Oakland study reveals apparent racial bias in juvenile arrests

A seven-year study of juvenile arrest data from the Oakland Police Department and the Oakland School Police Department has revealed a clear and troubling pattern: African-American boys are far more likely to be arrested than girls and ethnic peers. And, once they’ve endured one juvenile arrest, they are yet again more likely to be re-arrested and enter a spiral of negative contact with police that can result in school suspensions, jail time and lost employment opportunity.

“We’ve heard stories about racial profiling — when you see the actual data, it’s hard to believe this is actually happening,” exclaimed the director of the Black Organizing Project, which headed the study, with contributions from the ACLU of Northern California and a civil rights law firm.

“What we learned with this report is that black kids are being arrested who shouldn’t be,” added a spokesperson for the ACLU.

Why? African-American boys are apparently targeted over minor offenses that don’t result in arrests among other groups. According to the data, fully 80 percent of African-American boys who are arrested are never charged with a crime.

What’s more, between 2006 and 2012 African-American boys made up less than 30 percent of Oakland’s under-18 population — but they accounted nearly 75 percent of the juvenile arrests. Because they were brought in for things like underage drinking and gambling but never prosecuted, it’s clear the reason for that differential is not a greater propensity toward criminal activity.

The study was performed in response to the 2011 fatal shooting of a 20-year-old African-American man by an Oakland School Police sergeant near the site of a high school dance. It was claimed the young man was stabbing a police officer with a screwdriver, but another officer said the young man was already down and incapacitated when he was shot.

After the controversial shooting and the new research, the groups are urging the Oakland PD and the School Police to make concrete changes. First and foremost, law enforcement needs to address perceived youth crime using strategies other than arrests. The schools should also limit suspensions, which the Oakland Unified School District says it has already begun.

In fact, the district initiated the first office in the nation dedicated specifically to addressing issues facing African-American boys. It has also changed its policies to encourage the resolution of disciplinary problems through counseling, mentoring, and student-to-student discussions about crime and violence.

As a result of those programs, a district spokesperson says, the graduation rate for African-American boys has jumped 5 percent district-wide, and Oakland Technical High has achieved an 80-percent graduation rate for that group, among the highest for any urban high school in California.

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