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Racial Disparities in Law Enforcement

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

There is evidence of racial disparities at many levels of law enforcement in the United States, from traffic stops to drug-related arrests to use of force. According to a large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United States, “police stop, and search decisions suffer from persistent racial bias”. Source

Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Chicago and Milwaukee had some of the largest disparities in policing outcomes between Black and white residents. In these cities, Black residents were policed at high rates while white residents were policed at relatively low rates. Police arrested Black people at several times the rate of white people, even for offenses like drug possession which have been found to be committed at similar rates by Black and white communities. And police in these cities also killed Black people at substantially higher rates than white people, even after accounting for racial differences in arrest rates. Source

Rooted in slavery, racial disparities in policing and police violence are sustained by systemic exclusion and discrimination and fueled by implicit and explicit bias. These disparities have fueled a national outcry over the disproportionate use of excessive, and often lethal, force against people of color, and galvanized demands for police reform. Source

There is evidence of racial disparities at many levels of law enforcement, from traffic stops to drug-related arrests to use of force. However, the roots of those disparities aren’t always clear. Experts point to systemic problems as well as the implicit (largely unconscious) biases mentioned in the debate. Source

The report shows racial inequities in law enforcement interactions, supporting concerns historically voiced by communities of color. While racial bias may contribute to inequities, other factors are relevant, including responsibilities across the type of agency and priorities for patrolling areas within a jurisdiction. Source

A recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics on interactions between police and the public found that Black residents were more likely to be stopped by police than white or Hispanic residents, that Black and Hispanic residents were more likely to have multiple contacts with police than white residents, and that when police initiated an interaction, they were twice as likely to threaten or use force against Black and Hispanic residents than against white residents. Source


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