Oakland: Study Finds Racial Bias in Boys’ Arrests

Carolyn Jones, SF Gate, August 28, 2013

African American boys in Oakland are arrested far more often and for relatively minor offenses compared with their cohorts in other racial groups, according to a study released Wednesday by an Oakland nonprofit.

Between 2006 and 2012, black boys made up 73.5 percent of all juvenile arrests in Oakland, even though they comprise just under 30 percent of the city’s under-18 population, according to the analysis by the Black Organizing Project, an Oakland nonprofit that said it based its report on public records and did the study as an effort to improve conditions for African Americans.

Of those black boys arrested, nearly 80 percent were not prosecuted.

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The 36-page report, “Policing Oakland Youth,” looked at arrest data over seven years from the Oakland Police Department and the Oakland schools police. It found that young African American males with negative contact with police–even for minor offenses, like gambling and drunkenness–are more likely to be arrested in the future and face lifelong difficulties resulting from time spent in jail, such as inability to find work or psychological trauma.

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The American Civil Liberties Union and Public Counsel, a civil rights law firm in Los Angeles, also worked on the report.

“What we learned with this report is that black kids are being arrested who shouldn’t be,” said Will Matthews, ACLU spokesman in San Francisco. “There needs to be added layers of accountability, transparency and public input.”

The groups are urging Oakland schools and police to consider other options, aside from arrests, in addressing minor youth crime. {snip}

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Oakland Unified School District has already implemented several programs to help African American boys, all of which are showing some signs of success, said district spokesmanvTroy Flint.

In the past few years, it’s started the country’s first office dedicated to the problems facing black male youth, he said. Staff in the Office of African American Male Achievement analyze data, track individual students, arrange internships and mentors, promote black male achievements, and lead workshops for students and parents.

The district has also changed its suspension policy, in hopes of resolving discipline problems through counseling instead of suspensions, and installed a program that encourages students to talk to one another about crime, violence and the effects on victims as a way to gain empathy.

So far, results are encouraging, Flint said. The district’s graduation rate for African American males has increased almost 5 percent over the past two years. {snip}

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