Muslims in US accused of crimes get far harsher sentences than non-Muslims

The criminal justice system in the United States doesn’t appear to treat Muslims equally to non-Muslims.

Muslims accused of plotting or carrying out violent crimes in the U.S. receive, on average, sentences that are four times longer than non-Muslims accused of similar actions, a new report has revealed.

And the problem isn’t only in the justice system.

Major American media outlets focus a disproportionate amount of attention on Muslim suspects. The data shows that Muslims accused of violent crimes get about seven and a half times more media attention than non-Muslims.


The major study, which was released this week by the Washington-based Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), analyzed data from public databases that compile information about acts of ideological violence attempted or carried out in the U.S. between 2002 and 2015.

“The findings of this report build and expand on existing research, and provides quantitative backing to many people’s instinctual perceptions of what has been going on in the media and in our legal system,” Kumar Rao, a fellow at ISPU and one of the co-authors of the report told The Intercept.

“As it relates to acts of ideological violence, there is, frankly, a double standard in how perpetrators are described in the media, as well as how they are treated in the courts,” Rao pointed out.

The cases examined by the researchers included plots to attack government buildings, attempts to stockpile weapons to carry out attacks against civilians, planned bomb attacks, and attacks that were actually completed and caused two or more fatalities.

When comparing very similar cases, the study showed that there are major sentencing inconsistencies in U.S. courts.

Prosecutors in cases involving Muslim defendants generally sought sentences three times longer than they did in comparable cases involving non-Muslims. Even worse, when sentences were actually handed down, Muslims generally received prison terms that were four times longer than others accused of comparable crimes.

“There is a question here of what we as a society deem threatening, and what we as a society are afraid of. What you often find is that when a crime is committed by a member of the dominant, privileged group in any society, it’s excused as an aberration, while crimes committed by members of an out-group are pathologized toward that group as a whole,” Dalia Mogahed, the director of research at ISPU, said.

“This implicit bias finds its way into all our institutions, including courtrooms and the media,” Mogahed explained.

In addition to receiving unequal treatment by the justice system, Muslims in the U.S. are also facing a rising tide of violent xenophobia.

According to a CNN report last August, an average of nine mosques in the United States were attacked every month in 2017, or at least two per week. In total, there were 63 publicly reported mosque attacks spanning more than 26 states.

FBI statistics also reveal that anti-Muslim hate crimes rose by 67 percent in 2015. The number of anti-Muslim hate groups also tripled in the U.S. from 2015 to 2016 – a surge of 197 percent – according to a 2017 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

At the same time, despite the rise of intolerance and hate, there has been a pushback from others in U.S. society, who stand in solidarity with their Muslim neighbors. Many have risen up in protest to condemn the anti-Muslim rhetoric from right-wing politicians, their xenophobic supporters and media pundit.


Jason Lemon

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