Black men who are raised in the nation’s top one percent of families economically were as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised in households earning $36,000, a study finds.
Even when children grow up next to each other with parents who earn similar incomes, black boys fare worse than white boys in 99 percent of the U.S., finds a study led by researchers at Stanford, Harvard and the Census Bureau, the New York Times reports. The study primarily concerned economic issues but it included some findings on crime and justice. The data showed that 21 percent of black men raised at the very bottom economically were incarcerated, according to a snapshot of a single day during the 2010 census. Black men raised in the top 1 percent — by millionaires — were as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised in households earning about $36,000.
“Simply because you’re in an area that is more affluent, it’s still hard for black boys to present themselves as independent from the stereotype of black criminality,” said Khiara Bridges, a professor of law and anthropology at Boston University. Noelle Hurd, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, said, “It’s not just being black but being male that has been hyper-stereotyped in this negative way, in which we’ve made black men scary, intimidating, with a propensity toward violence.”
Experts hope that the reform will address rampant racial disparities in sentencing that were reported by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Records kept by court clerks, state attorneys, public defenders, jail operators and law enforcement will be centralized, and the results will be published through a new database updated weekly.
The Florida Legislature has approved a bill to increase transparency in the criminal justice system, reports the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Experts hope that the reform will address rampant racial disparities in sentencing that were reported earlier by the newspaper. House leaders agreed to a plan pushed by Senate President Joe Negron aimed at increasing the use of civil citations and pre-arrest diversion for juveniles who commit minor crimes. Senate leaders agreed to the data-collection proposal, which had cleared the House last month. “It’s important at all times to be evaluating our criminal justice system to make sure that there aren’t biases and prejudices and other things that we don’t want to happen,” Negron said. “And the best way to determine that is to get actual information and data and research to make sure that we’re treating everyone fairly regardless of their racial background, their education, income.”
Under the measure, various records stored by court clerks, state attorneys, public defenders, jail operators and law enforcement will be centralized, and the results will be published through a new database updated weekly. The Herald-Tribune reported that when a black and white defendant commit the same crime under similar circumstances, Florida courts sentence the black offender to far longer in lockup on average. The disparities are exacerbated in the war on drugs. The newspaper also showed the state’s current criminal justice data collection is flawed, fractured and rife with errors. The measure also calls for the state to digitize the criminal punishment code’s sentencing scoresheets. The form is used by the courts to ensure consistency in sentencing. Amy Bach of Measures for Justice, which promotes performance measures in the justice system, said she hoped that the Florida bill will serve as a model for other states.
Gov. Philip Murphy favors legalization, but Sen. Ronald Rice, a fellow Democrat, opposes it. Rice believes that legal pot would proliferate in black communities and would produce a new generation of drug abusers.
During his campaign for New Jersey governor, Philip Murphy pledged to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, saying that a new source of tax revenue was not what was motivating him. Murphy argues that the disproportionate number of African Americans who are jailed on marijuana charges is a main reason to legalize the drug, and he has the support of civil rights groups, cannabis business lobbyists, lawyers, doctors who prescribe medical marijuana and out-of-state cannabis growers, reports the New York Times. Now that Murphy is governor, a major legislative obstacle is emerging: Ronald Rice, the state’s longest-serving black senator and the leader of its Black Caucus.
“It’s always been said the issue is not money, the issue is social justice,” said Rice, a former Newark police officer. “But, it’s being sold on the backs of black folk and brown people. It’s clear there is big, big money pushing special interests to sell this to our communities.” The growing and selling of marijuana has generated billions of dollars in the nine states where it is legal, but the industry is overwhelmingly white. Rice fears the consequences of legal pot would be dire in cities like Newark, which is already wrestling with a variety of problems, including widespread heroin addiction and a foreclosure crisis. Cannabis stores, he believes, would proliferate in black communities, much like liquor stores, and would produce a new generation of drug abusers. Rice’s position on legalization not only puts him at odds with the governor and members of his party, but also with many African Americans. In New Jersey, African Americans are three times more likely to be charged with marijuana possession than whites, though both populations use the drug at similar rates.
