African Americans comprise 30% of America’s population yet theyaccount for 60% of the arrested population (Hopkins 1). There is arising incarceration rate in the country that disproportionatelyaffects African Americans. It is alarming that “1 in every 15African Americans” is incarcerated when compared to “1 in every106 white men,” yet African Americans have a lower population thanwhite people (Hopkins 1). Further research demonstrates that AfricanAmerican males have a seven times higher possibility of arrest ascompared to whites. African American children born in the US have a 1in 3 chance of being incarcerated later in life although theyrepresent just 13 % of the country’s population (Shelden 182). Thestatistics indicate that the stakes for arrest are high for AfricanAmerican males.
The increase in America’s prison population only exposes blacks tomore disproportionate arrest rates. As such reforms must be made tothe criminal justice system to ensure equal treatment of people ofall races during police arrests. Such changes can be achieved bytargeting police commissioners in all American states. As the highestranking law enforcers, police commissioners are in control of policedepartments and have power over arrest actions made in theirdepartments. Police commissioners need to be informed on the need forreforms in how arrests are conducted by their juniors. Findings bydifferent authors make it possible to evaluate the uneven arrestrates of black males compared to whites in the different policedepartments, and answer the research question: why is there anunequal arrest rate of African American males in America?
Blacks have an unequal encounter with law enforcement in all crimescommitted in America. The population accounts for a higher percentageof all violent crime incarcerations countrywide, rapes, robberies andproperty crime arrestees (Center for American Progress 1).This means that blacks are unequally arrested for all types ofcrimes.
The high representation of blacks in offences committed in America isalso evidenced by the population’s high presence in prisons.According to the Center for American Progress,the growing prison population seems to be impacting men of color at ahigher rate. Blacks have a three times higher possibility of beingsearched after a traffic stop when compared to white motorists.African American students are subjected to harsher punishment thanwhites in school, resulting in a greater figure of African Americanyouth arrests. They comprise of more than 70% of students inschool-related incarceration or recommendations to law enforcement(Center for American Progress 1). In addition, AfricanAmerican males are disproportionately arrested forjuvenile offenses. It seems that blackmales are highly likely to end up in prison after any form of policeencounter.
An illustration of the police encounter that results in a higherlikelihood of arrest is in the war on drugs, where law enforcementappears to target blacks more than whites. Research shows that bothblacks and whites have the same likelihood to use and sell drugshowever, African Americans are arrested at a higher rate fordrug-related offenses(Hopkins 1). Although blacks account for 14% of habitual drugusers, their arrest rates are 37%, and of the 25.4 millionindividuals arrested from 1980 to 2007 due to drug-related offenses,one in three of the arrestees was black (Hopkins 1). The researchcauses one to question the possibility that the American war on drugsis mainly conducted in African American communities, which enhancesthe possibility of their unequal arrest.
Arrests of African Americans in Different Police Departments
The CivilRights.org (1) explains that police departmentsunequally target people of color as suspects in criminal activities.Heath asserts this by noting that 1,581 police departments in the USincarcerate African Americans at skewed rates (1). Law enforcers inFerguson arrest blacks three times more than individuals of otherraces (Heath 1). The same disproportionate figures are witnessed inpolice departments in San Francisco, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit,and New York. According to a video by USAToday, “at least 70 departments scattered from Connecticut toCalifornia arrested black people at a rate 10 times higher thanpeople who are not black.” When police departments have higherrecords of blacks as compared to people of other races, it raisessuspicion that the first group is unevenly targeted.
Arrest rates of blacks appear to be more disproportionate in somepolice departments than others. These include Ferguson and St. Louis’Missouri. In the latter more than two dozen police departments madearrests, which lopsided those of the entire black population (Heath1). In Clayton, just 8% of the population are African Americans yet57% of arrestees were black (Heath 1). The startling statistics arealso evident in progressive towns such as police departments inBerkeley California as well as Madison where blacks had a nine timeshigher arrest rate than other racial groups (USA Today).
Causes of Unequal Arrest Rates of African American Males
The most common reasons why black males are unevenly arrested by lawenforcers include racial profiling, police corruption,and misconduct.
