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Race & Justice News: “The Jude Effect”: Police Brutality Reduces 911 Calls

October 28, 2016
Study finds that blacks reduce their crime-reporting behavior in the wake of high-profile cases of police brutality, black women with criminal records more likely to face housing discrimination in D.C., and more in our latest Race and Justice News.

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“The Jude Effect”: High-Profile Police Brutality Cuts Black Residents’ Use of 911

Matthew Desmond, Andrew V. Papachristos, and David S. Kirk’s review of nearly seven years of Milwaukee residents’ 911 calls shows that African Americans reduce their crime-reporting behavior in the wake of high-profile cases of police brutality. In particular, press coverage of the police beating of Frank Jude in October 2004 was followed by a dramatic and durable reduction in 911 calls from black neighborhoods, in contrast to a small and brief drop in such calls from white neighborhoods. Moreover, homicides increased in the wake of residents’ declined use of 911. The authors argue that reduced crime reporting diminished law enforcement’s ability to suppress crime.

“If acts of excessive police force result in community-level consequences, then cities should implement community-level interventions in the aftermath of such acts,” the authors write in an Op-Ed. Police Chief Edward Flynn of Milwaukee, who was not in office for the period studied, has dismissed the study’s conclusions as the product of an administrative glitch in the tabulation of 911 calls. The journal article, “Police Violence and Citizen Crime Reporting in the Black Community” was published in the American Sociological Review and covered by outlets including The New York Times and Atlantic.

Policing Disparities Across the Country

The Center for Policing Equity and the Urban Institute have released a report analyzing traffic stops and use of force by the Austin, Texas police department, reports USA Today. The study found that although there were racial and ethnic disparities in traffic stops and searches in 2014 and 2015, there were no disparities in the hit rate—the rate at which police found contraband during searches. “These findings suggest that racially disparate rates of vehicle stops may in fact be driven by differential rates of offending,” the researchers note. By contrast, they found that blacks and Hispanics were more likely to experience police force even after controlling for community-level differences in crime and poverty.

An investigation by the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office found that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) does a poor job of tracking and investigating officers’ use of force, has ineffective anti-bias training, and shields the disciplinary process from the public view, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The investigation also uncovered racial disparities in traffic stops, searches, and use of deadly force, as well as “numerous indicators of implicit and institutionalized bias against minority groups.” San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and former Police Chief Greg Suhr had requested the study through the COPS Office’s Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance program.

Brad Heath of USA Today writes that a new report, which the Justice Department tried to have sealed when it was filed in federal court, reveals “strong, consistent and statistically significant” evidence that federal agents singled out people of color for drug stings in Chicago. The undercover stings, which attempted to enlist people suspected of crime to commit a new crime, had been a centerpiece of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) efforts to target violent crime. Of the 94 people that ATF agents arrested in these stings, 91% were either black or Hispanic. Jeffrey Fagan, author of the report, found that there was a less than 0.1% probability that these individuals could have been selected by chance.

Federal Guidance on Increasing Police Diversity

The Washington Post reports that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have released a report on how law enforcement agencies can increase racial and gender diversity in recruitment, hiring, and retention. The report’s recommendations include building partnerships with educational institutions to develop a pipeline of potential applicants and address negative perceptions of law enforcement, and adopting a holistic view of skill requirements including reevaluating information revealed during background checks such as previous drug use. The report’s timing coincides with President Barack Obama’s executive order promoting diversity and inclusion within the national security workforce.

Schools Successfully Cut Suspensions and Reoffending

Schools nationwide are reconsidering their overutilization of suspension and arrests to deal with student misbehavior. California schools are increasing their use of restorative justice (RJ) sessions to deal with low- and mid-level misbehaviors on and off school grounds. RJ seeks to engage students in a nonconfrontational setting wherein offending youth and their victims discuss the events to address its roots and impacts. “Punishment doesn’t work,” notes Oakland schools’ RJ coordinator Camisha Fatimah Gentry, whose program reduced suspensions by 75% at one middle school. A study by Jeff Bouffard, Maisha Cooper, and Kathleen Bergseth, highlighted byVice, found that an array of RJ program designs cut youth reoffending far more than youth court processing.

Philadelphia’s Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel has led schools there to cut student arrests by 54% in one yearNew Jersey passed a law to outlaw the suspension of students before third grade. In South Carolina, a law that makes “disrupting school” an arrestable offense is being challenged in state court by Niya Kenny, who videotaped the brutal treatment of her classmate by a since-fired school resource officer last October.

The Kirwan Institute has also released a set of five papers on implicit bias in school discipline including for pre-schoolers, offering constructive trauma-informed solutions to student misbehavior.

Housing Discrimination Against African American Women with Criminal Records

A recent study by the Equal Rights Center found that African American women with criminal records are more likely to experience discrimination in the D.C. housing market than their white counterparts. In “Unlocking Discrimination,” covered by the Washington Examiner and The Huffington Post, researchers sent matched pairs of white and African American female testers who posed as having comparable criminal backgrounds to 60 different housing providers in D.C. and northern Virginia. Almost half of the tests revealed differential treatment on the part of a housing provider that favored the white female tester. In addition, 28% of tests uncovered a criminal record screening policy that may have an illegal disparate impact on the basis of race.

The Equal Rights Center’s recommendations include having housing providers evaluate their screening policies and decisions to “ensure that they are serving a substantial, legitimate, non-discriminatory interest and are not a proxy for racial discrimination.” In a related development, the Justice Department recently filed a statement of interest in a case arguing that a New York City landlord’s categorical refusal to rent to people with criminal records had a disparate impact against African Americans and Latinos, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Skin Tone, Afrocentric Facial Features, and Incarceration

Ryan D. King and Brian D. Johnson’s “A Punishing Look: Skin Tone and Afrocentric Features in the Halls of Justice” examines the relationship between skin tone, Afrocentric facial features, and punishment, extending the analysis of these variables to sentence type as well as length. Published in the American Journal of Sociology, the study matched detailed sentencing records from two Minnesota counties with over 850 coded booking photos of black and white males. The researchers found that while race, skin color, and Afrocentricity were not associated with significant disparities in lengths of imprisonment, they did influence whether individuals were sentenced to prison, as opposed to being placed on probation or having their charge adjusted to a misdemeanor. Afrocentric appearance also affected white defendants, even after accounting for Hispanic surnames.


With the disproportionate number of people of color cycling in and out of the justice system, and with more and more Americans not easily classified into a single racial group, the researchers note the importance of continuing to further examine skin tone and facial features in the study of punishment and inequality. “If perceived race is becoming amorphous, then skin tone and Afrocentric facial features are likely to become even more salient concepts in the future… even subtle differences in the racial appearance of offenders can tilt the scales of justice.”

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