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Huge Racial Disparity in American Arrests

The gap is so large that multiple reasons might be needed to explain it. If we didn’t criminalize small-level drug offenses (considered not as gateway drugs but gateway arrests) would the gap be as large?

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.

Whatever the reasons, the results are the same: Blacks are far more likely to be arrested than any other racial group in the USA. In some places, dramatically so.

At least 70 departments scattered from Connecticut to California arrested black people at a rate 10 times higher than people who are not black, USA TODAY found.

See, Racial gap in U.S. arrest rates: ‘Staggering disparity’ @ USA Today.

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