Dozens of Texas Cities Arrest Black People at a Higher Rate than Ferguson

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Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri may have only been one case, but has shed light on the larger issue of discrimination among law enforcement. As part of the search for systemic bias in Ferguson, it has come to light that the city disproportionately arrests black people at a rate close to three times that of white people.

What is shocking about that ratio is how common it is. In a recent study, USA TODAY found 1,600 places where the disparity in arrest rates between blacks and whites is more pronounced than in Ferguson. Texas has over 50 of them.

Because we will never know how many crimes were actually committed by black people compared to white people in these cities, we cannot determine how much of the racial disparities can be attributed to discrimination. According to the study, “Those disparities are easier to measure than they are to explain. They could be a reflection of biased policing; they could just as easily be a byproduct of the vast economic and educational gaps that persist across much of the USA — factors closely tied to crime rates. In other words, experts said, the fact that such disparities exist does little to explain their causes.” But it certainly begs some serious questions and warrants some extensive soul-searching.

The USA TODAY study looked at the data police departments report to the FBI each year to determine the arrest rates. It’s important to note that the FBI does not track arrests of Hispanics, so many people counted as white for the purposes of these statistics are actually Hispanic. This could make the arrest rates in places with very high Hispanic populations like Laredo and El Paso look less biased against minorities than they are in reality.

Below are the arrest rates by race for the ten largest Texas cities. It’s a mixed bag – some fare far better than Ferguson (e.g. Laredo), and some fare far worse (e.g. Plano). But even the ones that have comparably better arrest rates for blacks vs. whites are still alarming, given that the black population of Texas is roughly 12 percent. So even arresting one black person for every white person means that black people are being arrested  over 8 times more often than one would expect given their share of the population. And again, we cannot determine how disproportionately Hispanic people are arrested by looking at the statistics below.

Police Department Black Arrest Rate White Arrest Rate Ratio
Arlington 216 81 2.7 : 1
Austin 330 95 3.5 : 1
Corpus Christi 231 108 2.1 : 1
Dallas 170 59 2.9 : 1
El Paso 126 64 2  :1
Fort Worth 177 69 2.6 : 1
Houston 209 66 3.2 : 1
Laredo 59 60 1 : 1
Plano 249 66 3.8 : 1
San Antonio 161 80 2 : 1

 

Where the racial disparities get even worse are in some of the smaller, more rural Texas cities. A few examples:

Police Department Black Arrest Rate White Arrest Rate Ratio
College Station 316 65 4.9 : 1
Van Zandt County 170 35 4.9 : 1
Randall County 115 26 4.4 : 1
Everman 154 36 4.3 : 1
Nolan County 172 42 4.1 : 1

 

You can see how the police rate in your community stacks up here.

One of the most disturbing things about Michael Brown’s death is the idea that it could have happened anywhere. And indeed, looking at this racial disparity data, it seems that it certainly could have happened in Texas.

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About Author

Emily Cadik

Emily is a Texas ex-pat and proud Longhorn living in Washington, DC, where she remains connected to the Lone Star State through her work on BOR and her enthusiasm for breakfast tacos. She works on affordable housing policy, and writes about health care, poverty and other social justice issues.

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