A forthcoming paper from NYU Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic claims modern US immigration policy is a legacy of the “racial animus” that has affected our immigration and criminal justice systems since the nation’s founding.
A “two-way pipeline for deportation” has effectively merged the immigration and criminal justice systems and “amplified the flaws in each,” according to a forthcoming paper from the New York University School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic.
As a result, thousands of individuals who find themselves at the intersection between immigration and criminal law—under the label of “criminal aliens”—are “vulnerable to political scapegoating and hyper-enforcement,” wrote Alina Das, author of the paper.
Das, arguing that a criminal record should not be the sole basis for deportation, said policymakers should work towards “reframing…the immigrant rights debate away from the good-versus-bad, criminal versus non-criminal, immigrant narrative, and towards principles that honor each immigrant’s human dignity and right to due process.”
Some 58 percent of deportations during 2016—affecting an estimated 130,000 people—were based on criminal grounds, a legacy of Clinton-era laws which provided for mandatory detention and removal of undocumented immigrants, wrote Das.
The consequence, she added in her paper, “Inclusive Immigrant Justice: Racial Animus and the Origins of Crime-Based Deportation,” has been that undocumented immigrants have less resource to due process of the law.
Although it is a commonly held belief that immigration and immigrants are the backbone of this country’s origin story, the truth is more complicated, Das wrote.
Reviewing the history of immigration and immigrants in the US, Das said deportation has periodically been deployed as a race-based policy tool, starting with the arrival of the European colonizers in the 16th century.
The 1830 Indian Removal Act, for example, “forced American Indians from their ancestral lands by violence and coercion.”
“The new conquests of land led to a nearby unquenchable thirst for free labor,” which in turn gave way to the “legitimating theories” in which those slaves who had fled the South and sought refuge in Northern states could be physically transported back to the South, she wrote.
The history of deportation in the US or, as Das describes it, “the regulation of movement,” has always targeted “those most vulnerable in society.”
Such measures continued throughout US history, most infamously with acts such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the National Origins Act of 1924, which was supported by eugenicists and “restricted immigration outside the Western hemisphere to 155,000 persons annually,” while also imposing a strict immigration quota for each country.
Even though the link between criminality and immigration predates the 1996 laws and legislation from the 1980s and 1990s that expanded on the “criminal grounds of deportability and exclusion” —for instance, with the 1986 passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act which “criminaliz[ed] the hiring of undocumented workers and smuggling offenses”—Das cites the explosion of the drug trade as a major turning point.
Das argued the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act paved the way for stricter laws for deportation and reentry, but noted that the connection between “racialized animus and crime-based deportation” reached as far back as the 19th century, when the association between opium and Chinese immigrants generated “anti-Chinese hysteria.”
Ultimately, Das concluded, “racial animus” has been an integral factor in deportation enforcement since the nation’s founding.
The paper said immigration advocates have also in effect used the same framework by acknowledging that some immigrants must be treated differently because of their criminal behavior.
“Immigrants have been criminalized throughout U.S. history by policies that first associate immigrants with criminality, and then penalize immigrants for that association,” the paper said.
Das added: “If those of us in the immigrant rights community cannot champion rights for all immigrants, then we are simply building upon the legacy of racism and oppression that led us to this massive deportation system in the first place.”
Although African Americans are still “over-represented” in jails—they are 3.6 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites—a doubling of the jailed white population, particularly in rural and small metro countries, significantly reduced the racial gap in US jails between 1990 and 2013, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.
A rise in jail incarceration rates for white Americans, particularly in rural counties and smaller metropolitan jurisdictions, has significantly narrowed the racial gap in the nation’s 3,000 jails, according to the latest in a series of studies by the Vera Institute of Justice.
While the study said that African-Americans are still “over-represented” in jails—they are 3.6 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites—it found that the jailed white population had doubled between 1990 and 2013.
The black jail incarceration rate declined by 20 per cent nationally between 2005 and 2013, shrinking the disparity between black and white jailed populations by nearly half in that period. But, effectively, the shift only brought the gap between blacks and whites back to where it was in 1990, the study said.
