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A. Policing - Racial Disparity in the United States Criminal Justice System 2

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More than one in four people arrested for drug law violations in 2015 was black, although drug use rates do not differ substantially by race and ethnicity and drug users generally purchase drugs from people of the same race or ethnicity. For example, the ACLU found that blacks were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites in 2010, even though their rate of marijuana usage was comparable.

The highest officials in New York City had “turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” Judge Shira A. Scheindlin concluded regarding the city’s stop-and-frisk tactic, declaring it unconstitutional in 2013. The policy, which broadly targeted male residents of neighborhoods populated by low-income people of color to uncover drugs and weapons, was shown to be ineffective, and this assessment was further validated when New York City continued its crime decline after scaling back Stop and Frisk. Yet other localities continue to deploy the practice.

New York City, like many other cities, remains reluctant to scale back Broken Windows Policing, a public safety approach that relies on clamping down on petty offenses and neighborhood disorder. Between 2001 and 2013, 51% of the city’s population over age 16 was black or Hispanic. Yet during that period, 82% of those arrested for misdemeanors were black or Hispanic, as were 81% of those who received summonses for violations of the administrative code (including such behaviors as public consumption of alcohol, disorderly conduct, and bicycling on the sidewalk.). Yet research shows that order-maintenance strategies have had only a modest impact on serious crime rates and have caused great damage to communities of color. These strategies also expose people of color to a greater risk of being killed during a police encounter.

In addition to pursuing policies that bring little gain in crime reduction and impose great costs on people of color, policymakers and criminal justice leaders have been late to address discriminatory policies for which they provide no justification—such as biased use of officer discretion and revenue-driven policing. Thus:

In recent years, black drivers have been somewhat more likely to be stopped than whites but have been far more likely to be searched and arrested. The causes and outcomes of these stops differ by race, and staggering racial disparities in rates of police stops persist in certain jurisdictions—pointing to unchecked racial bias, whether intentional or not, in officer discretion. A closer look at the causes of traffic stops reveals that police are more likely to stop black and Hispanic drivers for discretionary reasons—for “investigatory stops” (proactive stops used to investigate drivers deemed suspicious) rather than “traffic-safety stops” (reactive stops used to enforce traffic laws or vehicle codes). Nationwide surveys also reveal disparities in the outcomes of police stops. Once pulled over, black and Hispanic drivers were three times as likely as whites to be searched (6% and 7% versus 2%) and blacks were twice as likely as whites to be arrested. These patterns hold even though police officers generally have a lower “contraband hit rate” when they search black versus white drivers.

“Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs,” the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded in 2015, after the police killing of Michael Brown brought national attention to police-community tensions in the St. Louis, Missouri suburb.
 The DOJ found that black residents’ disproportionate rate of police stops, searches, and arrests resulted from city officials’ growing reliance on municipal fines and fees which police officers and court officers were exhorted to deliver through aggressive enforcement of traffic violations and petty offenses. ArchCity Defenders, authors of an early and influential white paper on the troubled municipal court system, has demonstrated that many other St. Louis municipalities have similar or worse practices than Ferguson.


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