Skip to main content

Race & Justice News: Disparities in New Jersey Traffic Tickets and Marijuana Arrests

July 17, 2017
Racial disparities in New Jersey’s marijuana arrests are at an all-time high, Los Angeles may have decriminalized illegal street food vending in response to Trump's immigration policies, and more in Race and Justice News.

Race & Justice News is a monthly electronic newsletter produced by The Sentencing Project. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

Hispanic and Black New Jerseyans Get More Traffic Tickets and Summonses

Hispanic and black drivers have been more likely than white drivers to be ticketed by New Jersey State Police troopers in the eight years since federal monitoring of the agency ended, according to the Stanford Open Policing Project’s data set covered in the Daily Record. Data from 2009 to 2016 revealed that Hispanic drivers were 28% more likely to receive tickets than white drivers when pulled over. In addition, white drivers were more likely than black drivers (46% vs. 41%) to receive a warning following a stop, rather than a summons.

Carmen Salavarrieta, the director of Angels for Action, suggested that Hispanics may receive summonses at higher rates because some are prohibited from having a driver’s license due to their immigration status. Gov. Chris Christie has opposed creating a system for issuing licenses for undocumented immigrants, a reform that Salavarrieta hopes the next governor will support. The Stanford Open Policing Project has 130 million records from 31 state police agencies across the country. 

Racial Disparity in New Jersey Marijuana Arrests

From 19,607 arrests in 2000 to 24,067 in 2013, New Jersey police are making more marijuana possession arrests than ever before and racial disparities in the state’s marijuana arrests are at an all-time high, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. Black New Jerseyans were arrested for marijuana possession about three times as often as whites in 2013, despite marijuana use being similar among racial groups. In some small towns, blacks are arrested 25 to 30 times as often as whites for this offense, reports This report comes at a time when the New Jersey legislature is considering legalizing recreational use of marijuana, though it does not have support from Gov. Chris Christie.

New Jersey Legislation Aims to Teach Children How to Interact with Police

The New Jersey state Assembly passed legislation requiring schools to teach children how to interact with police in “a manner marked by mutual cooperation and respect,” reports NBC News. The legislation, which would affect students in kindergarten to 12th grade, needs to be passed by the Senate before it reaches the governor’s desk. However, not all believe that this bill would be helpful in improving police-civilian relations. “This legislation does not empower young people, especially those living in brown and black communities. Instead, it empowers law enforcement by allowing them to continue to evade accountability for abuse and misconduct while forcing the burden on the public,” says New Jersey teacher and activist Zellie Imani. Texas recently passed similar legislation mandating that high school students be taught how to interact with police, while law enforcement undergoes civilian-interaction training.

Black Arkansans Charged and Sentenced More Harshly for Robbery and Homicide

In “Rejecting the Wrongs of Yesterday: A Multifaceted Approach to Eliminating Racial Disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice System,” Adjoa Aiyetoro and Tara DeJohn recount the creation of the Racial Disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice System Project at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and describe the group’s research, community collaboration and education, and policy development. The group sought to pass racial impact legislation during the 2013, 2015, and 2017 legislative sessions—to identify any disparate racial impact of proposed legislation—but could not overcome opponents who stated that they “did not believe in systemic racism.” This article, published in the Tennessee Journal of Race, Gender, & Social Justice, presents the group’s research on prosecutorial decisions in homicide and robbery cases, as well as sentencing outcomes for homicide. 

The analysis of charging reductions and dispositions in four Arkansas counties between 2007 and 2013 reveals that black Arkansans tend to be charged with more severe homicide crimes (e.g., capital murder) than whites, “leading to possible plea agreements on harsher charges and therefore longer sentences.” In robbery cases, whites were initially charged with a less serious offense (i.e., simple versus aggravated robbery), potentially giving them the benefit of lower bails. 

The group’s analysis of 2013 data from the Arkansas Department of Corrections revealed that among 538 individuals convicted of homicide and serving a sentence of life, life without parole, or death, blacks were more likely than whites to have been convicted of capital murder (versus first-degree murder) and to be sentenced to death or life without parole (versus life with the possibility of parole). “This research serves as a basis for a call to action on ending systemic institutional racism in the Arkansas criminal punishment system,” the authors conclude.  