“In 2013, the black jail incarceration rate was relatively the same as it was almost 25 years ago — with 904 black people in jail per 100,000 black people in the community in 1990 compared to 915 per 100,000 in 2013,” said the study released today.
The authors called the continued disparities “alarming given recent efforts across the nation to downsize the overall footprint of local jail incarceration.”
The report, entitled “Divided Justice,” was written by Ram Subramanian, Kristine Riley, and Chris Mai, and released as part of a series commissioned by the “Safety and Justice Challenge, an initiative funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to reduce over-incarceration by “changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.”
The authors said the reasons for the shift in racial composition were unclear, but they pointed out that the rise in white jail numbers, particularly in small and rural areas, paralleled the spread of the opioid epidemic, which has ravaged white populations in those areas, and brought many into contact with the justice system.
According to the study, the number of whites in jail doubled from 163,000 to 330,000 between 1990 and 2013. The increases were seen largely in smaller cities and rural countries in all areas of the country, but the report added that “growth in the South was so great that by 2013, the South held around the same number of white people in jail on any given day as the other three regions combined.”
The authors also suggested that the growth in white incarceration could reflect large numbers of Hispanics jailed for violations of federal immigration laws, noting that many jails failed to keep accurate demographic records that distinguished Latinos from the overall white population.
Another hypothesis offered by the researchers for the change in racial composition of the jail population was the variation in criminal justice resources available in different jurisdictions. Conditions that might account for the differences included relative access to courts, the availability of pretrial counseling and public defender services, and treatment for substance abuse—all of which could result in “different racial outcomes depending on where people live.”
The authors said racial disparities in incarceration needed to be addressed directly by policymakers.
“Wrestling with the issue of race and incarceration remains uncomfortable ground because it forces people to confront a deep legacy of racism in this country, past and present,” the authors said. “This lack of direct inquiry has compounded the existing dearth of knowledge about why racial disparities continue to exist in local jail incarceration.”
Smartphone apps helps motorists understand their rights and alerts contacts that you’ve been stopped by police. The phone’s camera can record the interaction.
You’re driving and a police officer turns on blue lights. You hear sirens and pull over. The officer approaches. If the officer suspects you’ve been drinking, can you refuse to take a field sobriety test or blow into a blood-alcohol reader? If the officer wants to search your car, can you say no? You shouldn’t have to guess about your rights, says tech entrepreneur Mbey Njie, the Charlotte Observer reports. In both scenarios, DUI and police search laws vary by state. Njie created a smartphone app called “Legal Equalizer.” It helps you understand your rights and alerts selected contacts in your phone that you’ve been stopped by a police officer. A built-in video feature uses your phone’s camera to record the interaction and the video is automatically saved.
The app was prompted by Njie’s frustration, as a black man in North Carolina and Georgia, about being frequently pulled over for minor traffic violations. The first version of the Legal Equalizer app emerged in 2015 and was marketed as a police watchdog tool. It was a year after Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., setting off a week of protests. Legal Equalizer puts the camera in the hands of a person stopped by a police officer. In the first two years, Legal Equalizer saw nearly 100,000 app downloads. There are similar apps put out by the American Civil Liberties Union, Cop Watch and Five-O. To set his apart, Njie has expanded the scope to include links to local legal help and descriptions of state and federal laws relevant to police searches, DUIs, and drug possession. Njie hopes to broaden the app’s tools to be useful for victims of domestic violence and people targeted by immigration officers.
Minority victims of sexual assault by law enforcement have often been ignored by reformers seeking to improve police-community relations, says attorney Andrea Ritchie. In a conversation with TCR, Ritchie, who assembled a database of 300 such cases, including transgendered, lesbian and gay victims, argues the issue should also be part of the nationwide focus on combating sexual harassment.
Calls for reforms aimed at improving relations between police and the communities where they work have tended to leave out an important constituency: minority women, including those who are transgendered or gay.
