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Black Activists Use a Powerful New Tool to Stop Police Abuse and Racial Bias: Data


Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez

The outrage in the Black community over police brutality has blossomed in recent months after several high-profile deaths, but after the handwringing and protesting, a key question remains: How to make it stop? 

Activists in cities across the country may have come up with an answer to that question: By throwing data at the problem.

Durham, North Carolina, is ground zero for this new use of data to control the police and protect Black people, according to an investigation by the New York Times.

Activists in Durham were distraught last year when a Latino youth died from a gunshot as he sat handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser. As the Times describes it, there were 150 demonstrators surrounding Durham Police Headquarters, shouting things like “murderers” as baton-wielding officers in riot gear fired tear gas, a scene we saw repeated in Ferguson this summer.

The protesters saw the police shooting as just another example of how police in this city of 245,000 consistently abuse people of color. Dominated by Duke University, Durham is nearly equally split between white (42 percent) and Black (40 percent), with 14 percent Hispanic.

As an example, the Times cited the case of a Black female Navy veteran who was beaten by a police officer after telling a friend she was visiting that the friend did not have to let the police search her home.

But beyond the demonstrations, a coalition of ministers, lawyers and community and political activists decided to use data. They got their hands on an analysis of state data from 2002 to 2013 revealing that Durham police searched Black male motorists at more than twice the rate of white males during stops—yet drugs and other illicit materials were found no more often on Blacks.

In response to the numbers, city officials instituted a progressive new law requiring police to get written consent to search vehicles in cases where they do not have probable cause. Drivers are told on the forms—which come in English and Spanish—that they do not have to allow the searches.

“Without the data, nothing would have happened,” Steve Schewel, a Durham City Council member who pushed for the change, told the Times.

The Durham example provides a template for Black communities across the nation who are looking for ways to transform the relationship between the police and the community—or at the very least, try to protect the community from abuse and even death.

Cities like Austin in Texas and Kalamazoo in Michigan have caught onto this wave, in recent years requiring consent for searches. The change came in Austin after an independent police monitor reported that police searched Blacks one in every eight stops, while whites were searched one in every 28 stops. Kalamazoo’s data revealed that Black drivers were nearly twice as likely to be stopped, and then “much more likely to be asked to exit their vehicle, to be handcuffed, searched and arrested.”

Requiring Kalamazoo officers to explain to their supervisors what “reasonable suspicion” they had for every search dropped traffic stops by 42 percent, while the city’s crime rate has fallen 7 percent, according to the Times.

“It really stops the fishing expeditions,” Kalamazoo public safety Chief Jeff Hadley told the Times. He said the stats demoralized his officers, but not the Black community.

“I thought they would be up in arms, but they said: ‘You’re not telling us anything we didn’t already know. How can we help?’ ” he said.

The Center for Policing Equity has created a database of traffic stop and search data, and thus far more than 50 police departments have said they will provide data, the Times reports. This would provide activists and community leaders across the nation with a means of responding to the inequality in their communities—and would put police departments on notice that they better monitor the inequality of stops and arrests if they want to keep away the protesters and the lawsuits.

A USA Today report this week showed just how severe the racial imbalance is across the country: In most of the 1,581 police departments analyzed by the publication, Blacks are arrested at rates more than three times that of whites—and at least 10 times more than whites in at least 70 cities.

Activists in Durham hoped written consent to search would reduce racial disparities and end coercive tactics that the police used to search even in the absence of true, willing consent.

“We were shaming them, and saying, ‘We’re tired of you all talking about how progressive Durham is,’” said Ian A. Mance, a lawyer for the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, part of the broader group that pushed to reduce the imbalance in searches.

Durham’s police chief, Jose Lopez, who is Puerto Rican, said the data showed a high number of Blacks being stopped because police had been instructed by city leaders to focus more attention on high-crime areas, which in many cases were predominantly Black.

“Think about this,” Chief Lopez told the Times. “You have a Puerto Rican police chief in the City of Durham, and you are going to accuse him of racism?”

