Justice

How The ‘Best Place To Live In America’ Treats People Of Color When They’re Pulled Over

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ron Jenkins

Demonstrators gather near a community pool Monday, June 8, 2015, during a protest in response to an incident at the pool involving McKinney police officers in McKinney, Texas.

In June, police officers crashed a pool party in McKinney, Texas. After video surfaced of an officer grabbing a teenage girl by the hair and slamming her to the ground, the affluent Dallas suburb was forced into the national debate over how police interact with communities of color in America. Upwards of a thousand protesters turned out for an unprecedented march and accused the city of racist policing.

Now, information obtained by a ThinkProgress investigation of the city’s ticketing, court and municipal employee hiring practices indicates that the “Best Place to Live in America” in 2014 is another example of widespread systemic racial bias being exposed in cities across the nation.

Each year, Time’s Money Magazine ranks the best places to live in America using categories such as diversity, economic opportunity and jobs. Using a proprietary formula, Money then ranks cities according to 45 factors in eight categories, awarding some lucky town the much coveted national title. But if McKinney is any indication, Time Magazine may not take into consideration the day-to-day bias that women, African Americans, Latinos, and other minority groups experience.

What it’s like to be a driver of color in Texas

After the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the Department of Justice stepped in and conducted a thorough investigation of the city’s policing and municipal court practices to determine if the civil rights of its majority African-American population had been violated. One primary criticism included in the scathing DOJ report was the failure of Ferguson’s Municipal Court to function as “neutral arbiter of the law,” instead using “…its judicial authority as the means to compel the payment of fines and fees that advance the city’s financial interest.” The report went on to state that these court practices violated the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as imposed “unnecessary harm overwhelmingly on African American individuals, and run counter to public safety.”

The situation in McKinney doesn’t rise to the extraordinary resource extraction and policing-for-profit scheme uncovered in Ferguson, most likely due to the above average economic success of most of its residents. But we did find an unequal application of the law when it came to the issuance of traffic tickets, arrest warrants and subsequent incarceration rates.

There were a total of 10,216 traffic tickets issued in McKinney between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2014. For the two-year period, African Americans were ticketed at 4.77 percent above their population of 10.5 percent within the city, while whites were ticketed at 6.86 percent below.

Every racial group except for African Americans were ticketed below their respective population representation, according to data provided by McKinney. African Americans were 2.27 times more likely to receive a warrant than their white counterparts overall. Hispanics were 1.4 times more likely to receive a warrant than whites.

Together, all minority groups received 44.8 percent of warrants issued in the two-year period while only making up 33.9 percent of the population, revealing an astonishing 10.9 percentage point disparity. For white residents, the story is exactly the opposite. They make up about 55 percent of all warrants issued — about 20 percent below their population. Another way to think about it is that minorities are in general 1.73 times more likely to have a warrant issued after getting a ticket than a white person.

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CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

African-Americans are 4.11 times more likely to be incarcerated after being issued a traffic ticket than whites. After a warrant was issued, African-Americans were 1.8 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites and 1.65 times more likely than Hispanics. African-Americans were still 1.63 times more likely to be incarcerated after a ticket was issued compared to whites and Hispanics put together.

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Arthur Fleming, president of the NAACP Dallas chapter, saw a bigger pattern in the McKinney disparities. “McKinney is one example of the everyday black experience in the United States,” he told ThinkProgress. “These numbers lay bare the ruthlessness of the oppressive system put in place brick by brick for over 400 years.”

“The review of the aforementioned numbers leads me to believe that this police department is in need of a DOJ investigation immediately,” he added.

The racial profiling of drivers of color extends far beyond McKinney. National attention recently focused on a traffic stop gone wrong elsewhere in Texas. Video footage showed police in nearby Waller County threatening and forcing 28-year-old Sandra Bland to the ground after pulling her over for improperly signaling a lane change. She allegedly committed suicide in her cell three days later. The controversy over her death has spotlighted the frequency of false or contrived arrests of people of color during traffic stops.

Black drivers are much more likely to be pulled over than their white counterparts all over the country. A special report issued by the Department of Justice confirms that the traffic stops in McKinney is part of a larger national trend. According to the DOJ, “white drivers were both ticketed and searched at lower rates than Black and Hispanic drivers.”

