Staggering Disparity in Racial Gap in U.S. Arrest Rates

Clayton police officers keep a watchful eye during a peaceful protest in Clayton, Mo. The governor of Missouri declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard ahead of a grand jury decision in the case of a black teenager shot and killed by a white police officer. (Photo: Michael B. Thomas, AFP/Getty Images)
Clayton police officers keep a watchful eye during a peaceful protest in Clayton, Mo. The governor of Missouri declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard ahead of a grand jury decision in the case of a black teenager shot and killed by a white police officer.
(Photo: Michael B. Thomas, AFP/Getty Images)

When it comes to racially lopsided arrests, the most remarkable thing about Ferguson, Mo., might be just how ordinary it is.

Police in Ferguson — which erupted into days of racially charged unrest after a white officer killed an unarmed black teen — arrest black people at a rate nearly three times higher than people of other races.

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.

Those disparities are easier to measure than they are to explain. They could be a reflection of biased policing; they could just as easily be a byproduct of the vast economic and educational gaps that persist across much of the USA — factors closely tied to crime rates. In other words, experts said, the fact that such disparities exist does little to explain their causes.

“That does not mean police are discriminating. But it does mean it’s worth looking at. It means you might have a problem, and you need to pay attention,” said University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris, a leading expert on racial profiling.

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Source: USA Today | Brad Heath

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