Monday, April 30, 2007

Blacks, Hispanics fare worse in traffic stops

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Black, Hispanic and white drivers are equally likely to be pulled over by police, but blacks and Hispanics are much more likely to be searched and arrested, a federal study found.

Police were much more likely to threaten or use force against blacks and Hispanics than against whites in any encounter, whether at a traffic stop or elsewhere, according to the Justice Department.

The study, released today by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, covered police contacts with the public during 2005 and was based on interviews by the Census Bureau with nearly 64,000 people age 16 or over.


Like the 2002 report, this one contained a warning that the racial disparities uncovered "do not constitute proof that police treat people differently along demographic lines" because the differences could be explained by circumstances not analyzed by the survey. The 2002 report said such circumstances might include driver conduct or whether drugs were in plain view.

Click here for more.

"Do not constitute proof that police treat people differently."

Okay, that's just plain false. This is indeed proof that cops deal with various racial and ethnic groups differently: the qualifiers offered serve only to explain what cop motivation might be for such differences, rather than to nullify hard statistical data. You can't wish this away. Cops search and arrest black and hispanic drivers at a much higher rate than they do whites.

I wonder what the phrase "driver conduct" means. A few racist commenters on the story over at the Chronicle asserted that blacks and hispanics "all hate authority" and get an "attitude" when dealing with cops. While it's definitely racist to paint entire racial groups with such broad strokes, there may be some truth to such assertions, but, unlike the biggoted nutters in the Bayou City, I don't see that as such a bad thing. You have to look at the historical relationship between non-white Americans and law enforcement to understand that "attitude" is probably a justified response to being hassled by cops. For instance, according to Wikipedia, "In 1995, one-third of African American men between the ages of 20 and 29 were under some form of criminal justice control (in prison, on parole or probation)." And the same situation continues today. Indeed, law enforcement has been accused countless times of engaging in racial profiling, that is, targeting people of color in ways that they don't target whites--the entire OJ Simpson debacle made very clear that this definitely happens; the real question is how frequently. Non-whites are well aware of all this, and necessarily, don't always see cops as acting in society's best interest.

If you read Real Art regularly, you know that's my point of view as well, and frankly, I find it utterly humiliating to kiss cops' dicks whenever I'm so unfortunate as to interact with them. Of course, as a white man, I'm also aware that if I just bow down for a few minutes, my white privilege almost always means that I'm walking away as a free man, so I'm willing to take such humiliation as simply something with which I must deal. Obviously, blacks and hispanics don't have white privilege and understand that all the ass-kissing in the world isn't necessarily going to do jack shit. To be honest, I have immense respect for people of color who mouth off to cops. They're resisting an unjust social system, which is the right thing to do.

On the other hand, I have no idea if such "attitude" has anything at all to do with this search and arrest disparity. My money's on racial profiling, as part of cop culture, being the culprit here. At any rate, it is clear that there is deep, deep distrust between cops and non-white Americans, and I don't see the criminal justice system or politicians doing a damned thing to redress the situation. This is a good place to start dealing with the problem.