Report finds racial disparity among D.C. arrest rates

WASHINGTON – A new report finds that more than 80 percent of people arrested in D.C. are black and they are most often arrested for non-violent crimes like drug or traffic offenses and disorderly conduct.

The report released Friday by the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs finds the racial disparity in arrest rates pervasive and serious.

In 2010, police made 31,874 arrests of black men, which is more than 30 percent of the District’s adult male, black population. And black adults account for nine out of every 10 drug arrests, even though blacks make up almost half of the District’s adult population, the report finds.

Many of the charges are dismissed. But the stigma of an arrest, even without a conviction, can scare off would-be employers for black residents and hinder adults’ ability to find housing, among other negative consequence, the report says.

A group of lawyers plus retired and senior federal judges compiled the report. And they are argue the racial disparity in arrest patterns significantly hurts the District’s black population and can weaken their trust in the criminal justice system.



Black Arrests by the Numbers:

8 out of 10 arrests, overall
9 out of 10 drug arrests
7 out of 10 traffic arrests
Nearly 8 out of 10 arrests for disorderly conduct
8 out of 10 arrests for non-aggravated assaults

Source: D.C. arrests from 2009 to 2011, Washington Lawyers’ Committee

“Arrests and processing can be humiliating and degrading experiences. When a community loses an individual to the criminal justice system, the community may lose a parent, a potential employee, and a taxpayer,” the report says. “Even when an arrest does not result in a conviction, the arrest itself can have lasting impacts on an individual’s ability to return to school, get and keep a job, find housing, and maintain his or her social and economic standing.”

In a statement, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier says more research is needed to examine the trends identified in the report.

“MPD also agrees and welcomes the recommendation for further in-depth discussion on these important issues to determine their impact on public safety in the District. I am committed to maintaining the strong community trust that we have developed over the past seven years of my tenure,” the statement said.

The report also notes the tremendous taxpayer cost for the court system to process thousands of arrests, many of which never result in a conviction, indicating the charges were weak or unnecessary.

Black men are also more likely to be arrested on drug charges than white men and that risk increases if they are in a ward that is predominately black. The report argues that drug use rates are similar between white and black populations but the huge disparity in arrests rates in the District do not reflect that.

The report urges the District to treat drug abuse as a public health problem, not a crime. It also encourages the review of whether some illegal drugs should be legalized.

The committee plans investigate the underlying causes for the arrest disparities and to hold forums with the black community to hear their stories and experiences with the criminal justice system.

WTOP’s Thomas Warren and Amanda Iacone contributed to this report. Follow @tewarren and @WTOP on Twitter.


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