Black Pols Push Back Against Trump’s ‘Urban Carnage’ Views

At a White House sit-down, the Congressional Black Caucus presented Trump with a 130-page policy proposal with a taunting title: “We Have a Lot to Lose: Solutions to Advance Black Families in the 21st Century.”

Leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus met with President  Trump on Wednesday about infrastructure and reducing urban crime, calling the sit-down a “positive” first step toward finding common ground, reports Reuters. The lawmakers presented Trump with a 130-page policy proposal titled “We Have a Lot to Lose: Solutions to Advance Black Families in the 21st Century,” a reference to Trump’s repeated query on the campaign trail asking what did blacks have to lose by supporting him.

Many black leaders have criticized his depiction of urban areas as crime-ridden war zones and his false claims that the first black U.S. president, Barack Obama, was born abroad. At the start of the meeting, Trump said he was serious about his promise to help African-Americans. “Every American child has a right to grow up in a safe community, to attend great schools, to graduate with access to high-paying jobs,” Trump said during the portion of the meeting open to reporters. But the relationship between blacks and Trump is fraught. Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana, said many  constituents had urged him not to meet with Trump “because of the rhetoric.”Richmond said, “We expressed that to him, because we’re certainly very clear of the emotions of African-Americans around the country.”


Report Cites Mass Incarceration, ‘Racial Achievement Gap’

When parents are incarcerated, children do worse across both cognitive and noncognitive outcome measures, and the incarceration issues are a key cause, says a report from the Economic Policy Institute.

By the age of 14, about 25 percent of African-American children have experienced a parent — in most cases a father — being imprisoned for some period of time. On any given school day, about 10 percent of African-American schoolchildren have a parent who is in jail or prison, more than four times the share in 1980. The comparable share for white children is 4 percent; an African-American child is six times as likely as a white child to have or have had an incarcerated parent, reports the Washington Post. A growing share of African Americans have been arrested for drug crimes, yet African Americans are no more likely than whites to sell or use drugs. Of imprisoned fathers of African-American children, only one-third are in prison because of a violent crime.

Research demonstrates that when parents are incarcerated, children do worse across cognitive and noncognitive outcome measures, and the incarceration issues are a key cause. For example, children of incarcerated parents are more likely to drop out of school; develop learning disabilities; misbehave in school; suffer from migraines, asthma, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and homelessness. These are findings from a new report released by the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute that says the “evidence is overwhelming that the unjustified incarceration of African-American fathers (and, increasingly, mothers as well) is an important cause of the lowered performance of their children” and of the racial achievement gap.


Verdicts Can Be Tossed Over Racism, Says 5-3 High Court

Court majority says Colorado man accused of sexual battery may deserve a new trial because a juror made discriminatory comments about Mexicans such as him during private deliberations. Dissenter Samuel Alito calls the decision a “startling development” that “pries open” the privacy of the jury room.

Racism in jury deliberations is so insidious that verdicts can be thrown out even after convictions, a divided Supreme Court ruled today, USA Today reports. A majority of justices said Miguel Angel Peña-Rodriguez, a Colorado man accused of sexual battery, may deserve a new trial because a juror made discriminatory comments about Mexicans such as him during private deliberations. The comments were reported by fellow jurors only after the verdict was in. “Racial bias implicates unique historical, constitutional, and institutional concerns,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by four liberal justices. “An effort to address the most grave and serious statements of racial bias is not an effort to perfect the jury but to ensure that our legal system remains capable of coming ever closer to the promise of equal treatment under the law that is so central to a functioning democracy.”

The court ruled 5-3 for Peña-Rodriguez even though state and federal rules seek to protect jury verdicts from challenge after the fact, based on the sanctity of the jury room. “The court not only pries open the door; it rules that respecting the privacy of the jury room, as our legal system has done for centuries, violates the Constitution,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in dissent, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas. “This is a startling development, and although the court tries to limit the degree of intrusion, it is doubtful that there are principled grounds for preventing the expansion of today’s holding.” It was the second high court ruling in 12 days implicating racial overtones in court proceedings. Last month, the justices ruled 6-2 that a Texas death row inmate deserved a new sentencing hearing because of racially discriminatory testimony presented by his own defense team.





