An Austin pastor’s experience with a white 15th District police officer during the evening of June 7 acquired fresh relevance recently after being recounted in a Dec. 26, Chicago Tribune article.
The article highlighted a recent analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU) showing that black motorists in Chicago are only 32 percent of the population, but are subjected to 46 percent of all traffic stops. “Whites and Hispanic drivers are stopped at rates lower than their population,” the ACLU notes.
Many black motorists have stories similar to that of Rev. Ira Acree, a community activist and pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church, who was reportedly pulled over while idling at a red light near Roosevelt Road and Austin Boulevard.
“I look up and it’s the police behind me and the guy screams, ‘Pull that car over mother f*#ker,’ – it kind of catches me off guard,” Acree told the Austin Weekly News several days after the incident.
Acree said he was looking at a text from his wife but didn’t answer it. He said he complied with the officer’s demand and pulled over. After the pastor tried explaining to the officer that he wasn’t texting, even requesting that the officer check his phone for proof, Acree said that the police officer declined his request and wrote him a citation, anyway. When Acree refused to sign the ticket, he said the officer threatened to arrest him and was condescending during the encounter.
After Acree filed a formal complaint with the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the ticket was dismissed. However, after an internal investigation, the Chicago Police Department found that the officer wasn’t at fault.
“The ACLU analysis substantiates the realities of many blacks,” said Acree during a recent interview with Austin Weekly News. The pastor noted that his was just “a case in point” to illustrate a much larger problem of differential treatment by Chicago police across the city.
The ACLU analyzed 2013 traffic data compiled by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), which is required by law to identify racial bias in traffic stops. The law – formally known as the Illinois Traffic Stop Statistical Study Act – has been in place since 2004 and was sponsored by then-state Sen. Barack Obama. It’s set to expire in July 2019.
Among the ACLU’s key findings: minority motorists were “significantly over-stopped” by police in police districts “where whites are a majority of the resident population”; black and Hispanic motorists were “far more likely” than whites to be searched, even though white motorists “were slightly less likely than black motorists” and “more likely than Hispanic motorists” to be caught with contraband; and Chicago police personnel “was far more likely” to conduct non-consent searches of black and Hispanic motorists than they were of white motorists.
One of the main indicators that the ACLU’s analysis honed in on is the pre-stop “ratio,” which evaluates “the likelihood that minority drivers will be stopped by a law enforcement agency.”
As a point of illustration, the city-wide pre-stop ratio for blacks – who are 32.4 percent of the population, but are subject to 45.9 percent of all traffic stops – is 1.42. This means that a black driver is 42 percent more likely to be stopped “than we would expect based on the estimated minority driving population,” according to the study.
For whites – who are 31.7 percent of the city’s population, but subject to only 27.1 percent of all traffic stops – the ratio is 0.85. In other words, white motorists are much less likely to be stopped than their driving population would suggest. For Hispanic motorists – who comprise 28.9 percent of the city’s population but are subject to 22.4 percent of its traffic stops – the ratio is 0.78.
In the Near North police district, where whites comprise more than 75 percent of the population, the ratio for blacks, who comprise only about 9 percent of the population, is 2.06. For whites, it is 0.82. Blacks are more than twice as likely to be stopped in that district as whites. And the same disparity holds in just about every police district that has a sizable white population.
The disparity is particularly outsized in the JeffersonPark police district, where nearly 70 percent of the residents are white and only one percent are black. There, black motorists are subject to 7.5 percent of all traffic stops, for a ratio of 7.46. That means, blacks are more than 7 times as likely to be stopped as whites.
Reverse is true for whites
But what both the ACLU analysis and the Chicago Tribune article don’t mention is that white and Hispanic motorists were also stopped at high rates—but only when driving through majority black police districts. Not only are black motorists more policed than whites and Hispanics, but black places are more heavily policed than those areas populated by non-black majorities.
In the five police districts with the highest black populations, whites were nearly six times more likely, and Hispanics nearly two times more likely, to be stopped than their average populations would suggest. The corresponding ratio for blacks in the five whitest police districts is 3.124; meaning that blacks are about three times more likely to be stopped in those districts than their average population would suggest.
In the Austin police district – where blacks comprise more than 93 percent of residents, whites less than two percent, and Hispanics about four percent – whites are stopped at nearly four times and Hispanics more than twice, the rate that their estimated driving population would suggest. In the overwhelmingly black Englewood police district, whites are stopped nearly eight times, and Hispanics more than three times, that rate.
These high stop ratios suggests that not only are blacks apparently more likely to be profiled when driving outside of mostly black policing districts, but that the police seem to reinforce the highly segregated nature of majority black police districts by appearing to punish the non-black motorists who venture into them.