What would you say counts as a large disparity when it comes to how often police stop Black, white, and Latino people? Two or three times as often? Yikes. But in Chicago, Black people were stopped by police nine times more than white people in 2018 and 2019, according to a new report.
The disproportionate rate at which police stopped Black people wasn’t because they were more likely to be found carrying drugs or weapons—in fact, police were 29% more likely to find drugs or weapons when they searched white people. Latinos were three times as likely as white people to be stopped by police, and Latinos were also substantially less likely than white people to be found with drugs or weapons.
The disparities in how often people were patted down or searched were even higher than the disparities in how often they were stopped.
“The citywide average chance of being stopped in a year was 1 in 8 for Black people, 1 in 25 for Latino people, and 1 in 73 for White people,” according to a data analysis by David Abrams, a University of Pennsylvania professor. “Citywide disparities in pat down and search rates were even greater for those years, when about 1 in 25 Black people were patted down annually, compared to 1 in 86 Latino people and 1 in 475 White people. For searches, the rates were 1 in 27 for Black people, 1 in 99 for Latino people, and 1 in 420 for White people.”
These numbers come from a report from an independent monitoring team put in place after the ACLU reached a settlement agreement with the Chicago Police Department. If you’re for some reason inclined to give the Chicago police the benefit of the doubt on Black people being nine times as likely as white people to have been stopped, consider that ”Black people were stopped at higher rates than their population share in every police district in Chicago, regardless of the racial/ethnic composition or crime rate of the district.” Additionally, there is less than a 5% chance that the 29% difference in the rate of white and Black people being found with contraband could have happened by chance. There is less than a 1% chance that the 38% difference between white and Latino people being found with contraband could happen by chance.
It gets worse: The chance that the disparity between the 41.6 pat downs annually for every 1,000 Black people, the 15 pat downs annually for every 1,000 Latino people, and the 12.6 pat downs annually for every 1,000 white people happened by chance is less than 1 in 1,000.
But racial disparities in policing—or, we could safely say, racist policing—are far from surprising in the United States. The Justice Department and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights have both recently slammed the Minneapolis Police Department for what the state investigation described as “significant racial disparities with respect to officers’ use of force, traffic stops, searches, citations, and arrests,” accompanied by “an organizational culture where some officers and supervisors use racist, misogynistic, and disrespectful language with impunity.”
Yet in response to the Justice Department report on policing in Minneapolis, Phillip Atiba Goff, the head of the Center for Policing Equity, said “Minneapolis, as ugly and disgusting—we worked there, I know that department very well—as ugly and disgusting as parts of it are, it’s not in top 50 worst police departments in the country.”
The numbers make it clear: The problem with policing in the United States is not a few bad apples. It’s a problem of systemic racism and contempt for the rights of civilians, especially Black and brown civilians.