To the Editor:
Whoever said that Milwaukee is the “Home of the Free?” Racial profiling in Milwaukee traffic stops proves the exact opposite – that African American drivers in Milwaukee are seven times more likely to be pulled over by police than their white counterparts, while Latinos are five times more likely to be stopped.
In a review of 45,703 MPD traffic stops in the first four months of 2011, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel found that racial disparities were evident in all seven police districts in Milwaukee.
However, the greatest racial disparities were found in Districts 1 and 6, which are predominately white and have the lowest crime rates.
This finding directly contradicts Milwaukee Police Chief Flynn’s explanation that traffic law enforcement is a non-biased “targeted crime-fighting approach” in high crime neighborhoods that typically have larger minority populations.
Nearly anybody with reasonable intelligence can recognize that traffic law enforcement in Milwaukee is overwhelmingly a pretext for further police investigation.
It is a vestige of the ongoing “War on Drugs,” which has resulted nationally in many negative encounters between police officers and minority groups stemming from the false premise that minorities commit most drug offenses. During the traffic stops, African American and Latino citizens are often coaxed, pressed and intimidated to give“consent”to have their vehicles searched for weapons, drugs and other contraband.
Despite being stopped much more often than whites, police found contraband in searches involving Black drivers at nearly the same rate as whites – about 22 percent of the time.
What does this say about “equal protection” under the law? What does it say about recognition and respect of African American and other minority group civil rights? Every civil rights and human rights organization in the state of Wisconsin ought to be tripping over themselves to get to work. Instead, they fall gingerly in line to accept racial discrimination in policing as a necessary evil so long as the “overarching” concern is a reduction in crime.
Many African Americans today feel violated, and there have been dire consequences – most notably in the “mass incarceration” of Blacks.
Previous researchers have already pointed out that while Blacks constitute 13% of the country’s drug users, they account for 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 55% of those convicted, and 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison. Similar results have been found in Wisconsin, where blacks comprise only 5% of the state population, but nearly 50% of the adult prison population, and where the black/white disparity gap for new prison sentences for drug offenses is extraordinary – specifically, about 64 to 1. This means that African Americans (especially young Black men) are 64 times more likely to be arrested, charged and convicted than whites who have the same or highly similar drug offences.
In closing, it is important that we fight racial profiling in Milwaukee’s policing strategies to reduce crime in our neighborhoods. Milwaukee police pull over and hassle thousands of innocent African Americans each year, whose only crime is being black. This must end, because African Americans – as hard as it may be to understand – have rights, too.
In short, we must not trample over the rights of the law-abiding many in order to get at gang and criminal elements of our community who constitute the few.
Wendell J. Harris,
National Coalition of Black American Men, Inc.