This chapter considers common mistakes made by those who judge alleged wrongdoing. The popular tendency to sort people into good guys and bad guys, also called personalized morality, can lead to serious errors. The chapter shows how trust in some persons because they are perceived as “good” and distrust of others because of group characteristics such as race, can lead to serious misjudgments, both in exoneration and condemnation.
The well-documented scandal of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the US shows how serious acts of criminal violence can be missed by those who might be expected to condemn it. The pattern of nonrecognition of wrong seen here is found in many other institutions and places, and is due in part to assumptions that certain persons could not act so wrongly. The scandal shows the need for social understanding of particular wrongdoing, and illustrates the costs of failing to punish those who do grave harm to others.
Another form of nonrecognition of wrong involves race bias. Unconscious views about who should be trusted and who should be feared often track racial differences, leading to biased judgments about who has done wrong, and what punishment is justified.
After a look at evidence of race bias in American criminal justice decisionmaking, the chapter details the United States Supreme Court’s concern with conscious race bias, which leaves many instances of unconscious race bias in criminal justice untouched. The way that personalized morality (good guys versus bad guys) impedes recognition of race bias is described, along with the connection between racial fear and bias, illustrated by the case of the so-called subway vigilante, Bernhard Goetz.