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Race & Justice News: Police Officers Speak More Respectfully to White Drivers

June 26, 2017
Police body camera footage shows Oakland police officers speak more respectfully to white drivers than black drivers, Native Americans are three times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than their white counterparts, 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.

Chicago Police Adopt New Use-of-Force Policies; Mayor Resists Court Oversight

The Chicago Police Department has announced new rules to limit excessive use of force and shootings, reports the Chicago Tribune. Currently, an officer can shoot anyone who flees after committing or trying to commit a felony involving force. The new policy, to be implemented in the fall, states that shooting a fleeing person is not allowed unless the person is an imminent danger to the police or others. The policy also mandates that officers use de-escalation tactics when possible, a move which agencies such as the Los Angeles Police Department have also adopted.

These changes come 18 months after the death of Laquan McDonald, a black teen who was shot 16 times by a white officer. After the ensuing Obama-era Justice Department investigation, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel committed to seeking a consent decree allowing a federal judge to enforce policing reforms. The Mayor has since changed course, negotiating with the Sessions Justice Department for an independent monitor outside of the courts. Vanita Gupta, former head of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, described the new arrangement as “woefully inadequate.” Civil rights organizations have filed a lawsuit demanding court oversight and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has called on the mayor to keep his pledge to request court oversight.

Police Shootings and Native Lives Matter

Native Americans are three times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than their white counterparts, reports High Country News. This may be due to a lack of mental health services, given the prevalence of mental illness among victims, and to the strained relationship between Native Americans and non-Native police. At least 21 Native Americans were killed by law enforcement in 2016, according to an online database created by The Guardian. These deaths often go unreported in the media, in part because many Native deaths go unrecorded when victims are misidentified as another race.

Native Americans have sought to address the problem of police brutality since the American Indian Movement of the 1960s. The Native Lives Matter movement includes calls for investigations into racial bias in law enforcement as well as criminal justice reform, while striving to include Native experiences in conversations about police brutality.

Oakland Police Officers Speak More Respectfully to White Drivers

Police officers in Oakland, California speak more respectfully to white drivers than black drivers, according to a study of officer body-worn camera footage published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, covered by CNN. This study controlled for contextual factors such as the severity of the offense and the outcome of the stop. “This provides evidence for something that communities of color have reported, that this is a real phenomenon,” said Rob Voigt, lead author of the study, “Language from Police Body Camera Footage Shows Racial Disparities in Officer Respect.”

The study used 183 hours of body camera footage taken during 981 routine traffic stops in April 2014. The data were coded using research participants’ ratings of transcribed officer utterances and by developing computational linguistic models of respect and formality. Utterances connoting respect included those in which officers offered reassurances (“no problem”) or mentioned driver well-being (“drive safe”). Utterances connoting disrespect included those using informal titles (“my man”) and issuing commands (“keep your hands on the wheel”). White drivers were 57% more likely to hear officers say one of the most respectful utterances in the dataset, while black drivers were 61% more likely to hear one of the least respectful utterances.

Blacks Less Likely to Plead Guilty than Whites in Florida County

Black defendants were less likely to plead guilty than white defendants, according to a study of a large Florida county by Christi Metcalfe and Ted Chiricos. Black defendants also received smaller charge reductions for their guilty or no contest pleas than white defendants. This may be because black defendants were more likely to have prior records and to have been detained, which the authors explain decrease the odds of receiving a charge reduction.

Given that a defendant’s arrest record is based in part on the discretion of police officers and that their likelihood of being detained is subject to the discretion of judges, these findings raise “the possibility of what has been called ‘cumulative disadvantage’ in racially disparate terms,” write Metcalfe and Chiricos. Their article, “Race, Plea, and Charge Reduction: An Assessment of Racial Disparities in the Plea Process,” published in Justice Quarterly, examined all of the trial cases and a sample of felony plea cases handled by one county’s public defenders between 2002 and 2010.

Philadelphia District Attorney Candidate May Bring Major Reforms

Larry Krasner, the Democratic nominee for Philadelphia District Attorney, has a long history of fighting for civil rights. He has represented Black Lives Matter and Occupy Philadelphia members, AIDS activists, and protesters arrested at political conventions, reports The Philadelphia InquirerMother Jones reports that the former public defender has filed more than 75 civil rights cases against police officers and has had 800 narcotics convictions thrown out. 

If elected District Attorney, Krasner vows to dismiss cases resulting from illegal stop-and-frisks, which have been shown to target people of color. Additionally, he seeks to get rid of cash bail, a practice that also disproportionately impacts people of color and low-income individuals. Krasner has said he wants to create “a criminal justice system that makes things better, that is based on preventing crime and is based on building up society rather than tearing it apart.”

Change in Punitive and Racially Disparate Oregon Public Transportation Law

Until recently, not paying for bus fare could result in a conviction for a Class A misdemeanor in Oregon known as “interfering with public transportation,” reports Governing. Such offenses were on the same level as domestic abuse and drunk driving. Rod Underhill, the district attorney of Multnomah County, which includes Portland, found that African Americans received a disproportionate number of such convictions in his jurisdiction. Black individuals were eight times as likely as their white counterparts to be charged for certain transit violations.

“Out of concern for both racial inequities and overly punitive sentences involving crimes on public transit, Underhill brokered a deal with TriMet, the local transit authority, and his fellow district attorneys in Washington and Clackamas counties,” writes reporter Alan Greenblatt. Fare evasion in all three counties is now subject to a fine, similar to a traffic violation. More serious acts will face a matrix of stricter punishments ranging from community service to further prosecution.

New Study Shows Decrease in New York City Police Stops and Disparities

The number of reported street stops by New York City police officers has plunged and the racial disparity in stops may be narrowing, according to a new analysis by a federal monitor covered in The New York Times. Undertaken as part of a federal court order, the analysis shows that stops decreased from a peak of 685,724 in 2011 to a low of 22,563 in 2015. Focusing on the 2013-2015 period, the report notes, “the steep decline in stops … did disproportionately affect Blacks and Hispanics because they were the subject of the vast majority of stops.”

A multivariate regression model accounting for persistent racial disparities in stops revealed that the racial composition of neighborhoods still influenced stop rates. But another approach, which compared stop rates per reported crime on census blocks for different racial groups, found a reduction in stop disparities.

The report also found overall improvement in disparities in stop outcomes—such as the rate of frisks and use of force—and in hit rates—the rate at which a frisk or search identified a weapon or other contraband. But in 2015, Hispanics were more likely than non-Hispanics to be searched and arrested after stops and blacks were less likely to be found with weapons after being frisked compared to “Non-Hispanic Others” (Whites, Asians, and Native Americans).

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