Department or Program



Since the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014, there has been a renewed national conversation on relations between law enforcement and communities of color. Subsequent shooting deaths of Black individuals, followed by grand jury non-indictments, have shifted the conversation to a systemic critique, revealing to some, and reminding others, of the deeply racialized nature of criminal justice in the United States. This thesis project is a work of American Political Development that analyzes the racialized developmental of the criminal justice system in the United States, providing context to the recent national conversation. Its purpose is to make sense of the institutionalized racism present in today’s criminal justice system by identifying concrete and detailed instances of institutionalized racism shaping the development of the criminal justice system historically. It identifies a specific racialized pattern in the system’s history: at moments of significant racial progress, there often occurs, through the criminal justice system, a “colorblind” backlash, designed to reassert and maintain control over those Black individuals enjoying racial progress. The scope of the project is limited both in policy area and time—it considers the suspect passage and implementation of “colorblind” gun laws with racialized effects at two critical junctures in America racial history, Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement. The goal of the project is to at least in part explain the racialized nature of today’s criminal justice system by exploring how colorblindness and institutionalized racism have shaped its development and growth historically.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

Engel, Stephen

Date of Graduation


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Open Access

Available to all.