By: Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D.
In a recent post on this site, while writing about the origins of American policing and its relationship to slavery and racism, I made the following, seemingly harsh, but empirically supportable remark:
“In some cases, police harassment simply meant people of African descent were more likely to be stopped and questioned by the police, while at the other extreme, they have suffered beatings, and even murder, at the hands of White police. Questions still arise today about the disproportionately high numbers of people of African descent killed, beaten, and arrested by police in major urban cities of America.”
An article written by Angela Caputo (2014) and published by the Chicago Reporter confirms my observations on the contemporary state of policing in urban America. Caputo opens her article with the following passages.
“Chicago police have long been criticized for interpreting the Constitution in different ways depending on which neighborhood they patrol.
People living in a white neighborhood, or a wealthy one, are rarely stopped or frisked. Replace “white” and “wealthy” with “brown” and “poor,” and the odds increase….
More confrontations with police heighten the chances of a deadly encounter–particularly for people of color.”
Caputo reviewed data just released by the City of Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA). The organization was established in 2007 and is charged with “conducting investigations into allegations of the use of excessive force, police shootings where an officer discharges his/her weapon and strikes someone, deaths in custody, domestic violence, verbal abuse including bias and coercion” (IPRA, 2007).
The IPRA’s annual report for 2013 shows that members of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) shot 42 people. The Authority euphemistically calls these cases “police involved shootings;” as if the police were only peripheral actors in these incidents. Of those 42 police shootings, 83 percent of the people shot by members of the CPD were people of color—all black and Latino. While this statistic speaks volumes, it is even more telling when one notes that 67 percent of the people shot by the CPD were black even though blacks only make up 32 percent of the population of Chicago.
As Caputo’s review shows, when the period from 2009 through 2013 is examined the data shows that the CPD shot 267 people and more than 75 percent of these people were black. The IPRA data and Caputo’s appraisal shows if you are black the chances of being shot by a CPD officer are 10 times greater than if you are white. Likewise, if you live in a majority black district of Chicago, you are 10 times more likely to by shot by the CPD than if you live in a majority white district of the city.
While my remarks on racism and policing in urban American cities may have seemed harsh, they are actually quite mild when compared to the reality of minority life in the Windy City.
Angela Caputo (2014). Data: Black Chicagoans at higher risk of being shot by police. The Chicago Reporter, Jan. 23, 2014. http://www.chicagoreporter.com/data-black-chicagoans-higher-risk-being-shot-police#.UuUDJSg8JaE
City of Chicago Independent Review Authority (2007), retrieved on 1/26/2014 from http://www.iprachicago.org/resources.html