The types of offenses black and Latino drivers are pulled over for also suggest racial profiling. White drivers are more likely to be ticketed for more visible offenses like speeding, while blacks were more likely to be ticketed for violations that would not be apparent before they’re already stopped. For example, black drivers were 8 times more likely and Hispanic drivers 22 times more likely than white drivers to be ticketed for not being able to present a valid drivers license.

Many question why minorities, specifically blacks and Latinos, are pulled over at higher rates than their white counterparts. According to Dr. K. Russell Shekha, a sociology professor at Denison University who has reviewed the McKinney traffic data, it boils down to something called the Minority Threat Theory.

“Racial minority threat suggests dominate races, particularly whites, perceive political, economic, and criminal threats when the population of other races, especially blacks, grows in proportion,” Shekha explained. “This feeling of threat, especially the perceived threat of crimes committed by other races, can lead to racist, targeted police practices to help the dominate race protect their social power. Practices include stopping, pulling over, frisking, searching, detaining, and issuing citations to blacks and other racial minorities more often than whites despite white populations being larger.”

Shekha pointed to New York City’s unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policy as an example of this perceived threat leading to over-policing. “Similar practices have been identified through federal investigations in places such as St. Louis and Cleveland, are apparent in Justice Department data for many places in the country where black and Latino populations have increased in comparison to whites, suggesting that the higher rates of police stops for blacks is a common response to the perceived political, economic, and criminal threats these groups represent to the historically white dominated racial hierarchy still so prevalent in the United States,” Shekha said.

Gender pay gap and racial bias in municipal employee hiring

As minorities are facing the brunt of the law in McKinney, they’re also being shut out of positions where they might be able to shift the status quo. Information provided by the City of McKinney revealed how hard it is for minorities to get a job with “America’s Best City.” Separating all municipal employees into categories by race and then comparing it to the 2013 U.S. Census population for McKinney, we discovered that all minority groups are underrepresented in the city’s municipal workforce. African Americans are by far the most underrepresented group, coming in at 6.4 percent below the city’s population, while white employees are over-represented by 16.63 percent.

Out of the 50 highest paid employees, 46 are white, 2 are Hispanic, and 2 are Asian/Pacific Islander. Not a single African American or American Indian broke the upper rungs of municipal pay scale. Hispanics have the lowest average hourly rate of pay at $20.30, although the highest paid person in the city is Hispanic. Alaskan/American Indians have the highest hourly rate at $27.75, but there is far less distribution due to the fact that there are only 6 employees out 1,044 total. Controlling for lifeguards, swim instructors, and other part-time summer positions, whites have the second highest pay rate at $27.54. African Americans rank 3rd in hourly pay at $26.12.

The situation is not much better for women who work for the City of McKinney. Women have an overall population of 50.9 percent, but make up only 32.8 percent of the city workforce and are far below the national labor force participation rate of 57 percent in 2014. Of the 50 highest paid city employees, only 1 in 5 are women. Women are also are paid 17.7 percent less than men on average, with an hourly rate $4.69 per hour less than their male colleagues on average. For a full time worker this wage inequality leaves women approximately $9,755 poorer annually.

The editor for Money Magazine, Diane Harris, admitted that the rankings don’t take into consideration municipal hiring practices, pay rates, or executive and managerial positions for minorities or women when formulating the diversity, jobs, or economic opportunities categories. Nor does the Money rankings attempt to determine if there is a gender and/or racial pay gap for public or private employees.

When asked if the magazine would consider pulling McKinney out of the top spot for 2014 if these disparities were shown to exist, Harris responded, “If we were made aware of a systematic pattern of bias, whether it applied to gender, ethnicity, or race, we would not name that town best place to live.”

She went on to clarify that Money Magazine will not reconsider its rankings for 2014, but may address the issue in the upcoming rankings for 2015.

McKinney is a Republican stronghold based in overwhelmingly conservative, Tea Party friendly Collin County. McKinney has helped elect Republican Sam Johnson to Texas’ 3rd Congressional District nine times since 1991, and is the home of Texas’ current Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was reelected 5 five times in Texas’ House District 70. Attorney General Paxton was endorsed by just about every major Tea Party, pro-life, gun rights, and law enforcement organization in the area and across the state.

So to many in North Texas, it’s not a stretch to believe that McKinney’s city government would function in such a way in relation to minorities and women. In fact, it appears to be the rule around these parts, not the exception.

Stephen Benavides is a policy analyst and labor organizer based in Dallas,TX. Stephen co-founded Dallas Communities Organizing for Change, an organization that fights for racial and economic justice. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of North Texas.