STUDY: Juvenile Arrests in Oakland Driven By Racial Bias


(Credit: AP)

A new study released Wednesday finds that African-American boys in Oakland, California, are far more likely to be arrested than boys of other races. They are also more likely to be arrested for minor offenses like gambling and drunkenness.

According to the study, conducted by the Black Organizing Project in conjunction with the ACLU, black boys comprised of 73.5 percent of all juvenile arrests by the Oakland Police Department between 2006 and 2012, even though they only make up 29.3 percent of the city’s youth population. Nearly 80 percent of these young African Americans were not prosecuted.

As Jacquelyn Byers, director of the Black Organizing Project, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “we’ve heard stories about racial profiling — when you see the actual data, it’s hard to believe this is actually happening.”

In addition to data directly from the Oakland Police Department, the study also examined data from the Oakland schools’ police and the county’s probation. Over the last two years, the Oakland School Police Department has arrested 85 students. 73 percent were black, though black students only make up 30.5 percent of the student population. There were no white students arrested in that same period.

Moreover, black youth are six times more likely than Hispanic youth and 23 times more likely than white youth to be arrested and referred to probation in Alameda County, which includes the city of Oakland.

The report noted that frequent run-ins with police have negative effects in the long term. African-American youth who face negative encounters with police are more likely to be arrested for larger offenses in the future. And after leaving prison, they often experience inability to find work, long-term psychological trauma, and other prolonged effects.

The study also includes results from a survey that asked students about their perceptions of police. It found that “a majority of students surveyed dislike the presence of school police on campus and would prefer to implement alternatives to keep schools safe.”

Consequently, the Black Organizing Project, an Oakland-based nonprofit, is using the study’s results to urge local authorities to consider these alternatives. They are calling for more funding for conflict resolution and nonviolence programs in schools, stronger ties among schools, parents, and community members, and more school counselors. The study found that the Oakland Unified School District employs only about 20 school counselors, which amounts to one school counselor for every 1,854 students.

The school district says that it has already made strides in reaching out to black youth and reports that its graduation rate for African American males has increased by nearly five percent in the last two years.

The statistics for higher black arrests hold true nationally. Although there are about the same amount of black and white drug users, blacks are four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, according to the ACLU. And in an analysis of statistics regarding New York City’s controversial stop-and-frisk program, Public Advocate (and mayoral candidate) Bill de Blasio found that while 53 percent of stops comprised of black New Yorkers, a black person was half as likely to possess a weapon as a white person.

In recent months, prominent African-Americans have spoken out against racial profiling and recounted personal experiences, including musician Questlove, former Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton, and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Marina Fang is an intern for ThinkProgress.