Police killings underscore need for reform

Sentencing Project’s latest report: African Americans and Latinos are incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates in part because police target them for minor crimes.

by Freddie Allen NNPA News Service | 2/14/2015, 12:45 p.m.
Sentencing Project’s latest report: African Americans and Latinos are incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates in part because police target them ...
According to the Sentencing Project’s latest report, racial disparities exist at every step in the criminal justice system, which the report says helps explain why African Americans and Latinos account for about 30 percent of the United States population, but 56 percent of the incarcerated population.

WASHINGTON – African Americans and Latinos are incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates in part because police target them for minor crimes, according a report titled, “Black Lives Matter: Eliminating Racial Inequity in the Criminal Justice System” by the Sentencing Project, a national, nonprofit group that advocates for criminal justice issues.

Researchers said disparities are punitive and can turn deadly over minor violations.

For example, Eric Garner, 43, was stopped and accused of selling untaxed cigarettes, a misdemeanor, before officer Daniel Pantaleo choked him to death on a sidewalk of a Staten Island, N.Y. neighborhood. Officer Darren Wilson stopped 19-year-old Ferguson, Mo. resident Michael Brown Jr. for jaywalking, before a disputed confrontation led to Wilson fatally shooting Brown.

Targeting low-level lawbreakers epitomizes “broken windows” popularized during William Bratton’s first tenure as commissioner of the New York Police Department under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Mayor Bill de Blasio reappointed Bratton to that position and he remains “committed to this style of order-maintenance policing,” even though only spurious correlations to its efficacy in crime prevention remain.

The report said that “flawed research” plagued an early study cited by proponents of the “broken windows” policies.

“More recent studies have found that high misdemeanor arrest volume, high summons volume, and other factors, have had only a modest association or no association at all with the city’s violent crime drop,” stated the report. “‘Stop and frisk’ activity has also been shown to have no impact on precincts’ robbery and burglary rates.”

Racial disparities exist at every step in the criminal justice system, the report noted. That helps explain why African Americans and Latinos account for about 30 percent of the United States population, but 56 percent of the incarcerated population.

In Ferguson, police stopped white drivers for moving violations 68 percent of the time, and the majority of African-American drivers were stopped for license or equipment problems, the report said. Once they were stopped, African-American drivers were searched at almost twice the rate as white drivers (12 percent vs. 7 percent), but white drivers were more likely to have contraband than African Americans (34 percent vs. 22 percent).

“Yet blacks were twice as likely as whites to be arrested during a traffic stop (10 percent versus 5 percent),” the report continued, partly because, “black drivers were more likely to have arrest warrants compared to their white counterparts. Black drivers were more likely to have these warrants in part because of unpaid fines related to their disproportionate exposure to traffic enforcement.”

Nationally, African Americans and Hispanics are three times as likely to be searched by police during traffic stops.

African Americans were twice as likely as whites to be arrested during a traffic stop,” state the report. “These patterns hold even though police officers generally have a lower ‘contraband hit rate’ when they search black versus white drivers.”

“Almost 1 in 3 people arrested for drug law violations is black, although drug use rates do not differ by race and ethnicity. An ACLU report found that blacks were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites in 2010,” stated the report. “This disparity expands at later stages of the criminal justice system so that 57 percent of people in state prisons for drug offenses are people of color, even though whites comprise over two-thirds of drug users, and are likely a similar proportion of sellers.”