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Police traffic stops in nation’s capital disproportionately target Blacks

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Jul 10, 2020 - 11:08:07 AM

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WASHINGTON—In the city with Black Lives Matter as a street name and big bold yellow letters spelling it out in front of the White House for all to see, Black people are 72 percent of those stopped by the police despite being only 46 percent of the D.C. population. This is according to an ACLU and ACLU of the District of Columbia analysis of the most recent stop-and-frisk data collected by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.

The report, released in mid-June, analyzed police data in D.C. collected between July 22, 2019 and December 31, 2019, on over 62,000 stops, or approximately one stop every four minutes during the five-month period.

The report found:

• Only 0.6 percent of all stops, and only 1.6 percent of non-traffic stops, led to the seizure of guns;

• The vast majority of people who experienced the least justifiable reason of stops were Black. For example, Metro Police Department officers made 11,045 stops that did not end in a warning, ticket, or arrest, a category that almost certainly includes stops of people who were engaged in innocent conduct. Of the people stopped, 86 percent were Black. And of the people searched during these stops, 91 percent were Black.

• Black youths were 89 percent of the people under 18 who were stopped and were stopped at 10 times the rate of their White peers.

Despite the large number of stops, the mayor’s own report noted that violent crimes increased four percent over the five-month period.

“Our analysis shows that MPD’s stop practices are highly ineffective and potentially violate the constitutional rights of Black people in the District on a daily basis,” said Monica Hopkins, executive director, ACLU of the District of Columbia.

“This is unacceptable. The D.C. Council must reject Mayor Bowser’s requested $18.5 million increase to MPD’s budget for FY2021, and invest those funds in programs that are proven to enhance public safety such violence prevention and intervention efforts,” continued Ms. Hopkins.

In response to the report, Mayor Muriel Bowser has said that she wants to review the numbers with D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham before she makes any comment.

“There needs to be some type of punishment of the officers who violate the constitutional rights of Blacks. This needs to take place,” Steven Slaughter Chair of the 8E Advisory Neighborhood Commission told The Final Call.

“This has to start at the top of the police force, and the city council. They have to enforce new laws or change the laws to prevent this type of activity from continuing. These tactics are only used for harassment and intimidation. Nothing constructive comes out of this as the report details,” he added.

“The New York police used to have stop and frisk. They did away with it. D.C. needs to follow the model of New York,” said Mr. Slaughter who is also a retired D.C. Metropolitan Police Department detective.

Mayor Bowser is in a difficult position. She proclaimed “Black Lives Matter” even in bold letters across the street yet asked the City Council for an increase in the police budget of 3.3 percent as the nation is in the midst of a defund the police movement.

At the June 16, virtual oversight hearing, of the city council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety regarding the mayor’s budget request for the next fiscal year, more than 16,000 residents signed up to express their views.

“More police in our community do not make us safer; in fact, they make us less safe,” testified Sean Blackmon, of the Stop Police Terror Project D.C. “When we say, ‘Defund the D.C. police,’ we’re talking about an intentional reinvestment in community programs like the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement.”

Additional testimony at the hearing covered three areas: removing police from all public schools, redirecting budget savings to school social workers and mental-health professionals, and instituting community initiatives like violence interruption programs.

Ward 3 City Council member Mary Cheh questioned the need to increase the police force from 3,800 to 4,000 uniformed officers. “I don’t think it’s needed. Especially if we move out of the responsibilities of things they shouldn’t have,” she testified.

She suggested their current responsibilities for taking care of very minor offenses or people with mental health problems could be transferred to other departments.

Citizens also called for the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department to end its participation in the U.S. Defense Department’s 1033 program, which “recycles” surplus military weaponry, vehicles, and gear to civilian police forces.

“An increase in the police budget and stop and frisk are totally unacceptable for our community,” Holly Muhammad, 8A Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner told The Final Call. “The proposed MPD budget for 20-21 of $578 million is twice the budget of $269 million for affordable housing,” she said.

“It’s 80 times the budget of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement that funds programs like the Violence Interrupters which had their funding decreased. I want to see the mayor decrease MPD funding and increase funding in other areas of need like mental health and non-profits like faith organizations who have men that can mentor our youth,” said Ms. Muhammad.

“The ACLU report details how over 11,000 Blacks were stopped for no good reason at all and were not given so much as a warning. I don’t see a way to stop any of this other than separation. We had Rosewood and Greenwood; we can build again,” she concluded.