2008 Racial Profiling Numbers Released By IDOT

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were released by the Illinois Department
of Transportation (IDOT) with no coverage
in the local media. When I notified a
journalist for the News-Gazette of the latest
figures, he told me they covered the
story several years ago. Racial profiling is apparently no
longer an issue. Yet it became national news this summer
when African American Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
was arrested for breaking into his own home. Locally, a
young medical student, “Toto” Kaiyewu, was racially profiled
by a police officer in nearby Villa Grove, followed,
and led on a police chase that ended with police fatally
shooting him on I-74.
This is the fifth year that statistics collected by IDOT
have shown that minorities in the area are being racially
profiled, yet no action has been taken by any of the local
police departments. Due to legislation forwarded by then
Illinois Senator Barack Obama, police departments
throughout the state are now required to record detailed
information from routine traffic stops and submit it to
IDOT. It is then given to researchers at Northwestern University
who compile the statistics and come up with what
they call a “disparity index” indicating where racial profiling
occurs. A ratio of 1:1 suggests that minorities and
whites are pulled over equally given their percentage of the
population according to census figures. The average disparity
index throughout the state of Illinois is 1.10, rates
being slightly higher for minorities.
Perhaps the most alarming information for 2008 shows
that the disparity index for the Champaign County’s Sheriff’s
Office jumped to 1.59 in 2008, up from 1.27 in 2007,
and 1.02 in 2004 when IDOT began collecting the statistics.
Despite efforts to reach him on the phone, Sheriff Dan
Walsh would not respond to phone calls. An elected official,
Walsh should explain this significant increase.
For Urbana police, the figure was 1.49 (1.47 in 2007)
and for Champaign police, who have a much worse reputation,
it was 1.43 (1.34 in 2007). For the University of
Illinois police it was 1.37 (1.36 in 2007). The highest rate
of racial profiling was in Rantoul, a city to the northeast of
Urbana with a growing population of Black and Latino residents,
where the figure jumped to 2.02 (1.83 in 2007).
These might seem like just numbers, but closer examination
reveals certain patterns. In Urbana, there were
2,194 whites stopped and 1,831 minorities—a difference
of only 363 stops, although minorities are only 30% of the
In Champaign, among so-called “consent searches”
where police ask to search an individual’s car, there were
20 whites whose cars were searched, in comparison to 38
minorities who were searched—32 African Americans and
6 Hispanics. Almost twice as many minorities had their
cars searched.
Champaign County Sheriff’s deputies conducted consent
searches among 4 white drivers and 10 minorities—9
African Americans and 1 Hispanic. Here, there were more
than twice as many minorities searched for contraband.
The ACLU of Illinois has called for an end to all consent
searches because blacks and Hispanics turn out to be the
ones most frequently targeted.
Asians, long regarded as the “model minority,” drivers
were more likely to be given warning tickets than blacks or
Hispanics. Among 631 stops of Asian drivers, the University
of Illinois police issued 491 warnings. Both blacks and
Hispanics were given citations more than half of the time
they were stopped.
The police killing of Toto Kaiyewu on April 6, 2009
raised serious questions about racial profiling. Toto was an
African American who was first spotted by police at a
Super Pantry in Villa Grove, approximately 15 minutes
southeast of Urbana. During an interview with Villa Grove
police officer Adam Deckard conducted by Illinois State
Police in an investigation that night, he said that he
became “suspicious” when he saw a car with Texas plates
(Toto was a student in Carbondale, Illinois, but was from
Texas). Asked to explain, officer Deckard said, “I’m not
trying to be prejudiced, but we have a lot of Mexicans in
our town. So sometimes we get Texas plates in our town.”
Although Toto was African American, the son of immigrant
parents from Nigeria, he was found to be “suspicious”
because of the officer’s racist assumptions. There
had been recently been large drug busts of Mexican drivers
in the surrounding area.
Villa Grove Police Chief Dennis Gire has pointed to
IDOT statistics claiming that his police do not racially profile.
Indeed, the disparity index for Villa Grove police is
only 1.05. Yet Villa Grove was once known as a “sundown
town” where for decades blacks were not to be seen after
dark. According to the 2000 census, Villa Grove is 98%
white. Only 13 minorities were stopped there in 2008.
There are simply very few of them in Villa Grove for police
to pull over.
Despite the meteoric rise of one-time Illinois Senator
Barack Obama, who became the first African American
President of the United States, unfortunately the conditions
for most blacks throughout the country has not
changed. Not everyone can simply share a beer with the
police and “agree to disagree,” the conclusion to the Gates
scandal which still left the issue unresolved. We can have
numbers to show racial profiling is a rampant problem,
even headlines in the news, but until the people demand
more accountability from their police, the slogans of real
change ring hollow.
A full report of the 2008 IDOT study can be found
online at: www.dot.il.gov/travelstats/ITSS%202008%20

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.
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