that advocates for sexual assault victims in the military, received the demographic data after filing Freedom of Information Act requests to each military service branch last year.
1.71 Black airmen are 1.71 times more likely to face military punishment compared to their white comrades
“It’s information that’s not new to the military,” Col. Don Christensen, a former chief prosecutor in the U.S. Air Force and the group’s president, said on Wednesday. “These are their numbers, they track this information.”
The Pentagon did not comment on the specifics in the report.
"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. The Department will review any new information concerning implementation of and compliance with this policy once given the opportunity to review the report,” said Johnny Michael, Pentagon spokesman.
According to the report, from 2006 to 2015, black service members in the U.S. Air Force were 71 percent more likely to face court martial or other forms of military punishment than white airmen. In the Army, black soldiers are 61 percent more likely to be disciplined than white soldiers. In the Navy, which only provided data from 2014 and 2015, that number is 40 percent.
Christensen said that even as a young captain in 1995, he was aware of the significant disparity in the justice process when it came to black and white airmen. More than two decades later, the disparities have not improved and there has not been a real effort by military leaders to address the issue, the report stated.
It’s time for Congress to demand an outside review by experts, “not one staffed by generals who will sweep this under the rug,” he said.
Over the past decade, racial disparities have persisted in the military justice system without indications of improvement.
Col. Don Christensen, president of Protect Our Defenders
From 2006 to 2015, Marines were 32 percent more likely to be found guilty in the military justice system than white Marines. However, the data show that the racial disparities grew worse for more serious proceedings. At a general court-martial, black Marines were almost three times more likely to be found guilty than white Marines, while they were only 1.3 times as likely to be found guilty when it came to non-judicial punishment, or NJP, which is limited to minor disciplinary offenses.
“The leadership has vigorously opposed any suggestion that the commander-controlled justice system is hindered by conflicts of interest or bias and has gone to great lengths to tout the fairness of the system,” says the report.
The racial disparity is especially striking since the military’s stringent requirements equalize some of the socioeconomic factors in the civilian world, such as poverty, lack of education, lack of employment, and former criminal activity, according to the group.
“When you look at the military, all those factors go away. Everyone’s employed, everyone’s educated, everybody has a steady income, illicit drug use in the military is almost non-existent because of random drug testing,” Christensen said. “When those factors go away, why is there this disparity?”
The U.S. military is also struggling with diversity at the top. In 2014, fewer than 10 percent of the active-duty Army's officers were black compared with 18 percent of its enlisted men, according to U.S. Army data. That same year, there was one black colonel among 26 brigades, the Army's main fighting unit of roughly 4,000 troops, according to a USA Today analysis.