Police Racial Disparity Study Finds Illinois The Worst

Example found in North Carolina study: If you are black and were driving in Evanston, Il., in 2014, it was seven times more likely than if you were white that if police officers stopped your car, they would search you,

If you are black and were driving in Evanston, Il., in 2014, it was seven times more likely that if police officers stopped your car they would search you than if you are white, reports Injustice Watch. Researchers at the University of North Carolina documented that disparity as part of what may be the largest study of traffic stops ever collected, analyzing 55 million stops based on data from 132 different agencies in 16 states. Across the board, researchers found that stops by law enforcement officers led to searches if the drivers are black and Hispanic far more commonly than if they are white. Four Illinois law enforcement agencies stand out in the study: the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, the Evanston Police Department, the Chicago Police Department and the Palatine Police Department.

The study examined, by race, what percentage of traffic stops turned into searches year by year as far back as 1999. It lists the 10 agencies that, in any single year, had the most disproportionate stops.  For stops comparing white drivers and black drivers, the Evanston Police Department took up six of those 10 spots, having a strikingly disproportionate ratio each year between 2009 and 2014. The Chicago Police Department was listed in three of the four remaining spots. For searches of Hispanic drivers compared to their white counterparts, the Cook County Sheriff over a four-year period between 2008 and 2011 had the four most disproportionate ratios of any studied agencies. In 2009, the worst single year, it was more than 18 times more likely a Hispanic driver than a white driver would be searched after a stop by Cook County sheriff deputies.


Can Policing Really Change? Ten Lessons From the DOJ’s ‘Pattern or Practice’ Bias Probes

The Justice Department’s program to investigate local police departments for bias and other violations of constitutional rights is 20 years old this year. One of the nation’s leading experts on policing draws 10 encouraging lessons from the story so far.

The Justice Department “pattern or practice” program to investigate local police departments for violations of constitutional rights is 20 years old this year. There have been 30 settlements with departments since the first consent decree with Pittsburgh in 1997.

It’s therefore an appropriate time to assess the program’s  impact. What has it achieved? Has it effectively reduced police misconduct?

Has it been cost-effective?

Samuel Walker

Here are 10 quick lessons I’ve drawn from my own research as well as from the 20-year report published by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in January.

1.Consent Decrees Represent an Historic Attempt to Identify Roots of Police Misconduct

The pattern-and-practice program has been an unprecedented event in American police history. Never before has the Justice Department undertaken such an intense scrutiny of local departments for the purpose of ending systemic abuses, and reducing—if not eliminating—racial and ethnic disparities. Because of the Civil Rights Division’s broad investigatory powers, it has been able to identify the underlying causes of police misconduct. The investigation into Ferguson, Missouri, for example uncovered the shocking evidence that the city pressured the police department to generate revenue government operations.

2.They’ve Been (Generally) Successful

Evaluations of several departments have found that consent decrees have generally  been successful in achieving their goals. A Harvard evaluation of the consent decree involving the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)found the LAPD “much changed,” and “quality and the quantity of [law] enforcement activity have risen substantially” because of the consent decree. Evaluations of the LAPD by racial and ethnic minorities had improved. That is quite an achievement for a department with a long history of racial controversy. True, there has been backsliding in some departments, but in no case has a DOJ settlement completely failed.

3.But Are They Sustainable?

Serious questions remain about whether court-ordered reforms are sustained over the long-term. In Pittsburgh, for example, a new mayor with close ties to the police union promptly fired the reform-minded chief, and police practices began reverting to their own ways. The sustainable issue is extremely important, and cannot be ignored. If the reforms cannot be sustained, then the whole effort has not been worth it. The evidence, I think, points to a guardedly optimistic view: cases of documented success and no cases of complete failure.

