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Mass criminalization is a root cause of racial inequality within the U.S.

Photo of Matthew Clair

(Image credit: Harrison Truong)

Jun 8 2020

Stanford sociologist discusses how race and class inequalities are embedded in the American criminal legal system.

For Matthew Clair, the protests following the death of George Floyd are a stark reminder of the U.S.’s turbulent racial history. “In 2012 when I was in graduate school, I attended several protests in Boston following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager,” said Clair, who is an assistant professor of sociology in the School of Humanities and Sciences. “Trayvon’s death and the emergence of the Movement for Black Lives in 2014 in the wake of Ferguson profoundly affected me.”

Clair became interested in criminal justice issues after seeing how the legal system plays a central role in the lives of Black people in the United States. “As I conducted interviews and ethnographic observations among police, prosecutors, public defenders, judges and defendants in courthouses in the Northeast, I began to understand just how massive the legal system’s imprint is in U.S. society, and how it intersects with racial and economic injustice.”

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