“The pendulum has swung from ‘We trust the police’ to ‘We don’t trust what you say, and you better prove it to us,’ ” Chief Lopez said. “Every police department right now is either putting together data or looking for ways to enhance it, or looking for funding, in order to get on the metric bandwagon as a way of being able to explain what they do and why they do it, and also to prove they’re not doing what they are accused of doing.”

What people are saying

23 thoughts on “Black Activists Use a Powerful New Tool to Stop Police Abuse and Racial Bias: Data

  1. So I am Puerto Rican so I can't be racist. ..and why don't people trust the police anymore. …I tell you one thing Number don't lie ….people do and illegal search and pulling over blacks is WRONG no matter how you slice it

  2. Zahir Kijani says:

    Ha Puerto Rican accused of racism… Does he not know George Zimmerman?


  4. The eurocentric american mindset affects those other than white also. The american way has been molded in a way to actually mean,… the white way,…. If you agree with that basic mindset,… you will most likely be successful in this country no matter what color you actually are.

  5. Walter Mellon says:

    It doesn't matter what race the Police Officer, or the Police Chief is. The Policy being enforced is racist, and the data proves it. If my rights were being violated by the Police, It would give me no relief if the Officer was black too.

  6. Keith Cooper says:

    Prisons have been privatized over the past 10 or so years. So people are money to the prison systems now. They target black men to fill their prisons. No one thinks about it cause everyone knows that more blacks fill the prisons than any other race. They make money by putting black people in jail to include officers, district attorneys and of course the biggest crooks of all, the judges. We as black people need to make sure we do not come across officers in the first place since we know they are not on our side. That's not the whole problem by no means but it's a start. I hope more cities adopt this practice but I'm sure it's just a matter of time before they find ways around it.

  7. matta of fact alotta times when they do look like us…they feel like they gotta go harder on us…to prove to massa that they better


  9. Patrick Hightower says:

    We know many of them try to be white in the U.S , he ain't fooling black people

  10. Dawad Shamashaun HaMasharat it Started here in amr=erikka with the whyte over seers protecting and reinforcing the land owner's property,… sometimes that job was given to a "Good Nigger" if he was well broken,… and actually turned into a "House Nigger". Let's not sugarcoat this shyt any longer.

  11. Alexandria Roxxanne Anevay says:

    Crime has dropped in cities that have taken steps to hold police accountable for abuse because now they're out looking for real criminals to arrest instead of looking for black people to harass, and communities tend to cooperate with law enforcement when the police can show that they're trustworthy.

  12. Alexandria Roxxanne Anevay says:

    Yeah, seriously. Can you imagine doctors being taken seriously when they complain that it makes their job hardet of there's a risk of getting arrested for murdering a patient by stabbing them with a scapel? These policies only make it harder to get away with murder. If you assault of murder someone, you're not doing the job of a cop.


  14. CeCe Carter says:

    Case and point, Ted Cruz. A racist Cuban who's family came here like many, illegally but given a path to legal citizenship and given all the government assistance to get their lives started, now he's trying to close the door behind his family. He married a woman of non color and forgot he's Hispanic.

  15. I see little if any encouragement in this Data as we know Data can be skewed to the way that it is implemented, although I am hopeful it will go the right way and prove me wrong on their tactics.

    However, history tells me something far different.
    Slavery existed it didn't stop after it was declared over the name changed to "Share Cropper" then it it has changed many times over through out decades.
    In our present time a "Slave" is in prison for marijuana, he is in prison for disrespecting a LEO and had a "Drop Bag" placed on him, he is in prison because he was the same race as the person that committed a crime.

    Lynching didn't stop either it's name was changed as well, it became Due Process, Justice through a Injustice System only there for the rich to get Mercy, if you are poor it is a Injustice and Punitive System, if you have color to your Poor Skin then it is even more Injust.

    Things haven't changed since 1964 only the words that was used changed the tactics are still the same.
    I see Pictures from Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama and can look at any picture of Protesters today from NY to Ferguson and you can see the Tactics alive and well, Police have always honed their skills on the poor, on the impoverished, on people of color, It's how they protect the rich.