4.The Organization is the Problem

The DOJ program consolidated the view, already developing among police experts, that establishing professional and constitutional policing requires systemic organizational reform. The report on the Albuquerque police department found that “the use of excessive force by APD officers is not isolated or sporadic. [It] stems from systemic deficiencies in oversight, training, and policy.” All the reports on other departments reached the same conclusion. In short, officer misconduct is not the result of the proverbial “bad apples” but of systemic poor management.

5.Identifying Best Practices is Critical

To achieve systemic organizational reform, the DOJ program has defined a specific set of “best practices.” These include: state of the art polices on officer use of force, including strict force reporting and review requirements; an early intervention system (EIS) to track officer performance and identify officers with persistent performance problems; and an open and accessible citizen complaint procedure. Prior to the DOJ program, there was no equivalent list of accountability-related best practices in policing.

6.Accountability Begins at the Supervisor Level

The DOJ program has illuminated the appalling details of on-the-street officer misconduct. In Seattle, for example, DOJ found “multiple cases in which SPD officers failed to report the use of force at all.” In Cleveland “officers use their guns to strike people in the head in circumstances where the use of deadly force is not justified.” Cleveland officers also “commit tactical errors that endanger themselves and other members of the community and may result in the use of excessive force.” Accountability collapses because supervisors “make little effort to determine the level of force that was used and whether it was justified. In some cases, supervisors take steps to justify a use of force that, on its face, was unreasonable.”

7.Police “Culture” Needs Re-thinking

The program has provided new insights into the much-discussed “police culture.” It is not the result of the recruitment of unqualified individuals. The department ignores and tolerates inappropriate attitudes and behavior. In Albuquerque, the DOJ report found that “The department’s lack of internal oversight has allowed a culture of aggression to develop. This culture is manifested in the routine nature of excessive force and lack of corrective actions taken by the leadership . . . the department’s training, permissive policy on weapons, . . . and the harsh approaches to ordinary encounters with residents.”

8.Consent Decrees Can Pay for Themselves

Criticisms about the financial cost of consent decrees have raised questions about the true “costs” of both police misconduct and police reform. The direct financial costs of a consent decree involve procedures and equipment that a department should have adopted years before. In Cleveland, for example, “basic equipment is either outdated or nonexistent.” For example, “Not all of CDP’s zone cars have computers and, of those that do, the computers do not all reliably work.” The costs of providing modern, up-to-date equipment should not  be blamed on the consent decree.

Additionally, many cities have been paying out enormous funds in civil litigation over police misconduct. Chicago paid out $50 million in 2014 alone. Consent decree-related reforms have succeeded in reducing misconduct and payouts from civil litigation, which represent a long-term cost saving. A full, long-term accounting may well find that consent decrees reduce the costs of policing over time.

Finally, a full accounting also needs to take into account the human and social costs that reforms in most departments have reduced.

9.Tracking Policing Reforms is Essential

The DOJ program has illuminated the enormous challenge of evaluating systemic organizational reform in police departments. Policing involves many important issues: officer uses of force; the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities; disciplinary procedures; citizen complaints and public perceptions of the department, among others. Tracking changes in all of them is a daunting challenge, and police researches need to develop comprehensive and manageable evaluation models.

10. This is (or Should Be) Just the Beginning

Finally, the history of the program highlights the impact of politics and police reform. Two Democratic Party presidents (Bill Clinton and Barak Obama) aggressively pursued the pattern or practice program, while one Republican Party president (George W. Bush) backed away from it, and the new Republican Party president appears hostile to it.

In the end, even allowing for some backsliding, the DOJ pattern or practice program has achieved significant reforms in departments subject to consent decrees.

Most important, the program has made a significant contribution to policing by defining a set of “best practices” necessary for constitutional and bias-free policing. Serious questions remain, however, about how to transform large public bureaucracies and about the long-term sustainability of court-ordered reforms.

These and other questions raised by the DOJ’s program demand further investigation by police experts.

NOTE: A more comprehensive version of Prof. Walker’s analysis can be downloaded here.

 Samuel Walker is Professor Emeritus of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the author of 14 books on policing, civil liberties and crime police. His new blog can be read here.  Readers’ comments are welcome.


