Investigation Shows Blacks Are Much More Likely Than Whites and Latinos to Be Prosecuted for Minor Drug Offenses in San Diego

An investigation by NBC 7 San Diego has revealed stark racial disparities in drug prosecutions across the city.

The report, published Monday, found that African-Americans in San Diego were nearly five times as likely to be prosecuted for minor drug offenses than whites and Hispanics.

San Diego Drug Prosecutions

Data shows African-Americans made up 23 percent of all drug cases filed in San Diego since 2013, despite comprising just 6.5 percent of the city’s population. (Photo: Hill Street Studios / Getty Images)

A review of data from the San Diego City Attorney’s Office show that since January 2013 Black residents have accounted for 6,666 (23 percent) of all prosecutions for drug-related misdemeanors despite making up just 6.5 percent of the city’s population, according to the report. The report showed whites, who are 57 percent of the population, made up 48 percent of the prosecutions for similar offenses.

This trend held true when compared to the rate at which Latino residents were prosecuted for drug crimes; Blacks were still much more likely to be indicted for similar, low-level offenses.

Since 2013, Latinos — 30 percent of the San Diego population — have been prosecuted 6,149 times for misdemeanor drug cases, about 500 fewer times than their African-American peers.

Dante Pride, an attorney and activist who works to address civil rights  issues in San Diego, said the disparities in prosecutions weren’t totally shocking to him, considering the biased policing he’d seen growing up.

“I went to Morse High School,” Pride told NBC 7. “It’s a well-known fact within that community specifically. And I think San Diego in general that African-Americans are just targeted more by the police.”

The local lawyer put pressure on the community and city leaders to take action sooner rather than later. 

“The community needs to take this to the City Council and make the City Council make a decision,” he added. “We need to make the city attorney make a decision. We need to make a plan of action and keep yelling from the rooftops until it changes.”

The investigation’s findings come on the heels of a recent report showing that while African-Americans still face significantly higher incarceration rates, the gap with whites is narrowing. The nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice reported on federal figures showing a drop in racial gaps in both jails and state prisons in the U.S.

Racial disparities among those on probation or parole also declined, according to the report.

However, the divide in state imprisonment rates for drug crimes was still pronounced, with African-Americans being five times more likely than whites to be jailed for drugs, according to the most recent data. The gap was much wider in 2000, when Blacks were 15 times as likely to be in state prisons for drug crimes.

San Diego’s latest numbers coincide with the national trend, but Adam Gelb, president and chief of the Council, argued things are still headed in the right direction.

“Most people think this is a bad problem that’s getting worse,” Gelb told The Associated Press. “It turns out it’s a bad problem that’s getting a little better and for very complex reasons that we need to understand at a much deeper level.”

In cities like San Francisco, leaders have already taking steps to help narrow the racial gap. According to a recent New York Times report, prosecutors have started doing what they call “blind charging,” where prosecutors aren’t given certain details such as a defendant’s name or race in an effort to avoid bias in the decision about whether someone will be charged with a crime.

Brooklyn, New York, and Dallas, Texas, have enacted similar measures to combat biased prosecutions, and Pride said he can only hope San Diego will follow suit.

“We all have been yelling it that this is happening in San Diego. And these numbers just validates it,” he told the station. “There’s nothing else we can do except yell, yell, yell, yell.”

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