    You can see Nazi Germany tactics used by the NYPD on a "Stop and Frisk" you can see them ask for Papers at Border Check Points, These are methods of control, control they use over a population of people they deem dangerous.
    Police no longer see skin color any more as everyone is the enemy now, they just used poor people of color in the training years to hoe their skills while opening fabricating BS to the media keeping all races at odds making the divide.

    Now they are trying to CYA as much as they can now, the divide is slowing narrowing and their fear is growing even more.

    Also if all LEO's are that "Afraid of their lives being endanger" perhaps they shouldn't perform that job, McDonalds is always Hiring.
    You shouldn't be afraid when patrolling a community, you have a vest, shotgun in patrol car, hand gun, taser, pepper spray, baton, THE FUCKING CAR ITSELF, your hand2hand training, and you are scared of a persons pigmentation of skin GTFO with that weak ass shit.

    NY recently upheld that they can if they do not want to hire people of IQ of Above Average citing the person would grow bored with the Job….
    Well those of Average IQ and lower could become Frustrated and Violent so WTF, I mean looking at it and a common sense fashion the ones of Average and Lower are just easier to control and get to follow Horrid commands that break the LAW, But wtf do I know right…

    Tuskegee syphilis experiment wasn't that long ago, so how far have we come?
    Those was people of respect Authority, and cops of Average to Low intelligence expect me to trust them with my life, the lives of my brothers and sisters of color, to trust them with protecting the rights of the impoverished… Fuck No!

    They must be imprisoned, they lie in court, they lie to your face, their whole job is about lying and getting you to say the wrong thing so they can imprison you.
    These people can not be trusted, they must earn Trust, Respect, and Honor as they have trashed it all and dismantled all well thoughts within any community.

    The old term "Boy" was changed to "Thugs" (See Fox News), these are not just social injustices but Human Rights Violations due to the decades of cruelty and violence the Police have committed.

    Also there is no "Good Cop" as a officer stands by and watch another cop break the law or harm people, they are just as guilty, so there is no "Good One" they are all bad in someway.
    As the ones that stay quiet are just "Condoning with silence" whet their peers do openly.

    I do not wish to add more at this time, But feel free to add in more as you see, Peace with you all.

  16. Same thing goes for your HOOLIGAN ASS so called friends with their CRIMINAL MENTALITY ASS. They're running around your damn neighborhood infiltrating your ass and committing rapes, robberies, home invasions, murders you name it, and when they do this type of crap they run and hide amongst you and your not so intelligent friends who think it's wrong to turn their asses in to help keep your damn families safe from those animals.

  17. Same thing goes for your HOOLIGAN ASS so called friends with their CRIMINAL MENTALITY ASS. They're running around your damn neighborhood infiltrating your ass and committing rapes, robberies, home invasions, murders you name it, and when they do this type of crap they run and hide amongst you and your not so intelligent friends who think it's wrong to turn their asses in to help keep your damn families safe from those animals.

  18. Walter Mellon says:

    Keenan Sheppard Let's proceed with your example like it is the truth. Your position is that there are hooligans running around robbing, raping, murdering, and hiding among my community because they're too stupid to turn criminals in and protect themselves from these animals. That sounds more like an accurate description of any Police force than my community. LE is a community full or thugs (ready to escalate and use force at any moment), murderers (eager to shoot first and cover up later), and rapists (inside and outside of jail), who legally discriminate against applicants who are too intelligent. But LEOs have the Thin Blue Line, A.K.A Stop Snitching, to hide behind. LEOs ignore, cover-up, or straight up lie to protect the "few bad apples", or they'll be shunned by the other boys in blue. A thug is bad enough, but thuggin under the color of law is far worse.

  19. James Hinton says:

    America is racist while Obama is black. They will put a token "minority'' face upfront so they can do all manners of white supremacist debauchery.

  20. Theodora Anagor says:

    He is half Peruvian and half German American. Not Native or Afro Peruvian but Spanish Conquistador Peruvian. He is Caucasian.

  21. Theodora Anagor Disown his ass real quick….make it plain sister….he ain't family!

  22. Did you know the reason Zimmerman got away with murder? Connections! His father is or was a judge! Corruption. check it out.

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