How Are Young Blacks Doing Five Years After Trayvon Martin?

Five years after Trayvon Martin was killed near Orlando, the unemployment rate for young black men is down and the high school graduation rate is up, but the poverty rate is up, too. The Rev. Al Sharpton says the case “energized a renewal of civil rights activism.”

Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida five years ago this week. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” was coined on July 13, 2013, the day after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who shot Martin after calling 911 and describing him as suspicious, reports the Orlando Sentinel. When Zimmerman shot Martin, Barack Obama had been in the White House for three years and, “Many Americans … felt that we were in a post-racial era,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist who came to Sanford, where the shooting took place, twice to lead rallies calling for Zimmerman’s arrest. Sharpton got involved, he said, because “I realized how vulnerable we were, that this guy wasn’t even a policeman, and he could just kill this kid and not even be arrested … That’s what outraged me.”

Sharpton doesn’t think young black men are better off now than they were when Martin was shot, but there is a big change: the movement led to accountability. People now demand answers when police kill young black men, and they’re willing to take to the streets in protest. “Trayvon Martin energized a renewal of civil rights activism in the 21st century like Emmett Till energized it in the 20th century,” Sharpton said. Government data indicates that in Central Florida, life has improved for young black men in some ways and gotten worse in others in five years. Their unemployment rate is down 38 percent, and the rate at which they graduate from high school is up sharply. The poverty rate for black males age 15 to 25 is 3 percent higher. The number of black males 15 to 25 who were the victims of homicide has seesawed since 2012. That year, Martin was one of 31. In 2015, there were 35.



Minor Crimes, Major Challenges

Aggressive police enforcement of misdemeanor crimes is a major reason for clogged courts and racial tensions. A research network announced yesterday at John Jay College to study data from seven cities is aimed at helping policymakers and law enforcement authorities explore different approaches.

Responding to minor crimes is arguably one of the most critical activities of any police department.

Jeremy Travis. Courtesy John Jay College

The resource demands are certainly substantial.  These enforcement actions also provide opportunities to reduce crime and enhance public trust.  In addition, they pose considerable safety risks to the responding officers.

Given that low-level arrests also clog the nation’s courts and jails, it is remarkable that this police function has received so little public attention.

By any measure, enforcement of minor crimes is a high volume activity.  According to the FBI, only 18 percent, or 1.9 million arrests, made in 2015 were related to the seven major crime categories (homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, grand larceny, and motor vehicle theft).

The remaining 8.8 million arrests were for other charges, including 13 percent for drug offenses, 10 percent for driving under the influence and another 10 percent for assault.

Federal statistics shed little light beyond the big picture.  The FBI website provides no arrest data for specific police departments, only estimates by region, state and county.

Preeti Chauhan. Courtesy John Jay College

The Bureau of Justice Statistics, which does provide arrest data by police agency, has not updated these numbers since 2012 and several cities have missing data.  Remarkably, neither agency reports on the issuance of summonses, citations, pedestrian stops, or traffic stops.

Without these rudimentary statistics, a national assessment of the enforcement of minor crimes is impossible.

Local jurisdictions can show the way. The work of the Misdemeanor Justice Project in New York, which we launched four years ago, illustrates the power of statistical analysis to illuminate these unexamined police practices.

Using data from our city and state partners, we documented significant shifts in police enforcement activity in New York City. In 2003, the police recorded nearly 891,000 misdemeanor arrests, criminal summons and pedestrian stops.   Eight years later, that number rose to 1.4 million—a 57.5 percent increase.

Yet by 2015, the number dropped to 540,000, a dramatic 61.5 percent decline.

Many hypotheses have been offered to explain this stunning rise and fall, but the bottom line is clear: The interactions between police and public have changed dramatically.

Merely focusing on trends in enforcement activity only scratches the surface.  More research is needed.

At a minimum, the public should know the court outcomes of these arrests.  Policy-makers should also assess the costs—certainly the costs of arrest, prosecution and detention,  but also the individual costs such as lost income, court fees, family expenses, and medical costs.

