Air Force JAG Details Racial Disparity in Military Justice, Calls for Action

The Air Force needs to address the disparity in judicial punishments between white and black Airmen, and use this discussion as a catalyst for a broader conversation about how people are valued within the service, the Air Force’s top lawyer argues in a recent letter.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Rockwell, the Air Force’s judge advocate general, details in a June 3 letter the extent to which different races are punished differently within the service.

“The statistics show that black male Airmen under the age of 25 and with less than 5 years of service receive NJP [nonjudicial punishment] and courts-martial actions at a higher rate than similarly situated white male Airmen,” Rockwell wrote in a letter to all Air Force JAG personnel.

This chart, created by Air Force Judge Advocate General Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Rockwell and posted by the unofficial Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page, details the disparity in military judicial punishment between different races of Airmen.

Specifically, in calendar year 2019 the NJP rate per 1,000 personnel was 23.1 for black Airmen and 12.23 for white. That same year, black Airmen faced courts martial at about twice the rate as white Airmen—2.26 to 1.37 per thousand, respectively, according to statistics provided alongside the letter. However, the number of black Active-duty Airmen in calendar year 2019 only totaled 14.7 percent of the Active-duty force.

“How did we get here?” Rockwell wrote. “How are these types of offenses normally addressed in the unit? How did we get to the point that this particular disciplinary action became an Article 15 or a court?”

The disparity is the most stark at the rank of E-5 and below, with statistics showing that between 2006 and 2019, black Airmen received more NJPs, specifically for drug offenses, mostly marijuana, and Absence Without Leave.

The letter and the supporting slides from the CORONA presentation were first posted by the unofficial Facebook Air Force amn/nco/scno page and confirmed by the Air Force.

HOT: "The statistics show that black male Airmen under the age of 25 and with less than 5 years of service receive NJP…Posted by Air Force amn/nco/snco on Thursday, June 4, 2020

Rockwell presented the data to Air Force leaders at a recent Corona meeting of the service’s top generals, and said the information supports Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein’s call for the Air Force Inspector General to review the military justice system.

Rockwell writes to JAG personnel that they need to provide ideas on how to improve the justice system, to make it more equal. The service created an online portal for personnel to anonymously submit suggestions.

“What are your ideas on how we tackle this issue of disparity … across the entire spectrum of discipline? Are we welcoming all new Airmen into the Air Force family and fostering an atmosphere of inclusion? Are we giving everyone an opportunity to meet—and exceed—standards?” Rockwell wrote.