Racial Disparities in Military Justice System

recent analysis by Protect Our Defenders found that black military service members face higher rates of military justice or disciplinary proceedings than their white counterparts, report Newsweek and USA Today. Using data received through Freedom of Information Act requests, the report reveals disparate rates at which white and black service members were court martialed or received non-judicial punishment between 2006 and 2015, with disparities increasing in the Air Force and Marine Corps. In the Army, black soldiers were 61% more likely to face court martial than whites and in the Navy, black sailors were 40% more likely to be court martialed. “The greatest disparities were generally seen for the most serious disciplinary proceedings,” the authors note, with black Marines being 2.6 times more likely than whites to receive a guilty finding at a general court-martial during this period. 

These disparities exist despite what the report notes are the “equalizing factors” in the military, such as requiring recruits to have a certain level of education, administering drug tests, and providing service members with a steady income. In response to the findings, a Pentagon spokesperson said, “It is longstanding Department of Defense policy that service members must be afforded the opportunity to serve in an environment free from unlawful racial discrimination. The department will review any new information concerning implementation of and compliance with this policy.”

Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Front-End of San Francisco Justice System

new study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice identifies racial and ethnic disparities at the front-end of San Francisco’s criminal justice system for indigent defendants, reports The Crime Report. Looking at over 10,000 cases between 2011 and 2014 handled by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, the study found that black and Latinx indigent defendants were: 1) more likely than their white counterparts to be held in pre-trial custody, and for longer periods; 2) less likely to have their felony charges reduced and more likely to have their misdemeanor charges increased during the plea bargaining process, and; 3) more likely to plead guilty. Much of this disparity, the authors note, is due to differences in previous contact with the criminal justice system and differences in booking decisions made by the San Francisco Police Department. 

Finding that black and Latinx defendants were booked for more, and more serious charges in neighborhoods with greater concentrations of people of color, the authors conclude: “Explicit acknowledgement of the geographic patterns in booking” by the Office of the Public Defender and the District Attorney, “may also be a method of limiting unwanted disparities generated by criminal history.” 

Ensuring Racial Diversity in Iowa Juries

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that judges must broaden their analysis when determining whether jury pools have sufficient racial diversity to guarantee a fair trial, reports the Associated Press. The ruling came in an appeal by Kelvin Plain Sr., a black man convicted by an all-white jury of harassing a neighbor in 2015. The court rejected the method previously used to gauge the racial composition of a jury—reversing its own ruling from a case 25 years ago—and declared that judges must use multiple tests to evaluate the composition of a jury pool. 

Iowa judges previously used an absolute disparity test to compare the percentage of blacks in the county population with that of the jury pool. “Justices acknowledged that since their 1992 case, the U.S. Supreme Court and others have concluded that method is not an accurate indication of minority balance in locations where minorities represent less than 10% of the overall population”—which applies to all Iowa counties—writes reporter David Pitt. The justices also strongly urged judges to use instructions seeking to heighten jurors’ awareness of unconscious racial bias. 

Los Angeles’ Street Food Vending Decriminalized in Reaction to Trump?

“Once Trump was elected and his anti-immigration, anti-Latino rhetoric was at the forefront of his campaign … the city council decided to move forward” with decriminalizing street food vending in Los Angeles, Councilman Jose Huizar told NPR. Until then, vendors, who are mostly immigrants, had been ticketed or charged with misdemeanors for street vending without a permit. After the presidential inauguration, the council voted unanimously to decriminalize street vending, thereby reducing the likelihood that an infraction would lead to deportation. By March, Los Angeles had started pilot testing a vendor permitting system on Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority property, but had yet to implement a citywide permitting ordinance. More details on which types of vendors can operate, regulation enforcement, and balancing the concerns of brick-and-mortar businesses still need to be addressed.

Related Posts
July 20, 2022

Comment on Home Confinement Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

The Sentencing Project's Executive Director Amy Fettig submitted comments to the Office of the Attorney General on behalf of The Sentencing project regarding the United States Department of Justice’s proposed rule on CARES Act Home Confinement.
July 27, 2022

Comments to the Food and Drug Administration on the Proposed Ban of Menthol Cigarettes

The Sentencing Project submitted comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the proposed Tobacco Product Standard for Menthol in Cigarettes.