Ritchie, a Barnard College researcher-in-residence and former Soros Foundation Social Justice Fellow, speaks from personal experience. She says that being a black lesbian who was once sexually assaulted by a police officer factors into her research and advocacy. She told Katti Gray, The Crime Report contributing editor, that her current efforts include trying to persuade the New York Police Department to ban its practice—a common one, nationwide—of having police investigate allegations of sexual assault and harassment by police. She’s well aware, she adds, that Chicago Police Department union leaders blocked a similar attempt at establishing civilian review of alleged police rape last year. Here’s an abridged version of Ritchie’s conversation with Gray.
The Crime Report: In her foreword to “Invisible No More,” scholar and former Black Panther Party activist Angela Davis called it a very difficult book to read. Was it hard for you to write?
Andrea J. Ritchie: I was sifting through reports, watching videos, looking at photographs and speaking directly to some of these sexually assaulted women and girls, and their families, and the relatives of women killed by police. I was witnessing people’s pain and vulnerability and their sense of betrayal by a society that largely ignores these crimes.
There were so many stories that I worried about which to cut from the manuscript. If I cut them, the public would never know what happened. So I also created a database of these cases on the book’s website. It contains 300 cases right now; we’re about to update that to add about 100 more. And these are not all the stories that are out there. If a person had filed a lawsuit against police, that case was already being told publicly. There are cases I came across where I felt we had to protect someone’s identity, fearing they would face retaliation for speaking up. Sometimes, the assaulted women are necessarily kept anonymous.
Yes, writing this book was hard. At the same time, it was healing. Bringing these issues to light, hopefully, will lead to action that makes these things not happen again.
TCR: How far back in history are these cases you write about?
But, in actual reality, these crimes started in 1492 when Christopher Columbus landed on these shores and began committing violence against indigenous people and indigenous women … and in [the 1500s] when blacks were first brought here as slaves.
TCR: Of all the stories of police violence against women in “Invisible No More,” which did you find the most searing?
Ritchie: The ones that strike me make it so clear that these controlling, mythical narratives about black women and indigenous women, which are rooted in slavery, still operate in policing today.
In one case, a 12-year-old black girl had stepped outside to flip a circuit breaker back on while her mom was cooking in the kitchen. The police—who’d been called to pick up three white girls for prostitution—decided to arrest that 12-year-old black girl for prostitution instead. When they went after her, she started screaming for her mom … Eventually, the police officers showed up at her school to charge her with resisting arrest. You do not see this child as a child? You see her through nothing except the lies told over and over again about black women being promiscuous, involved in the sex trade, inherently criminal.
Another that sticks in my heart is of a Native American trans woman I met in Los Angeles more than 10 years ago … Police detained her, assaulted her, then threw her out of the car afterward and said “Yes, you are Native … We can do anything to you that we want.”
Another story: When a black woman on her stoop in Chicago laughed because a police officer couldn’t catch someone he was chasing, he punched her in the stomach and said, “You, black bitch.” He deliberately assaulted her as a mother and assaulted her child … He sent her into premature (delivery) later.
I could tell you story after story that enraged me. I cannot think of just one that makes me cry or keeps me up at night. They all do.
TCR: What do the data suggest about women who are assaulted by police?
Ritchie: The data are limited. When these crimes are counted, it’s when people report them to the media or file civil complaints. In that way, it’s clear that those who are sexually assaulted, predominantly, are black and other women of color. And police deliberately target women least likely to report.
Of the available data, one national study, conducted by a former police officer [Bowling Green State University Professor Phil Stinson] of  officers arrested for misconduct showed that 73 percent of sexual assault victims whose age was known were less than 18 years old. [After that 2014 study, the U.S. Justice Department funded Stinson’s study, released in 2016, of more than 6,700 police arrested nationwide. It chronicled 1,475 arrests of 1,070 sworn officers on charges of sexual misconduct.]
Many of these victimized women are in the drug trade, sex trade, or are women who are homeless, transgender, domestic violence survivors, sexual assault survivors. Police have deliberately targeted lesbian, and sometimes say they are—by sexually assaulting them—trying to show lesbians another path.
TCR: You suggest that even among black social and political activists there is too little focus on crimes against black women. What do you mean?
