Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Driving while black remains a reality in Houston

New data released by the Houston Police Department shows that black motorists are more likely to be stopped by police than any other ethnic group in the city. While blacks make up 23% of the city's population, they made up 33% of all traffic stops in 2010. Latinos, who make up 44% of the city's population, made up 32% of all traffic stops. White motorists accounted for 30% of the stops.

According to the Houston Chronicle, "experts" discount driving while black as being the cause of the disparity.

Clete Snell, who chairs the criminal justice department at the University of Houston-Downtown, said many minority residents feel they have been singled out because of the number of stops in their neighborhoods. 
"Police tend to patrol more frequently in African-American neighborhoods, and in minority neighborhoods in general, and tend to make more stops in minority neighborhoods,“ Snell said.

Apparently Mr. Snell is not concerned that there are a disproportionate share of blacks in the criminal justice system and that the vast majority of defendants who cannot afford to post a bond tend to be black or Latino.

Surprisingly enough, Gary Blankinship, the head of the Houston Police Officer's Union, denies the existence of racial profiling and former HPD Chief, and current city councilmember, C.O. Bradford blames it on a few "bad apples."

Racial profiling, like police brutality, is not an individualized phenomenon. It is bred into the culture of police departments all across this country. Police brutality comes from a culture in which the questioning of "authority" is considered a sign of disrespect. Maybe that's how it works at the police station -- but that ain't reality on the street. But police culture doesn't account for such subtleties.

Racial profiling has always played a role in police work - going back to the days of Jim Crow when the police were used to enforce the laws of segregation. The primary role of the police was to keep whites and blacks separate, or, more accurately, to keep blacks on "their side" of town. That ethos still holds true today as large swaths of our cities and towns are segregated.

Until we examine the role that law enforcement has played in preserving inequality in this country, police brutality and racial profiling will continue to endure - no matter how much sensitivity and diversity training we require of the boys in blue.

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