Racial profiling refers to a predisposition by law enforcementofficers that black men are involved in wrongdoing hence,they are highly arrested with no reasonable cause but on the basis ofsuspicion. As a result, black men become targets during thearrest of criminals as compared to other races such as whites.According to Weatherspoon (442), “racial profiling has beeninstitutionalized into our American justice system, as well as othersystems that disproportionately exclude, punish and ostracize AfricanAmerican males.” Consequently, the population has become the targetof law enforcers who use the racial profiling method to unfairlyenforce arrest laws.
Racial profiling is not only evident in the enforcement of arrestlaws, but also when investigating crimes. In order to uncover acrime, police must conduct investigationsthat entail patrolling streets in search of activity deemedsuspicious. During the investigations, police have the discretion todecide who they deem suspicious, neighborhoods and cars that need tobe searched. Regrettably, the discretion is implemented via the prismof race (CivilRights.org 1). This means that suspectedcriminals are identified based on their race. Surveys carried out bythe “Black America’s Political Action Committee” and the“Washington Post” indicate that close to 50% of blacks believethey have been targeted by police (Weatherspoon 444). Racialprofiling happens in all places where black men live, are employed ortraverse, be it in towns, rural societies, North, South, East orWest, they encounter more scrutiny by law enforcers as compared towhite men (CivilRights.org 1). This is because police officershave created a profile of the illustrative wrongdoer, usually blackand male, which they use in making arrests.
Racial profiling is apparent in the manner in which black males areunfairly targeted, searched and stopped during traffic stops. Theyare singled out while driving and police progress to make arrestswithout justifiable causes. According to The Sentencing Project(5), in a study carried out in New Jersey, racial minoritiescomprised 15% of the state’s drivers. Nevertheless, 42% of trafficstops, as well as 73% of subsequent arrests,were of African American drivers. This isregardless of the fact that whites and people of other races violatedtraffic rules at similar rates. Additional information from the TheSentencing Project indicated that there was a lower probabilityfor whites to be treated suspiciously by police. The findingsindicate that police regard African American males as more likely tocommit crimes than whites, which leads to disproportionate arrestrates among blacks.
The uneven arrest rate was captured in Florida, through videofootage showing thousands of highway stops by police, which pointedout that just 5% of the drivers were minorities yet they made up 80%of the individuals searched and stopped by law enforcers (TheSentencing Project 5). The video is a clear indication thatpolice target racial minorities’ key among them black males. Amainly publicized illustration of racial profiling is the “stop andfrisk tactic employed by the New York Police Department (NYPD) (TheSentencing Project 5).” African Americanscomprise 25% of the city’s population yet from 2010 to 2012,52% of stops by the NYPD targeted blacks. In comparison, only 9% ofstops targeted whites, yet they represent 44% of New York’spopulation (The Sentencing Project 6). Hence, the blackpopulation is stopped and frisked at a higher rate, despite making upof the minority of New York’s population.
Police Corruption and Misconduct
Police officers are involved in misconduct and corruption thatresults in the uneven arrest of African American males. One suchmisconduct is the use of flaking, which is a practice employed by lawenforcers in meeting arrest quotas. Supervisors set quotas for patrolofficers that must be met (Shan 1). In most cases the officers arenot always successful in coming into contact with wrongdoers. Hence,they devise manners of increasing the set quotas. Most common is thepractice of planting drugs on innocent persons. The misconduct wasdisclosed by an ex-NYPD detective whiletestifying during a false arrest scandal. The ex-detectivenoted that “it was common practice to fabricate drug chargesagainst innocent people to meet arrest quotas. The practice ofplanting cocaine on innocent people is called flaking (Shan 1).”African Americans are the target for such police misconduct thisexplains why more blacks in New York City were incarcerated for drugcrimes than whites (CivilRights.org 1).
Apart from corruption in meeting arrest quotas, law enforcers arecorrupt when making arrests based on criminal profiles. The currentcriminal justice system is flawed and results in disproportionatearrests of blacks (Shan 1). Police use dishonest ways of arrestingpeople. Apart from flaking the widespread view of African Americanmales as criminals is a dishonest way of dealing with crime. Itresults in the unfair targeting of innocent blacks due to the beliefthat they fit criminal profiles. By doing so, police fail to usehonest arrest methods that should involve proper investigation.
