In my last post about systemic racism, I provided ample evidence that there is indeed systemic racism in the criminal justice system. That said, it’s don’t hate the playa, hate the game. What that means is that I’m not blaming law enforcement officers as much as the system. The laws themselves are biased; cops have too much power and little accountability. This is the system they work within.
Population Density and the Inner City
As a few readers pointed out in the last post, some of the data can be due to Black Americans living in higher density areas. Now you may be thinking, “How does that contribute to systemic racism?” Without going too deep down the rabbit hole, the clustering Black Americans together is not an accident. The federal government created much of that problem with racist housing regulations. 1aThe federal government created inner-city ghettos with racist housing regulations
https://timeline.com/redlining-federal-housing-racist-14d7f48267e8 2The Racial Segregation of American Cities Was Anything But Accidental
The clustering can best be visualized by looking at the Racial Dot Map. What is clear in many cities is the sharp dividing line between black and white (Detroit as a prime example).
There have been many hypotheses as to why there is systemic racism; one of the more recent theories has been implicit bias. In a study3The Relationship Between Structural Racism and Black-White Disparities in Fatal Police Shootings at the State Level
Michael Siegel M.D., M.P.H
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0027968417303206 by Michael Siegel M.D., M.P.H., he used data on fatal police shootings and ran it against five key indicators of systemic racism in each state; racial segregation, incarceration rate gaps, educational attainment gaps, the economic disparity index, and employment disparity gaps. He concluded:
Our findings provide evidence that both the threat hypothesis and the community violence hypothesis are contributing to the explanation of the striking racial disparity in police shootings of unarmed suspects.
Officer Performance Rating
Another factor listed as part of the cause is how police officers are rated as part of their performance. While quotas are illegal in most states, officers are still required to write tickets and make misdemeanor arrests (for things like drug possession). The loophole is that such metrics may be considered as a part of an officer’s overall performance review. Not reduced crime. Not reduced accidents. Not reduced complaints. Not improved community relations. Tickets and arrests. Why? Revenue generation. Law enforcement officials are less concerned with community relations and reduced crime than they are generating revenue for their agency.4https://www.npr.org/2015/04/04/395061810/despite-laws-and-lawsuits-quota-based-policing-lingers
Many cities have come under fire for such policies, including New York and their infamous “stop-and-frisk” policy. In 2012, Officer Craig Matthews spoke out about the policy saying:
…causing unjustified stops, arrests, and summonses because police officers felt forced to abandon their discretion in order to meet their numbers.
Officer Craig Matthews, NYPD
Consequently, the city retaliated against Officer Matthews by “punitive assignments, denial of overtime and leave, separation from his career-long partner, humiliating treatment by supervisors, and negative performance evaluations.” as claimed in a lawsuit Officer Matthews filed against the city.5https://www.clearinghouse.net/chDocs/public/PN-NY-0019-0001.pdf In 2015, the city settled the lawsuit for $280,000.6https://www.huffpost.com/entry/craig-matthews-nypd-quotas_n_5665cab8e4b072e9d1c6d86b
While these tactics may go unnoticed in the suburbs where the population is less dense, it becomes more problematic where the population is more racially dense. This effect was called out in the DOJ’s Ferguson Report.7https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/03/04/ferguson_police_department_report.pdf Officers assigned to the more racially dense Black neighborhoods, will naturally write more tickets and make more arrests of black Americans.
Systemic racism is not caused by any one factor, but a combination of many. I began with population density of Black Americans for a reason. It is that density that has some cascade effects down the line. Implicit bias and ticket quotas all feed into the population density and clustering that was baked into the system early on.
While these other factors may have a role, the single biggest factor of systemic racism in the criminal justice system is the War on Drugs. The Drug War from it’s inception in 1930 was specifically targeted against Black Americans. The War on Drugs was sold to white America using racist terms and imagery, and the laws were targeted toward Black Americans. Accordingly, the criminal justice system used the power they were granted to devastating effect. Exactly how it was designed
To better understand the War on Drugs, it is necessary to dig into the history of the Drug War. How the war began, who were the major players behind it, and the lasting effects it has today. That is something for Part IV.