Ritchie: I’d reframe the question a bit. Black women, among ourselves, do organize around and tell the stories of violence against black women. I do agree, though, that, in the mainstream narrative, in the media, those black women’s stories are not placed in the foreground.
Also, black women often will speak at a rally about violence against their child or their husband but not against black women. We’ve internalized this notion that state violence happens to black and brown men, and private violence happens to white women.
TCR: Black women see speaking up as problematic?
Ritchie: Yes. But telling our stories does not take away from the experiences of black and brown men … I believe more women would come forward if they thought there would be protests on their behalf and the same kind of outrage that’s expressed when a black or brown man is shot down by police.
Often, the condemning comments on articles I’ve written are from black men, saying “Here come black women, gay ones, trying to take the spotlight away from us and our oppression.” That hurts. I’ve been on the street protesting the killing of every single black man that I could. I have fought for policies that protect all of us. There is so much opportunity for solidarity. [Georgetown Law Professor and former federal prosecutor] Paul Butler’s book, “Chokehold: Policing Black Men” talks about how men also are sexually assaulted by police. This work isn’t about dividing, it’s about fighting for change together…
It’s about leaving no one behind and looking at all of our experiences to understand the extent of the problem and come up with a full solution, instead of half a solution.
TCR: In your years of litigating, researching, writing, and protesting on this front, what has changed, and what hasn’t?
Ritchie: Particularly in the last three or four years, the level of awareness has risen significantly. That’s because of the work of the Black Youth Project, the African American Policy Forum, the Ferguson uprising and others. The Sandra Bland case helped catapult this to the forefront.
What hasn’t changed is how much those experiences still do not inform our analysis of the issues and the strategies we use to resist bad policing and advance police reform.
What I’m looking at now is the question of how women’s experiences change the conversation. How do you hold police accountable for assaulting women of color in the same way that you hold them accountable for use of excessive force? How does excessive force affect women differently? Most departments have no policy about limitations of force against pregnant women. It’s not about just saying another name at a rally. But it’s about shifting the focus and the demands we make, and the reforms we pursue, and really rethinking approaches to all of this.
TCR: What are some examples of the changes you espouse?
Ritchie: It can range from very specific things like rethinking mandatory arrest policies, which grows out of concern that domestic violence isn’t taken seriously enough. Police don’t really change how they behave when they respond to calls for help. Black women often are treated as perpetrators rather than survivors of violence. Eliminate that mandatory arrest policy. That would involve a more holistic, community-based approach. It involves the community asking, “What is contributing to this violence? What makes it seem OK to abuse someone in a private relationship? How can we take responsibility for that, instead of calling the police? How can people in the community rally to stop that?”
There are examples of communities that have domestic violence response teams. If you speak to elders in some communities, you’ll hear them say there was a time when the family sat down and said, “This will not happen again” to the perpetrator.
TCR: Where are there active examples of that?
Ritchie: I don’t necessarily want to point these out as models, per se, but Spirit House in Durham, N.C. does just what I was talking about. Creative Interventions has a handbook about how to respond to domestic and other violence in your community. The Audre Lorde Project in Brooklyn has created a program for LGBT people around police violence and community crimes. Those are just a few examples.
TCR: You’ve pointed out some differences in the #MeToo and #SayHername movements.
Ritchie: My recent op-ed for The Washington Post highlighted the reality that this heightened national conversation on sexual violence needs to shine the spotlight on sexual violence by police officers. To the extent that we are raising our hands and saying “me, too” we need to have a response regarding women of color who are assaulted by the very people we’re supposed to turn to protect us, but who are getting away with these crimes.
The Crime Report contributing editor Katti Gray covers criminal justice and health, mainly, for a variety of publications. She welcomes your comments.
California’s Proposition 47 reduced certain drug-possession felonies to misdemeanors and raised the threshold for felony theft and check forging from $450 to $950. Since the changes took effect, the gap in sentence lengths between black and white citizens dropped by half in San Francisco.