Discussion and Recommendations
It is alarming that the figure of black males arrested continues tobe on the rise. Thus, significant changes must be made to ourcriminal justice system. The changes should be implemented in everypolice department and begin with the highest ranking officers, thepolice commissioners. Police commissioners must draft new methods ofoperation for their juniors and come up with strategies to monitortheir juniors’ activities. They should review arrests made in apolice department on a daily basis and ensure that any suspiciousincarcerations are externally investigated. The commissioner mustalso communicate the need for change to junior police officers on howthey conduct arrests.
One such change is a shift from arrest towards community policing assuggested by former “New York City Police Commissioner Lee P.Brown” (Webber 1). According to Brown, community policing wouldmandate a change in how police operate. Instead of the usual policepatrols that involve stopping and searching civilians, police wouldbe involved in “getting to know people in the community and solvingproblems rather than riding in patrol cars and responding to 911calls” (Webber 1). The former police commissioner also noted thatin order for police departments to utilize community policing, itwould entail the “creation of a new culture for the policedepartment, new human resource practices, including hiring,promotion, recognition and extensive training and retraining ofofficers and managers” (Webber 1). Community policing refers to atotal alteration in the relationships between police and the peoplethey serve and protect.
The change suggested by Lee P. Brown is an effective way for policecommissioners to work towards solving the uneven arrest rates ofAfrican American men in their police departments. Community policingchanges how police operate in many ways. The police officers will notonly be required to investigate crimes, create criminal profiles,make traffic stops and searches or meet arrest quotas, which havebeen identified as strategies that result in the disproportionatearrest rates. Rather, they will be requires to get to know the peoplethey serve, by forming relationships with civilians. This way theyare able to know the actual criminals and arrest people fairly,regardless of race.
The unequal arrest rates of black males in America cannot bedisputed. Police departments across the country record a higher rateof African American arrests as compared to those of whites. This isdespite the fact that blacks comprise of a lesser percentage ofAmerican civilians as compared to whites. Statistics indicate thatblack males are disproportionately incarcerated in all types ofcrimes. Such unequal rates have been achieved due to racialprofiling, police corruption andmisconduct. African American men have been profiled as criminalsbecause law enforcers identify the ideal criminal as black and male.As a result, even innocent individuals from the target population arearrested. Despite the fact that whites and blacks have almost thesame likelihood of committing crime, it ispresumed that blacks are more suited to criminal activity.
In conclusion, all Americans depend on the criminal justice systemto protect them from criminals. However, it is impossible for thesystem to fairly accomplish its mission provided it continues tounequally arrest some populations than others. There is a lot ofresearch demonstrating these unequal arrests towards AfricanAmericans. Reforms should be made in all police departments topromote equal arrest rates for individuals of all races.
Center for American Progress. The Top 10 Most Startling Factsabout People of Color and Criminal Justice in the United States(2016): 1-1.
CivilRights.org. Race and the Police: Justice on Trial. TheLeadership Conference Education Fund, 2016.
Heath, Brad. Racial Gap in U.S. Arrest Rates: Staggering Disparity.USA Today, 19 Nov. 2014.
Hopkins, Kiernan. Why is the African American Imprisonment RateHigher than Whites? Huffpost Crime, 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 8 June2016.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kiernan-hopkins/why-is-the-african-americ_b_4032382.html
Shan, Janet. Former NYPD Detective Stephen Anderson Says Drug ChargesOften Fabricated by Flaking of Innocent People to Meet Arrest Quotas.Hinterland Gazette, 13 Oct. 2011. Web. 27 May 2016.http://hinterlandgazette.com/2011/10/former-nypd-detective-stephen-anderson.html
Shelden, Randall. Controlling the Dangerous Classes. AHistory of Criminal Justice in America. Boston: Allyn and Bacon,2008.
The Sentencing Project. Report of the Sentencing Project tothe United Nations Human Rights Committee: Regarding RacialDisparities in the United States Criminal Justice System (2013):2-26.
USA Today. Compare Arrest Rates, 2014. Web. 9 June 2016.http://www.gannett-cdn.com/experiments/usatoday/2014/11/arrests-interactive/
Weatherspoon, Floyd D. Racial Profiling of African America Males:Stopped, Searched and Stripped of Constitutional Protection. TheJohn Marshall Law Review 38.2(2004): 439-468.
Webber, Alan M. Crime and Management: An Interview with New York CityPolice Commissioner Lee P. Brown. Harvard Business Review,June 1991. Web. 18 June 2016.https://hbr.org/1991/05/crime-and-management-an-interview-with-new-york-city-police-commissioner-lee-p-brown