Harder to measure, but very important, are the psychological costs attendant to being stopped, arrested and detained.

The benefit side of the ledger also deserves analysis.  The simple fact that the police have responded to a citizen’s call for assistance has intrinsic value.  More complex is an assessment of the public safety benefit of these arrests.

The literature on “hot spots” policing and focused deterrence shows significant crime reduction effects and suggests that strategies tailored to specific problems are more effective than general “quality of life” policing.

Research on procedural justice suggests that respectful interactions between police and public yield increased respect for the law and law-abiding behavior in the future.  Negative interactions can contribute to legal cynicism, a lower likelihood to call the police at time of need, and fewer police interactions initiated by the public.  Public trust in the police can be enhanced or undermined by these high volume activities.

The lens of racial justice is also informative.

Even if individual enforcement actions are legally justifiable, a pattern of overly aggressive enforcement practices in communities of color can still give rise to claims of disparate treatment.  These claims demand deeper examination of the reasons for the exercise of police discretion.

For example, our analysis of the impact of enforcement trends on different demographic groups has shown that young men of color have been the beneficiaries of the steep decline. Yet we also found that significant inter-group racial disparities remain, prompting questions about the reasons behind these racial disparities.

The misdemeanor justice agenda should also examine alternatives to traditional arrest practices.  One example is the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program in Seattle, which provides community based treatment and support services for individuals involved in drug and prostitution crimes.

Station house release is another option that promotes human liberty while maintaining accountability for wrong-doing.  Because many individuals arrested for low-level offenses also have frequent interactions with emergency rooms, homeless shelters, and mental health institutions, a robust set of alternatives for responding officers would necessarily involve those sectors.

Fortunately, the country is now seeing overdue attention to the front end of the justice system.

In 2015, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation launched the Safety and Justice Challenge, dedicated to reducing jail populations in 40 sites.  The Laura and John Arnold Foundation has pioneered the use of predictive analytics to help judges make better bail decisions.  The Pretrial Justice Institute has infused new energy into the movement to reduce reliance on money bail.

A focus on the role of the police in making arrests for minor crimes will complement these efforts.

In that spirit, we are pleased to announce the creation of the Research Network for Misdemeanor Justice.  Funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Research Network will comprise seven jurisdictions committed to documenting misdemeanors, criminal summonses, stops and pretrial detention at the local level.

We received a staggering 39 applications to join the Research Network, demonstrating a strong desire to better understand these trends.  After a rigorous selection process, six jurisdictions were chosen to join New York City:  Los Angeles, CA; Toledo, OH; Durham, NC; Seattle, WA; Prince George’s County, MD; and St. Louis, MO.

Each jurisdiction will work with a local research partner, e.g., University of California, Los Angeles, University of Toledo, North Carolina Central University, Seattle University, University of Maryland, and University of Missouri – St. Louis.

Over the next three years, the Research Network sites will produce reports on enforcement of minor crimes in each jurisdiction, with comparative analyses examining trends across the sites.  These reports will be the first of their kind in the policing literature.

Taken together, they will make a distinctive contribution to an overdue national conversation focused on society’s response to minor crimes, the most frequent interaction between the public and the law.

Jeremy Travis is the President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York.  Preeti Chauhan is an Associate Professor of Psychology at John Jay.  They co-direct the Misdemeanor Justice Project. Readers’ comments are welcome.



Chicago Police Stops Down 85%; Most Detained Are Black

Alderman Roderick Sawyer of the City Council’s Black Caucus is concerned that police continue to stop people without a “reasonable suspicion” of a crime, which is required for an investigatory stop to be constitutional. “Were the reasons legitimate?” the alderman says. “Or is it still ‘walking while black?’ “

The number of street stops by the Chicago Police Department has plummeted 5 percent in a year, but African Americans continued to account for the vast majority of those detained and frisked, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. That’s the case even though African Americans were no more likely to be found with weapons or drugs than were people of other racial backgrounds, the Sun-Times found by analyzing data on stops collected by the department for the first time in 2016. Police reported stopping thousands of people because they fit the description of a criminal suspect, were found near the scene of a crime, or acted in a manner deemed “indicative” of drug dealing.

