Story at a glance

  • The protests over George Floyd’s death have brought attention to the larger issue of racism within the criminal justice system.
  • A new analysis shows that black people are arrested at a higher rate than white people in hundreds of police jurisdictions.
  • The data supports past trends showing that black people are disproportionately incarcerated compared to other populations.

As protests continue across the United States more than two weeks after George Floyd’s death, the reason why is clear. But if there was any doubt, a new analysis shows how black people are disproportionately affected by policing in the United States.   

In 800 jurisdictions across the United States, black people were arrested at a rate five times higher than white people over a three-year period ending in 2018, according to an ABC analysis of data voluntarily reported to the FBI. In 250 jurisdictions, black people were 10 times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts. These figures were derived after accounting for the demographics of the communities served.


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"We have to deal with the over-policing of low-income African American communities in our country," Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told ABC News. "When we see data that shows that African Americans are singled out, unfairly targeted, disproportionately subject to arrest and prosecution — that should sound an alarm." 

The analysis looked at thousands of city and county police departments over a three-year period ending in 2018, excluding data from police departments in Florida, Illinois and the New York Police Department — which didn’t report the demographic data — as well as police departments serving cities with fewer than five black residents.


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The data is backed up by past research that shows black people are disproportionately incarcerated in the United States, especially for drug sentences, when compared to their population. Black people make up just over 13 percent of the United States population, according to census data, but made up 34 percent of the correctional population in 2014.

This trend has continued into 2020 and during the coronavirus pandemic, according to ProPublica, which reported on May 8 that black people in three of Ohio's most populous jurisdictions were at least four times as likely to be charged with violating the state's stay-at-home order as white people.

“When police see black people gathered in public, I think there’s this looming belief that they must be doing something illegal,” RaShya Ghee, a criminal defense attorney and lecturer at the University of Toledo, told ProPublica. “They’re hanging out in a yard — something illegal must have happened. Or, something illegal is about to happen.”  

Advocates have called for the criminal justice system to be reformed for decades and today’s protesters are now chiming in with demands to “defund the police.” Some police departments have listened, while others are promising other reforms. 


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Published on Jun 11, 2020