A study released today by the American Civil Liberties Union and two other groups says that black youths in Oakland are being arrested at disproportionate rates by Oakland and school district police.
Christopher Bridges, a racial justice fellow at the ACLU of Northern California, said, “It’s my belief that there’s some targeting of black youths.”
Laura Faer of Public Counsel, a Los Angeles civil rights law firm that helped conduct the study, said, “The data show an extraordinary disproportion in the percentage of arrests” of black youths compared to youths in other ethnic groups.
The report by the Black Organizing Project, an Oakland nonprofit organization, and the two legal groups looked at arrest date over seven years from the Oakland Police Department and two years from Oakland Unified School District police.
The study said between 2006 and 2012 black youths made up 73.5 percent of all juvenile arrests in Oakland even though they comprise just 29.3 percent of the city’s youth population.
Similarly, black youths accounted for 73 percent of arrests by school district police over the past two years even though they comprise only 30.5 percent of the school’s population, the report said.
Bridges said much smaller percentages of Hispanic and white youths were arrested by Oakland and school district police.
Of the black youths who were arrested, 56.6 percent were not sustained by juvenile probation officials who review cases for prosecution, according to the report.
Faer said the report’s authors and community members will come to the Oakland school board’s meeting tonight to make several recommendations, including making a greater investment in counselors and mentors and implementing positive behavior intervention and support practices in schools.
Faer said other recommendations are relying on restorative justice models as the first line of intervention for mediating student behavior and developing an agreement between Oakland police and the school district that clearly defines and limits the role of Oakland police in the city’s schools.
Faer said black youths who have contact with police are more likely to be arrested in the future and face lifelong difficulties resulting from their time in jail, such as psychological trauma and difficulty in finding work.
Oakland schools spokesman Troy Flint said, “We all acknowledge that the rate of arrest of black males is way too high and we must reduce it” but he doesn’t believe the study’s statistics support the conclusion that “there’s a systematic targeting of black males.”
Flint said racism may be an element in the high arrest rate for young black males but he said it’s a complex societal problem that also caused by a combination of social, economic, historic and cultural factors.
Flint also said “there’s not a tidal wave of law enforcement” at Oakland’s schools and “it’s not the police state they make it out to be.”
In fact, he said there only are 24 Oakland police officers patrolling in and around six of the district’s schools under a federal grant program and city and school police only arrested 25 students last year even though there are a total of 35,000 students in the city’s public schools.
“That’s a really small number,” Flint said.
He said the school district already has implemented several programs to help black students.
Flint said an example is that 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.
Flint also said the district has embarked on a program to reduce the number of out-of-school suspensions for African American students by using programs that have alternative punishments for rule breakers.
He added that the fact the issue is being discussed by the school board tonight “shows that the district is taking this seriously.”
Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said police have no comment on the study at this time but plan to issue a response to it soon.
(Copyright 2013 Bay City News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)