Black drivers in Milwaukee were seven times more likely to be pulled over by police than their white counterparts, while Latinos were five times more likely to be stopped, according to a study conducted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Meaghan Bledsoe-Horton, 23, was born and raised in Milwaukee, a city which recently won the unflattering title of most segregated in the U.S. Random traffic stops are a common occurrence for Bledsoe-Horton, who is black.
Last year, Bledsoe-Horton was driving home when she was stopped in Whitefish Bay, a mostly-white suburb of Milwaukee sometimes referred to by the illustrative epithet, Whitefolk's Bay. With three black male friends in the car, she recalls, she was asked by the police officer if she was lost.
"The cop pulled us over and asked us, 'Where are you going? Are you lost?'" Bledsoe-Horton said in a phone interview with The Huffington Post.
"There was absolutely nothing wrong with the car. We weren't speeding. No tail lights out. We were like a block away from my house," she said. "It seems to be like he was saying, 'You don't really belong in this neighborhood, so what are you doing here?'"
Bledsoe-Horton, who attended George Washington University, says she didn't feel that racial profiling against blacks was "as bad" in Washington, D.C., as in Milwaukee. She believes this to be the case because Washington "is home to an established black upper-middle class, whereas in Milwaukee, poverty seems to break down based on color lines much more starkly."
Bledsoe-Horton says she was "completely unsurprised" by the Sentinel's findings.
According to the report, which was based on 45,703 traffic stops made in the first four months of 2011, more than two-thirds of drivers stopped were black, and fourteen percent were Latino. According to the 2010 census, the city of Milwaukee is 44.8 percent white, 40.0 percent black and 17.3 percent Latino.
The racial disparities in driving stops spanned all regions of the city, the Sentinel reported, but the most drastic were in those parts of the city with the "lowest crime rates" and with "predominantly white populations."
On the east side of the city, where the greatest disparities were found, blacks were almost 13 times more likely to be pulled over than whites. The Sentinel also found that disparities in Milwaukee were "greater than other large metro police departments where traffic stop data is collected, including Charlotte, Kansas City, Raleigh and St. Louis."
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said that the stark disparities are not the result of racial profiling by his officers, but in line with what he "would expect given the victimization data and the offender data." In some districts of the city at least ninety percent of crime suspects were black, the Sentinel reported.
But for Bledsoe-Horton, a long time resident, the bias is still troublesome.
"Good police work is good police work, and I understand that," she said. "And sure, in Milwaukee more crimes are committed by blacks. But it's kind of crazy when you ask me if I'm lost when I'm in my own neighborhood where I've lived for years."
Milwaukee's 2010 Segregation Map via CensusScope.org