Racial Profiling Suppressed by Local Media

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Statistics on racial profiling collected by
the Illinois Department of Transportation
(IDOT) were released this year with
no local fanfare. Although covered for
the last three years, the 2007 numbers
went unreported by the News-Gazette,
which has a virtual monopoly of the
local newspaper market. This is surely an attempt to protect
police officials from public rebuke and continued calls
for police accountability.
For four years now, statistics indicate that minorities are
being racially profiled by police in Urbana-Champaign.
Among Champaign County Sheriff’s Department, the rate
has grown significantly. Figures for the Champaign police
have gone down but remain higher than the state average.
In Urbana, which prides itself on transparency and recently
finalized a police review board, the police now have the
highest rate of racial profiling locally. Additionally, numbers
collected indicate that although blacks are more frequently
subject to having their vehicles searched, whites
are more likely to be found with drugs or weapons.
Illinois police are now required to report racial profiling
statistics because of legislation sponsored by former Illinois
Senator Barack Obama. Police departments across the
state must make a record of the race of each driver in every
traffic stop and send the information to the state. The data
is then compiled with help from Northwestern University
and released every August. This year, August passed and
there was no news in the News-Gazette about the 2007 figures.
As a result, there was no public outcry as there has
been in the years past.
The state comes up with a ratio called a “disparity
index” to assess the degree to which profiling is being
practiced. If the ratio is 1.50, for example, minorities are
50% more likely to be pulled over in a traffic stop. The
average ratio throughout the state of Illinois is 1.10.
In Urbana, the ratio at which minorities were pulled
over in 2007 during traffic stops was 1.47. In 2004, Champaign
had the highest ratio locally at 1.71, but in 2007 it
was 1.34. Among Sheriff Dan Walsh’s deputies in Champaign
County, this figure has jumped from 1.02 in 2004 to
1.27 in 2007. The ratio for the police department at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was 1.36.
In the past, local police officials have failed to acknowledge
that racial profiling exists and come up with excuses
rather than confront this issue. At a city council meeting on
August 14, 2006, Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart,
himself a former police officer, explained that blacks were
“more confrontational.” In 2007, Urbana Police Chief Mike
Bily said the numbers were “misleading.”
Police say they go where the 911 calls come from. But
according to METCAD between July 1 and September 29,
2007, the majority of calls came from the Green Street
vicinity. While 628 calls came from Garden Hills, which
has a large black working class population, 1819 calls
came from Campustown nearly three times as many.
State figures show that racial profiling is not unique to
Urbana-Champaign but is a rampant problem throughout
Illinois. Ratios for surrounding communities are: Bloomington,
1.35 ; Normal, 1.80; Carbondale, 1.20; Rantoul
1.83; Springfield, 2.46; Danville, 1.47; and Chicago, 1.14,
Other interesting data in 2007 relates to drivers who
consent to having their car searched after a traffic stop.
Most clear-cut is the case in Champaign where 9 searches
were performed among African Americans and in only one
case was anything illegal found. Among 10 whites who
were searched there were 4 cases where drugs or weapons
were found. In Urbana, 13 blacks were searched and police
found something in 4 cases, while 10 whites were searched
and 5 turned out to be carrying. Although whites were
more often driving illegally, blacks were more often
searched. Again, race determines who is subject to a search.
Police officials must recognize that racial profiling does,
in fact, exist and take the necessary steps to eliminate this
unfair practice. This will only occur with an independent
media willing hold police accountable and a public thats
demands their representatives be held to a higher standard.
The full IDOT study on racial profiling can be found

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.
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