In most cases, officers checked a box on their reports for “other” to explain the justification for the stop. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” says Alderman Roderick Sawyer, chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus. He says many of his South Side constituents would like the police to be more aggressive in searching for guns. Sawyer says he’s concerned the police continue to stop people without a “reasonable suspicion” of a crime, which is required for an investigatory stop to be constitutional. “Were the reasons legitimate?” the alderman says. “Or is it still ‘walking while black?’ ” Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says the department tries to safeguard rights as it protects the public: “Good policing and civil rights are not mutually exclusive.”



Race Matters When Police Use Force: Study

White officers use greater force on black suspects than on white suspects, according to a two-year study of seven police agencies in 7 U.S. cities by researchers at Arizona State University and the University of Central Florida. One of the co-authors cautions it suggests possible bias but “doesn’t prove it.”

White officers use greater force on black suspects than they do on white suspects, according to a new study. At the same time, African-American officers were found to use similar force against both black and white suspects.

The study, co-authored by Prof. William Terrill, a police use-of-force expert with Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice,  and University of Central Florida criminal justice professors Eugene Paoline and Jacinta Gau, reviewed 6,000 use-of-force cases in seven cities over a two-year span.

According to Terrill, the data only suggested possible bias on the part of white officers when it comes to the use of force, but did not prove it.

Prof. William Terrill. Photo courtesy Michigan State University

Prof. William Terrill. Photo courtesy Michigan State University

“This is not, in any way, to say that police officers are ‘racist,’ but it is to say that race cannot be dismissed,” he observed.  “As our findings demonstrate, white officers used greater force on black suspects compared to whites.

“Hence, race is playing some sort of factor.”

Terrill added that their research also found black and white suspects offered similar levels of resistance toward the police irrespective of the officer’s race

The study, recently published in the British Journal of Criminology, looked at mid-level to large police agencies in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Knoxville, Tennessee; Portland, Oregon and St. Petersburg, Florida.

Only data from male police officers and male citizens were used, in order to remove outside variables such as female suspects and other races.

The study, entitled “Race and the Police Use of Force Encounter in the United States,” was based on data from the Assessing Police Use of Force Policy and Outcomes Project funded in 2005 by the National Institute of Justice, a research unit of the U.S. Department of Justice.

“There are no easy solutions to improving relations between police and communities, such as hiring more black officers or simply training white officers on non-biased policing,” Terrill pointed out.

“Police departments have to at least be open to the possibility that some of the disparity in police use of force behavior may indeed be based on race such as how officers view black suspects and the lens in which they view potential danger.”

This study is available for purchase only.  Journalists who wish to obtain a free copy should contact  An abstract of the study, and information about how to purchase it  is available here.


Georgia Police Chief Apologizes for 1940 Lynching

“It became clear that something needed to be done to recognize that some things we did in the past are a burden still carried by officers today,” said Police Chief Louis Dekmar of LaGrange, Ga.

Almost 77 years ago in LaGrange, Ga., a man named Austin Callaway was dragged out of a jail cell by a band of masked white men, then shot and left for dead. Last night LaGrange’s police chief, Louis Dekmar, who is white, issued a rare apology for a Southern lynching, the New York Times reports. “I sincerely regret and denounce the role our police department played in Austin’s lynching, both through our action and our inaction,” Dekmar told a crowd at an African-American church. “And for that, I’m profoundly sorry. It should never have happened.”

The apology for the Sept. 8, 1940, killing is part of a renewed push across the South to acknowledge the brutal mob violence that enforced racial segregation after Reconstruction. The Equal Justice Initiative has documented 4,075 “racial terror lynchings” of blacks by white mobs in 12 Southern states from 1877 to 1950. In LaGrange, “it became clear that something needed to be done to recognize that some things we did in the past are a burden still carried by officers today,” Dekmar told the Times.