California’s voter-backed reform that downgraded some crimes to misdemeanors in 2014 helped shrink the disparity in the criminal-justice system between blacks and whites in San Francisco, says a new study reported by Courthouse News. Proposition 47 reduced certain drug-possession felonies to misdemeanors and raised the threshold for felony theft and check forging from $450 to $950. Since the changes took effect, the gap in sentence lengths between black and white citizens dropped by half in San Francisco, and the percentage of felony drug arrests for black defendants fell from 23 percent to 9 percent. “This report shows that there is much more work to be done, but that Proposition 47 has already played an instrumental role in narrowing racial disparities in San Francisco’s criminal justice system,” said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who commissioned the study.
In 2010, blacks made up 6 percent of San Francisco’s population but accounted for 41 percent of arrests, 43 percent of people booked in jail, and 38 percent of criminal cases filed between 2008 to 2011. The study by Steven Raphael of the University of California Berkeley and John MacDonald of the University of Pennsylvania also found the percentage of African-Americans booked in jail dropped from 43 percent of all bookings to 38 percent after Proposition 47 reforms took effect.
Outgoing Gov. Chris Christie signed a law requiring that changes to criminal-justice laws in New Jersey include an analysis of their impact on racial and ethnic minorities. The state has the nation’s largest disparity between black and white incarceration rates.
Changes to criminal-justice laws in New Jersey now require an analysis of their impact on racial and ethnic minorities, the Wall Street Journal reports. A bill mandating the analyses, which outgoing Gov. Chris Christie signed Monday, requires the state’s Office of Legislative Services to prepare racial-impact statements for policy changes that affect pretrial detention, sentencing and parole. Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who was sworn in Tuesday, is interested in legalizing marijuana and at ending mandatory minimum sentences. Under the new law, such changes would require impact statements. The legislation notes that criminal-justice policies, “while neutral on their face, often adversely affect minority communities.”
New Jersey has the nation’s largest disparity between white and black incarceration rates, says the Sentencing Project, which advocates reducing the prison population. The state’s prison population is 61 percent black, 22 percent white and 16 percent Hispanic. The state’s population is 14 percent black, 69 percent white and 18 percent Hispanic. Iowa, Connecticut and Oregon also require racial-impact statements, said the Sentencing Project’s Nicole Porter. Iowa lawmakers decided not to pass legislation that would increase penalties for cocaine offenses after a racial-impact statement showed the policy would disproportionately affect blacks. Critics say lawmakers shouldn’t take race into account. Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute pointed to Justice Department statistics that show blacks committed homicides at a rate almost eight times that of whites from 1980 to 2008. Blacks were also disproportionately likely to be victims of homicides. “Given the elevated rates of both black victimization and black crime commission, racially neutral criminal justice practices and laws will inevitably have disparate impact on blacks,” she said.
For at least a century, heroin has been a problem drug for African Americans in Chicago. But blacks are being written out of an opioid narrative that focuses on white users in rural and suburban areas.
African Americans have been overlooked by the media and policymakers amid the opioid crisis in Illinois, says the Chicago Tribune, citing a report by the Chicago Urban League. The report, “Whitewashed: The African-American Opioid Epidemic,” says African Americans make up 15 percent of the Illinois population but account for 24 percent of opioid-related deaths. At the same time, the researchers said, African Americans are less likely to get help because Cook County, home to about two out of three black Illinoisans, has a relative scarcity of clinics providing buprenorphine, the medication many experts believe is among the most effective treatments. Stephanie Schmitz Bechteler, a co-author of the report, said those grim facts have been missing from the public deliberation over heroin, which often focuses on white users in suburban and rural areas.
“On the one hand, the change in narrative has brought a broader awareness to the issue, but it has come at the expense of the comprehensive set of people who are affected by this,” she said. Illegal drugs have been a part of Chicago since the opium dens of the 19th century, and the heroin market in particular has long been robust. A 1925 Tribune report quoted a federal investigator as saying: “Chicago has been the source of supply for the entire country. All the big men in the dope industry — it’s nothing less — make their headquarters here.” While newspapers were crammed with lurid stories of “dope fiends” and “jive pushers” in crumbling city neighborhoods, the suburbs were seen as relatively free of the drug’s curse. But that started to change in the 1990s, when the arrival of heroin pure enough to snort spawned a new breed of user: young, affluent and white.