In the wake of last February's shooting death of Bernard Monroe at the hands of the Homer, LA police, the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana today reports an astonishing pattern of discrepancies in the racial composition of those arrested in Homer and in Claiborne Parish. Urged by members of the Homer community to investigate police practices there, the ACLU obtained public records of arrests in Homer and in Claiborne Parish for the year 2008. Statistical analyses of those records show that for 2008, African-Americans were arrested in such disproportionate numbers as to be virtually impossible without a pattern of racial profiling by law enforcement.
According to public arrest records for 2008, African-Americans in Claiborne Parish made up 171 of 266 arrests, or 64%, although African-Americans comprise 48.4% of the population. In Homer, where the population is 61.8% black, African-Americans made up 178 of 210 arrests, or 85%. "Numbers like these are almost impossible to achieve by chance," said Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana. "In Homer, the chance is less than one in trillion. In Claiborne Parish, the odds are less than one in a million. Something else is clearly going on to result in those out-of-proportion arrest rates of African-Americans."
Recognizing that arrest records may not always fully reflect population demographics, the ACLU understands that high poverty rates, unemployment, and even arrests of those from other communities can affect rates in various ways. The records include arrests for theft, burglary, and crimes for which arrests are generally not discretionary. "Even making some adjustments for variables such as crime rates, poverty and travel, these numbers are disturbing to say the least," said Esman. "When a police chief like Homer's Russell Mills says that he wants young black men to fear arrest, and when arrest records indicate such alarming disparities, it's safe to say that something besides chance and economic conditions is involved."
National trends suggest that African-Americans are more likely than others to be arrested for drug offenses, traffic offenses, and other nonviolent crimes. Yet law-abiding people expect law enforcement to act impartially, and evidence of discrimination can undermine public confidence in their police forces, Dennis Parker, Director of the ACLU's National Racial Justice Program, said: "The statistics obtained in Homer and Claiborne Parishes unfortunately reflect national reports which suggest the continued persistence of racial profiling. These statistics raise troubling questions which must be addressed in order to assure fair and effective law enforcement."