To examine the injustice and inequality that prompted some NFL players to protest during the national anthem, each week for the remainder of the NFL season, The Root will explore the data behind racial disparities in the two cities represented in the National Football League’s premiere matchup—Monday Night Football.
Tonight, the Washington Redskins travel to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to take on the New Orleans Saints.
Can a black person be racist?
Many black people say no. They might concede that black people can be bigoted or prejudiced but, according to them, black people lack the institutional or societal power to be racist. But what if there were some black people who wielded the official authority of the state like a whip? What if they used their state vehicles like a fugitive slave catcher’s stagecoach?
If black people can’t be racist, how would you describe black cops who routinely and systematically target, arrest and kill black people at disproportionate rates?
In December 1993, federal agents indicted ringleader Nygel Brown and 11 other Washington, D.C., police officers for conspiring to protect, alert and assist a ring of cocaine dealers. While most people considered the “Dirty Dozen” one of the worst cases of police corruption in the country, the New Orleans Police Department said, “Hold my beignet.”
Nygel Brown is black.
About a year later, in October 1994, Len Davis, a New Orleans police officer who was running a similar cocaine protection racket, hired a hit man to kill Kim Groves after she filed a police brutality complaint against him.
Len Davis is black.
If that seems extreme, consider the New Orleans police officers who shot and killed Henry Glover in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, brutally beat Glover’s family—who had witnessed the shooting—put the body back in Glover’s car, and set it on fire. In 2016, seven New Orleans cops were convicted of opening fire on unarmed civilians crossing a bridge trying to escape the flood waters of Katrina.
Not to be outdone, in 2014, Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Linwood Barnhill Jr. was sentenced to 7 years for running a prostitution ring that pimped teenage girls. A year earlier, D.C. officer Richmond Phillips was convicted for killing his girlfriend and his daughter so he wouldn’t have to pay child support.
While many people will say that the cops in their city are anti-black, corrupt or brutal, the police departments in New Orleans and Washington D.C. are two of the few law enforcement agencies that have actually been verified by the government as racist. Imagine living in a city where the cops are so crooked that the Bush Administration says: “Come on, son!”
In 2001, the Washington Metropolitan Police Department agreed to federal oversight after the Department of Justice uncovered large-scale discrimination and excessive force by D.C. cops. It was an unprecedented agreement—until New Orleans stole their thunder.
The New Orleans Police Department has such a rich legacy of corruption, civil rights violations and police brutality that, since 2012, the NOPD has been under the harshest, most closely-watched federally-sanctioned agreements, called consent decrees, in history.
According to a 2015 report by Governing, both police departments employ a majority of black cops.
Many people wrongly believe that racism is about hate. For some, as long as they don’t have hate or disdain for others in their heart, they assume they cannot be guilty of racism.
They are wrong. Racism has a measurable and quantifiable impact regardless of a person’s intent. If the awful conduct of black cops disproportionately impacts people of color, it is racist—regardless of how many pairs of Nikes they purchase or Black Lives Matter T-shirts they own.
No place is this more evident than in the New Orleans Police Department and the Washington Metropolitan Police Department. The actions of these agencies are observably racist, regardless of who carries out the policy. Even with the consent decrees, federal oversight and policy changes, the data shows that both departments disproportionately target, search and arrest black residents at much higher rates than others.
Before beginning any discussion about the racial disparities found in stops, frisks, searches, and drug arrests in D.C. and New Orleans, you should be aware of one fact that law enforcement officials, researchers, medical professionals, mental health experts already know:
White people and black people use illicit drugs at about the same rate.
When it comes to illegal drug use, The Centers for Disease Control’s National Survey on Drug Use and Mental Health, considered to be the definitive source on the subject, shows that the rate of illicit drug use in 2017 was almost exactly the same for whites and blacks over the age of 18 (20.0 percent for whites, 20.9 percent for blacks).
