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EXCLUSIVE: Charlottesville stop-and-frisk data suggests a history of racially motivated policing

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Black residents of Charlottesville, Virginia, are nine times more likely to be stopped by city police than white residents, according to previous unpublished data obtained by ThinkProgress.

The Charlottesville Police Department made 101 investigative detention, or “stop-and-frisk,” stops in the first six months of this year, the data shows. Of those, around 71 percent were black and 28 percent were white, while the race of 1 person was recorded as unknown. Charlottesville’s population as of the 2010 census was 19 percent black and 69 percent white.

In 54 percent of cases where the person being stopped was black, the stop did not result in any further action by police. Overall, officers took further action, like issuing a summons or making an arrest, in fewer than half the stops: 46 percent.

These numbers are part of a larger trend. In the first nine months of last year, 76 percent of people Charlottesville city police stopped were black, while 23 percent were white and 1 percent unknown, according to a report last year in The Daily Progress.

A white supremacist rally earlier this month, triggered by plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from one of Charlottesville’s main downtown parks, quickly devolved into street violence that culminated in a car attack on a group of anti-racism protesters that left one dead and at least 30 others injured.

City and state police have come under heavy criticism from both white-supremacist organizers and anti-racism protesters for not stepping in sooner to quell the violence. Activists who spoke with ThinkProgress say both the violence and the police response were part of a long-simmering problem that includes how city police treat black residents.

“It was a larger pattern even before we got national attention,” local activist and radio host Leslie Scott-Jones told ThinkProgress in an interview. “The stop-and-frisk policies that Charlottesville and Albemarle [County] police go by are hugely discriminatory toward black and brown people.”

The city released the data to local attorney Jeff Fogel, who shared it with ThinkProgress, in response to a public records request. Fogel, a Democrat, is a candidate for Charlottesville district attorney. He was arrested in June and charged with simple assault after an incident involving blogger Jason Kessler, who organized the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville earlier this month, according to The Daily Progress.

A spokesperson for the city did not return multiple phone and email messages requesting comment Tuesday. But last year police spokesperson Lieutenant Steve Upman told The Daily Progress how officers decide whether to make a stop.

“Officers utilize the totality of information given to them through the dispatched call, as well as what they observe when they arrive on scene, to determine if they have reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigative detention,” he reportedly explained.

In a presentation to the Charlottesville City Council last October, reported by The Daily Progress, Police Chief Al Thomas also expressed concern over stops that do not lead to an arrest.

“We need to scrutinize these reports very thoroughly when there’s no arrest made,” Thomas reportedly said.

Cities across the U.S. have struggled with similar racial disparities in police stops. In New York City, for example, 57 percent of people stopped by police in the first quarter of 2017 were black, while 32 percent were Latino and 9 percent were white, according to data compiled by the New York Civil Liberties Union. An analysis by the San Francisco Chronicle found that around 70 percent of people stopped by Oakland police from September 2014 to September 2015 were black, while African Americans make up just 27 percent of the population.

But the Charlottesville data opens a window onto everyday life for black residents in a liberal bastion whose mayor, Mike Signer, has declared it “a capital of the resistance” to the policies of President Donald Trump.

In a press conference after the car attack earlier this month, Signer and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, both Democrats, portrayed the white supremacist protesters as outsiders.

“I have a message to all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today,” McAuliffe told reporters. “Our message is plain and simple: Go home.”

But local black activists who spoke with ThinkProgress said white supremacy colored their daily lives long before torches and Nazi flags descended on Charlottesville.

“White supremacy’s here. It has been here,” Lisa Woolfork, a professor of English at the University of Virginia and an organizer with the local Black Lives Matter group, said in an interview. “And I think it’s important to remember that white supremacy works in overt and subtle ways. It’s certainly at work at this university, and it’s certainly at work in this community.”

Activists warned city councilors that the rally earlier this month had the potential to turn bloody, they say, but they feel those warnings went unheeded. Both the rally’s organizers and the anti-racism activists who protested it have criticized city and state police for not stepping in sooner to quell the violence.

An analysis by ThinkProgress, published last week, showed that state, county, university, and city police arrested just 8 people in connection with the rally and the car attack, though a city spokesperson said Charlottesville police are participating in ongoing investigations.

Many local activists’ frustration with what they say is an inadequate response to terrorism and harassment by white supremacists boiled over Monday night, when they effectively took over a city council meeting. At one point, two women stood on the dais holding a homemade banner that said “blood on your hands” as officials temporarily left the room.

In connection with the city council protest, the advocacy group Solidarity Cville released a list of demands that include removing Confederate monuments and addressing the racial disparity in police stops.

Councilors eventually voted to shroud the statue of Lee, along with a separate statue of Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, in black cloth. For many local activists, however, the fight over issues like police stops and the fight over Confederate monuments are inseparable.

“Charlottesville demonstrates that symbols of racism, that symbols of white supremacy, are irrevocably attached to beliefs and to actions of white supremacy,” Woolfork explained. “That’s why [the white supremacists] came. That’s why it’s a symbol to them.”

The data for this story is available at GitHub.

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