11/19/2014 03:40 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Racial Disparity In Ferguson Arrests Is Big, But Not As Big As Other Places


After Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson, stories emerged about an African-American community in the city that felt unfairly targeted.

It emerged that court fees and fines comprised ten percent of the city's entire budget, and that a disproportionate number of those paying fines were African-American.

But as bad as the racial disparity in arrests were (a report by the ArchCity Defenders found “86% of vehicle stops involved black motorists although blacks make up just 67% of population. By comparison, whites comprise 29% of the population of Ferguson but just 12.7% of vehicle stops") those numbers aren't even close to as bad as it gets.

On Wednesday, USA Today reported:

At least 1,581 other police departments across the USA arrest black people at rates even more skewed than in Ferguson, a USA TODAY analysis of arrest records shows. That includes departments in cities as large and diverse as Chicago and San Francisco and in the suburbs that encircle St. Louis, New York and Detroit.

Other cities, such as Minneapolis and New York City have recently been singled out as having especially jarring arrest disparities between blacks and whites.

When confronted with the disparities, a common response from police is that they arrest people committing crimes, regardless of their race.

But, as Teresa Nelson, legal director for the ACLU of Minnesota, recently told The Huffington Post, there could be more at play. That's especially true when looking at low-level offenses, which make up the bulk of arrests.

"When you’re talking about low-level offenses, these are offenses that are fairly subjective," Nelson said. "A noisy argument is either a situation where police might move somebody along or talk to them or arrest them for disorderly conduct. Oftentimes, implicit biases come into play and you have a disparity in how that noisy argument is handled."

Nelson, who was speaking specifically about racial disparities in Minneapolis, said these racial disparities shouldn't be shrugged off.

"We need to look at how police practices are leading to these disparities," Nelson said. "We need to look at the way police are enforcing low-level offenses and whether an overemphasis on those offenses is really working to address violent crime."

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