The Hamilton Project found that even though African Americans are incarcerated for drugs almost three times more often than their white counterparts, whites are more likely to use and sell drugs. In fact, The Root could not find a single legitimate, peer-reviewed study that shows blacks use illegal drugs at a statistically significantly higher rate than whites.
Despite this data, every time a city or municipality conducts a large-scale study, the results are always the same. Even though statistics invariably show whites are far more likely to possess drugs and illegal contraband, police are far more likely to subject black drivers and pedestrians to arbitrary traffic stops and searches.
Black drivers in Nashville, Tenn., are twice as likely to be stopped and searched by authorities even though police officers discovered illegal contraband on white drivers twice as often, according to a 2016 study. In the 15 years since the New York Police Department implemented its stop and frisk policy, the NYPD has disproportionately stopped and frisked black and Latino citizens even though cops found nothing illegal 80 percent of the time, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. When the New York Times looked at data from 15 different jurisdictions, they found that black drivers were more likely to be stopped in every single one, even though whites were more likely to have something illegal.
The same is true for officers in New Orleans and the District of Columbia. But, are the black cops worse in D.C. or New Orleans?
There are some who will say that blacks in New Orleans and D.C. face more police scrutiny because they have to fight more crime than other places. While we know that crime is largely a socioeconomic phenomenon, we can avoid that morass by examining the macro data surrounding how police treat random black residents of these two cities.
Let’s look at the stats:
- In 2015, black people made up 59 percent of the New Orleans population but were 77 percent of all traffic searches, according to the city’s consent decree data. By contrast, white people constituted 20 percent of all searches, even though they are 31 percent of the population.
- According to Census Reporter, the District of Columbia is 46 percent black and 36 percent white. Yet, when The Root analyzed Washington D.C.’s stop and frisk data from 2017, in the cases in which police recorded the race of the suspect, 89.3 percent were black and only or 10 percent were white.
Winner: Washington D.C. has a smaller percentage of black people but searches them more often.
- In New Orleans, a black person is 2.6 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, black New Orleanians account for 79 percent of summonses and arrests for marijuana possession.
- In D.C., 86 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession were black, despite blacks making up only 47 percent of the population.
Winner: Not only does D.C. win this category, but it is worth noting that possessing a small amount of marijuana is legal in the District.
- Between January 2013 and December 2017, seven of the nine people killed by the NOPD were black, according to Mapping Police Data.
- Between January 2013 and December 2017, 14 of the 16 people killed by the DCMPD were black, according to Mapping Police Data.
Winner: Washington, D.C. Not only did the number of black people killed by D.C. police double New Orleans’ total, but when the population statistics are figured in, New Orleans killed blacks at a rate of 7.593 for every million residents while D.C. cops killed its black citizens at a rate of 10.334 per million.
Although we intentionally avoided violent crime stats to examine the actions of these two departments, a study of data from the Washington Post proved that there is no relationship between crime rates by race and the disproportionate police killings of black people. “The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black,” said Justin Nix, a criminal-justice researcher.
Interestingly, both departments killed its white citizens at about a rate of 6 per 1,000,000.
On Feb. 1, 2018, the New Orleans police department ended its relationship with Palantir, a secret police software that the city had used since 2012 to predict crime. Even though a study on a similar program in Chicago “had no impact on violent crime and was overwhelmingly composed of young African-American and Latino men with extensive law enforcement contact,” the program tagged relatives, friends and innocent citizens as people who are likely to commit a crime or belong to a gang, the Verge reports.
Aside from social media, jail reports and investigations, the number one source of the information used by the New Orleans Police Department top secret Palantir program was police data.
That’s right, they used a computer-generated algorithm based on the work of a police department that independent observers, researchers and the federal government said routinely violated the civil rights of its black citizens.
If black people can be racist, I guess a computer is capable of racism, too.
Overall Winner: Everyone loses.
This is why they kneel.