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Race & Justice News: Maryland Will Test Racial Impact Statements

March 31, 2021
Whites became more punitive near large Black populations in post-Jim Crow era, Maryland will test racial impact statements to assess legislation, Virginia police task force discontinues use of gang database, and more in Race & Justice News.

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Whites Became More Punitive Near Large Black Populations in Post-Jim Crow Era

Racial threat theory predicts that “when minority groups pose a threat to the dominant group’s political and economic influence, often via large minority group size, dominant groups expand criminal law to suppress the political and economic power of the minority group,” explains Scott Duxbury in a study published in the American Sociological Review. His article, titled “Who Controls Criminal Law? Racial Threat and the Adoption of State Sentencing Law, 1975 to 2012,” tests this theory using data on state sentencing policies and public opinion across all 50 states.

Duxbury finds that as white dominance was threatened in the post-Jim Crow era, “minority group size, rather than crime trends, [became] a better predictor of sentencing law adoption.” This relationship inverted once the size of the Black population became large enough, perhaps because it could then oppose the adoption of punitive sentencing policies. He also finds that white public policy preferences shaped sentencing laws in ways that Black preferences did not, making white victimization more impactful for sentencing policies than Black victimization.

Maryland Will Test Racial Impact Statements to Assess Legislation

Maryland’s General Assembly announced a pilot program that will add racial impact statements to analyses of new legislative proposals, according to Delmarva Now and the Baltimore Sun.  The Sentencing Project offered technical assistance to Maryland officials in the development and implementation of the state’s racial impact statement policy. The program will first focus on criminal justice bills. Six other states – Iowa, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Oregon, and New Jersey – have begun developing racial impact statements, a policy proposal long championed by The Sentencing Project. In addition, the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission develops racial impact statements, though the agency is not required to do so by law.

Maryland’s new program will allow legislators to evaluate how bills will impact communities of color before they are signed into law. The state will work with two local universities, Bowie State University and the University of Baltimore, to gather the information that will be needed to create the impact statements. “There is finally a broader understanding across Maryland and the country of the existence of structural racism—but we have to have better and deeper information in order to reverse its impact,” said Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones. If the pilot program is successful, legislators hope to extend racial impact statements to other areas outside of criminal justice. The Sentencing Project’s Nicole Porter has recently delivered testimony in support of racial impact statements in Maine and Virginia.


Virginia Police Task Force Discontinues Use of Gang Database

A Virginia gang task force is the first local law enforcement entity in the Washington, DC area to discontinue its use of GangNet, a database of nearly 8,000 of alleged gang members across the region, reports Justin Jouvenal for the Washington Post. Activists including Kofi Annan of the Activated People have raised concerns that 80% of the people in the database are Black or Latinx, raising questions of racial profiling and erroneous gang classifications, and about the lack of transparency around the database. “People are never told when they are included or given a chance to challenge a gang label,” explains Jouvenal.

Jay Lanham, executive director of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, which includes agencies from 15 jurisdictions, said his discontinuation decision had less to do with concerns of bias than with the limited utility of the database. GangNet has been used for about a decade by over 120 law enforcement agencies in Maryland, Virginia and DC, and is run by the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas. Law enforcement agencies add people to the database based on criteria ranging from being an admitted gang member to wearing gang attire to being associated with gang members. Virginia Delegate Kaye Kory has introduced legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to give people notification of, and an opportunity to challenge, their placement on gang databases.

Study Finds Chicago Black and Latinx Police Officers Are Less Likely to Use Force

Increasing the racial diversity of police departments may reduce stops, arrests, and use of force, especially in communities of color, according to a study published in Science by Bocar Ba, Dean Knox, Jonathan Mummolo, and Roman Romero. The study, featured in USA Today, is notable because it controls for vast disparities in conduct associated with different patrol assignments through an analysis of the Chicago Police Department. The analysis relies on data from open records requests, including officer demographics and patrol assignments, that were matched to “time-stamped, geolocated records of the same officers’ decisions to stop, arrest, and use force” occurring between 2012 and 2015.

When working in similar places and at similar times, Black officers were significantly less likely to engage in stops, arrests, and use of force, especially against Black residents. Latinx officers also engaged in these behaviors less often than white officers, though to a less significant degree. The authors caution that their findings may not be generalizable due to the changing nature of police-civilian interactions, police deployment patterns, and department culture.


Latinxs More Likely to Report Crime Victimization in Sanctuary Jurisdictions

Sanctuary policies appear to increase the likelihood that Latinx people will report crime victimization to law enforcement, according to a study in the American Sociological Review. In “Immigrant Sanctuary Policies and Crime-Reporting Behavior: A Multilevel Analysis of Reports of Crime Victimization to Law Enforcement, 1980 to 2004,” Ricardo Martínez-Schuldt and Daniel Martínez analyzed National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) data from 1980 to 2004 across 40 Metropolitan Statistical Areas to find that Latinx people were significantly more likely (12%) to report violent crime victimization after sanctuary laws were passed in their jurisdiction.

Since law enforcement’s ability to manage crime is linked to their knowledge of crime occurring, this finding also suggests that sanctuary laws may increase the efficacy of the criminal legal system, contrary to critiques opposing such policies on public safety grounds. Since the NCVS only provides geographic-identified data until 2004, the study does not account for more recent changes in sanctuary policies and immigration enforcement. This study provides further evidence that, as The Sentencing Project has argued, scapegoating foreign-born residents is at odds with advancing public safety.

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