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Report: Arrests In D.C. Disproportionately Affect African Americans

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A new report finds that D.C. police arrests disproportionately target African Americans.
A new report finds that D.C. police arrests disproportionately target African Americans.

A report published Friday by the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs says that arrests in the nation's capital have disproportionately targeted African Americans.

The report found that that between 2009 and 2011 African Americans accounted for 83 percent of all arrests. The report also found that wards with higher African American populations saw more arrests and that African American residents accounted for 91 percent of all drug arrests and 76 percent of all disorderly conduct arrests.

All told, says the report, in 2010 some 30 percent of the city's African American men were arrested, compared to two percent of their white counterparts.

"While the African American community represents just under half of the adult population of the District of Columbia (47.6 percent, versus 42 percent that were white), the data show that there are significant disparities between African American representation in the population and D.C. arrest patterns for a variety of offenses," says the report, which was produced with the assistance of five current and retired D.C. judges.

The report's findings largely mirror those from a recent ACLU study on drug arrests in D.C., which found that African Americans were eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts.

In a June op-ed in the Washington Post, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier admitted that more African Americans are arrested, but rejected any claims that they are specifically targeted.

"It is, indeed, a sad fact that blacks represent a disproportionate number of arrestees in the District... But this is a complex issue that cannot be boiled down to an allegation that MPD selectively enforces the law against our black communities," she wrote.

Lanier said that more crime occurs in wards that are primarily African American, and arrests reflect that. Additionally, she wrote, 59 percent of her department's 3,900 officers are African American, a higher proportion than the city's black population.

As a means to remedy the imbalance in arrests, the report calls for D.C. legislators to reform the city's drug laws, notably by decriminalizing or legalizing certain drugs. Just this week two members of the D.C. Council did just that, introducing legislation that would loosen penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

D.C. Arrest Report

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