Systemic Racism By the Numbers

A fantastic interactive piece by Reuters outlining how systemic racism has widened the gap between Black and white Americans.

Inequality between white and Black Americans persists in almost every aspect of society and the economy. Such disadvantages have proven immune to decades of laws and policies meant to address them, leaving Black people with less education, less wealth, poorer health and shorter lifespans. Together, the disparities reflect what many have labeled system racism amid the mass protests that followed the killing of George Floyed, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police office in May.

There has been progress in recent decades. But white gaps – rooted in the legacy of slavery, segregation and discrimination – have endured or widened in the years since the civil rights victories of the 1960s. Born from the enslavement of Africans in British colonies since the early 1600s, American inequality plays out over the course of a lifetime.

The Race Gap: From Birth to Death. Black people face systemic disadvantages in American life more than 150 years after slavery was abolished.

The Police: An Origin Story

Jill Lepore, on the invention of the modern police.

It is also often said that modern American urban policing began in 1838, when the Massachusetts legislature authorized the hiring of police officers in Boston. This, too, ignores the role of slavery in the history of the police. In 1829, a Black abolitionist in Boston named David Walker published “An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World,” calling for violent rebellion: “One good black man can put to death six white men.” Walker was found dead within the year, and Boston thereafter had a series of mob attacks against abolitionists, including an attempt to lynch William Lloyd Garrison, the publisher of The Liberator, in 1835. Walker’s words terrified Southern slaveowners. The governor of North Carolina wrote to his state’s senators, “I beg you will lay this matter before the police of your town and invite their prompt attention to the necessity of arresting the circulation of the book.” By “police,” he meant slave patrols: in response to Walker’s “Appeal,” North Carolina formed a statewide “patrol committee.”

New York established a police department in 1844; New Orleans and Cincinnati followed in 1852, then, later in the eighteen-fifties, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Baltimore. Population growth, the widening inequality brought about by the Industrial Revolution, and the rise in such crimes as prostitution and burglary all contributed to the emergence of urban policing. So did immigration, especially from Ireland and Germany, and the hostility to immigration: a new party, the Know-Nothings, sought to prevent immigrants from voting, holding office, and becoming citizens. In 1854, Boston disbanded its ancient watch and formally established a police department; that year, Know-Nothings swept the city’s elections.

Lepore, Jill. (2020, July 0). The Invention of the Police. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/07/20/the-invention-of-the-police

Brutal, Biased Police Can Be Reformed

Rachel Kleinfeld, writing for Foreign Policy on how some countries have reformed their police forces and rebuilt trust with the community – and how it could be done here in the United States (warning: paywall):

Luckily, what works for fair and effective policing is well known. Decades of research confirm that trust between law enforcement and communities is essential, because controlling crime requires community help. In the United States and Britain, for instance, the vast majority of the crimes that people fear the most, such as homicide and rape, required public tips to solve.

Building trust, however, is based less on bringing down crime (the metric many police monitor) than on treating people with respect and fairness. Trust is enhanced by recruiting a force that resembles the community it serves (although sadly, diversity doesn’t necessarily reduce police violence). Finally, hiring more women in law enforcement—a strategy Peru used to break perceptions of widespread corruption—results in more trust and less use of force.

Once officers have gained a community’s trust, they can use public tips to implement policies proven to drastically reduce crime, such as targeting hot spots (the small number of places where most violence happens), and focusing deterrence on the tiny percentage of people responsible for the vast majority of violent crime to prevent them from resorting to violence. Executing both strategies with respect and fairness is, needless to say, essential to their effectiveness.

Kleinfeld, Rachel. (2020, July 2). These Countries Reformed Their Brutal, Biased Police. The U.S. can, too. Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/07/02/police-brutality-racism-reform-international/

Defund the Terminator Program

This is so perfect.

Don’t get me wrong, we all remember Judgement Day, when the Skynet gained self-awareness and initiated a nuclear holocaust, killing millions. That was a terrible moment in our nation’s history. And the human uprising led by John Connor was definitely justified even though we felt like some of the violence and destruction of Skynet property was a bit unnecessary. But it’s important to remember that Judgement Day was initiated by a few rogue Terminators, and isn’t indicative of a widespread problem with Skynet.

Greaves, Carlos. (2020, June 17). Just Because They’ve Turned Against Humanity Doesn’t Mean We Should Defund the Terminator Program. McSweeny’s. https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/just-because-theyve-turned-against-humanity-doesnt-mean-we-should-defund-the-terminator-program

Bias in Traffic Stops and Searches

Going back as far as 1999 when the data was available and as recently as 2018, Stanford’s Open Policing Project quantified what most people of color already knew. An excerpt from one of the publications coming out of that study:

We assessed racial disparities in policing in the United States by compiling and analysing a dataset detailing nearly 100 million traffic stops conducted across the country. We found that black drivers were less likely to be stopped after sunset, when a ‘veil of darkness’ masks one’s race, suggesting bias in stop decisions. Furthermore, by examining the rate at which stopped drivers were searched and the likelihood that searches turned up contraband, we found evidence that the bar for searching black and Hispanic drivers was lower than that for searching white drivers. Finally, we found that legalization of recreational marijuana reduced the number of searches of white, black and Hispanic drivers—but the bar for searching black and Hispanic drivers was still lower than that for white drivers post-legalization. Our results indicate that police stops and search decisions suffer from persistent racial bias and point to the value of policy interventions to mitigate these disparities.

Pierson,Emma, Simoiu,Camelia, Overgoor,Jan, Corbett-Davies,Sam, Jenson,Daniel,
Shoemaker,Amy, Ramachandran,Vignesh, Barghouty,Phoebe, Phillips,Cheryl, Shroff,Ravi and Goel,Sharad. (2020) A large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United State. Nature Human Behavior. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0858-1 *

The study itself has some awesome data sets you can manipulate online or download.

It’s also telling that the legalization of marijuana has an impact on the data. Below is the graph showing the disparity of searches and stop before and after legalization.

In Washington and Colorado, far fewer people — both white and minority drivers — are searched overall. However, the racial disparities in searches remain and there is a persistent gap in the threshold for searching white and minority drivers. Source: https://openpolicing.stanford.edu/findings/

* Although I normally try to add these references in as close to APA format as I can, if all the authors of a paper are available, I’m going to post them and not stop at the first 6, as APA dictates. Also, I post the full names of the authors because, well, I think they deserve it.

We Have This Virus Among Us

The fuel has been pooling for decades—the Floyd thing was the spark that ignited it. It had gone too far, too long. Police corruption is endemic. It’s been there since the beginning of policing, when police officers had to buy their jobs. What is happening now is also a manifestation of that corruption. Brutality is police corruption.

Hirsh, M. (2020, June 11). Serpico on Police Racism: ‘We have this Virus Among Us’. Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/06/11/george-floyd-protests-serpico-police-racism-good-cop/

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