40 reasons Blacks and the poor are incarcerated


Editor’s note: This is Part 1. Other reasons will be listed in upcoming weeks.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) reports 2.2 million people are in our nation’s jails and prisons and another 4.5 million people are on probation or parole in the US, totaling 6.8 million people – one of every 35 adults.  We are the world leader in putting our own people in jail,  most of whom are poor and Black.  Here are 40 reasons why.

1. It is not just about crime.  Our jails and prisons have grown from holding about 500,000 people in 1980 to 2.2 million today.  Meanwhile, crime rates have risen and fallen independently of our growing incarceration rates.

2. Police discriminate.  Putting people in jail starts with interactions between police and people.  From the very beginning, Black and poor people are targeted by the police.  Police departments have, without cause, stopped and frisked people who are walking.

Recently, New York City lost a federal civil rights challenge by the Center for Constitutional Rights to their stop and frisk practices. Police stopped over 500,000 people annually without any indication that the people stopped had been involved in any crime.  About 80 percent of those stops were of Black and Latinos who compromise 25 and 28 percent of NYC’s total population.  Chicago police do the same thing stopping even more people also in a racially discriminatory way with 72 percent of the stops of Black people even though the city is 32 percent Black.

3. Police traffic stops also racially target people in cars.  Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than White drivers’ Hispanic  are 23 percent more likely to be pulled over than White drivers.  Connecticut, in an April 2015 report, reported on 620,000 traffic stops that revealed widespread racial profiling, particularly during daylight hours when the race of driver was more visible.

4. Once stopped, Black and Hispanic motorists are more likely to be given tickets than White drivers stopped for the same offenses.

5.  Once stopped, Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be searched.  DOJ reports Black drivers at traffic stops were searched by police three times more often and Hispanic drivers two times more often than White drivers.

A large research study in Kansas City found when police decided to pull over cars for investigatory stops, where officers look into the car’s interior, ask probing questions and even search the car, the race of the driver was a clear indicator of who was going to be stopped: 28 percent of young Black males 25 or younger were stopped in a year’s time, versus White men who had 12 percent chance and White women only a 7 percent chance.

In fact, not until Black men reach 50 years old do their rate of police stops for this kind of treatment dip below those of White men 25 and under.

Bill Quigley is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor.


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