New York/Champaign: Policing and Race

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IN THE NEW YORK TIMES of February 2,
columnist Bob Herbert discusses the 2009
statistics on NYPD stops and other police
practices in that city. The data are for the
first three quarters of that year, when
450,000 pedestrians and drivers were
stopped by the police. That represented a
13% increase over 2008. What is striking is that 84% of
those civilians stopped by the police were black or Hispanic.
Many might argue that these data reflect realities of crime
and not racism. However, further data disputes this. For
example, when people are frisked, whites are more likely
than people of color to have illegal contraband (usually
drugs)-2.2% of the whites had contraband, compared to
1.6% of the blacks and 1.5% of the Hispanics. The whites
stopped were also more likely to have weapons on them-
1.7% of the whites, 1.1% of the blacks, and 1.4% of the Hispanics.
Based on evidence such as this, it would seem that
whites are more likely to be responsible for crime (let’s not
even talk about white collar crime!) in New York City than
are people of color. In response to these findings, the Center
for Constitutional Rights has filed a class action suit against
New York challenging the constitutionality of the NYPD’s
racially discriminatory pattern of stopping people.
But the problems in the NYPD are not limited to stops.
There are also the problrms of overly violent policing, and of
incredible brutality on the part of some officers. An example
that gained national attention was the 1999 killing of an
unarmed street peddler from Guinea named Amadou Diallo,
who was shot forty-one times in front of the door of his own
apartment building by a team of four
white police officers. Some of the violence
is perversely sadistic. Such was
the 1997 case of Haitian immigrant
Abner Louima who was beaten and
then sodomized with a broom handle
that was then forced into his mouth.
He suffered internal injuries and broken
teeth. And lest one think that this
is old business, another NYPD officer
is presently accused of a 2008 attack
in which he rammed a police baton
into the rectum of a man. In both of
these New York cases the police were
prosecuted, but that was made more
difficult by the “code of silence” on
the part of other officers who saw or
knew of the violations.
However, such prosecutions are
not the norm. In his 1995 comparative
study of the New York and Los
Angeles police departments, Professor
Paul Chevigny of the John Jay
School of Criminal Justice in his book Edge of the Knife,
found that police departments tended to not only disregard
the validity of civil suits (from 1995 to 1997 the amount
paid out to victims of police misconduct in NY went from
$19.9 million to $27.3 million) and refuse to draw policy
implications from them, but that the most violent officers
tended to be rewarded with promotion and even to be made
trainers of other officers.
The Champaign Police Department has just come out
with its 2008/09 Report. The department does conduct
periodic warrant stops of anyone out in public in the predominantly
African American areas of the city. Unlike the
New York data, such stops are omitted from the report. But
clearly, these stops target blacks and if black people protest
these stops or refuse to stop, they find themselves faced
with obstruction of justice and/or resisting arrest charges, as
was the case with 17 year-old Brian Chesley in March 2007
Regarding the vehicle stops, of a
total of 9,159 such stops, 1, 856 or
20% were of black drivers, 428 or
5% were of Asians, 240 or 3% were
of Hispanics, and 4270 or 47% were
of whites. If we compare these traffic
stop data with the New York data on
stops, it might seem that there is less
discrimination in stops in Champaign.
However, in Champaign
blacks comprise only 15.62%, and
Hispanics only 4.03% of the population
according to the latest (2002)
census, while Blacks comprise
26.6% and Hispanics 27% of the
population of New York according
to the same census. People of color
are a majority in New York and a
small minority in Champaign.
If we compare the number of
white stops (4,270) over the white
population in the 2000 census
(49,398), with the number of black stops (1,856) over the
total number of blacks (10,543), we find that blacks were
over twice as likely to be stopped as whites–17.6% of black
versus 8.6% of white stops. When it comes to consent
searches, where the police ask for stopped drivers’ consent
to search their vehicles, 20 white drivers were asked for
such permission and 38 minority drivers were asked. Keep
in mind that we are not factoring in here the non-vehicular
warrant sweeps in the black community that snare up
exclusively or almost exclusively black people. When we turn our lens onto other police practices, a
highly disturbing picture emerges in the schools. School
Resource Officers made 84 “custodial arrests,” the most
severe intervention of the SROs. Of these arrestees, 62 were
black, 39 white, 2 Hispanic, 2 Middle Eastern, and 1 Asian.
Another area of concern is in the use of force and violence.
As in the case of New York, police violence tends to fall most
heavily upon the black community. In a presentation to the
Champaign City Council study session on the police’s Use of
Force Policy, I detailed a number of such instances. Among
them were: a 1998 incident in which a frail 81 year-old
grandmother was grabbed by the throat and forced to the
floor as a SWAT team broke in and searched her apartment in
vain for her nephew; a 2007 incident in which the Champaign
police, chasing an armed man who ran into a house,
shot multiple times into the house despite being warned by
neighbors that a woman and two young children were inside;
and the 2009 killing of unarmed 15 year-old Kiwane Carrington
who, like Amadou Diallo, was shot and killed in front of
the door of the dwelling in which he was staying.
In 2000, Daniel Norbits, the officer who shot young Carrington,
had also been one of the officers involved in the
death of another unarmed black man, the developmentally
disabled Gregory Brown. Brown’s family received a
$185,000 settlement from the city. Yet, Norbits remained on
the force. After Carrington’s killing, Officer Norbits was permitted
to continue to perform administrative duties in the
department while he was placed on administrative leave
while a report on the killing was prepared for the State’s
Attorney. After receiving the report, the States Attorney
accepted his claim that he did not know how his gun went
off when it was in his hand and pointed at Carrington. She
went even further and declared the killing to have been an
accident Thus the officer remains on the force, free from the
prospect of prosecution by the state.
Heck, why should Champaign let itself be outdone?

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