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New: A Critique and Evaluation of the CPE Police Report, Part 3

Steve Martinot
Monday July 23, 2018 - 12:09:00 PM

In evaluating this report on Berkeley Police racial profiling, we have examined in Part 1 some of the failures of inclusion in the data that would have produced a clearer picture, and in Part 2, some of the implications of the actual racial disparities in the practices of the BPD. Not only were those disparities gross, but they raised certain questions about the “recognition factors” with respect to drivers that the police use which have resulted, whether intentionally or not, in significant differences in which racial groups get attention in traffic stops. Part 1 is to be found here . Part 2 is to be found here.


On black people being singled out

There is another statistic given in the report that suggests a different view of race itself, and in which this “recognition factor” lurks.

The CPE report has been successful in providing evidence that there is significant racial bias and inequity in police practices and behavior. The equality of stops across three populations of vastly different sizes (approximately 13,500 of each) testifies to a huge disparaty in police practices. If, as the CPE researchers say, Berkeley PD has a much better record than most other cities they have studied, it implies that those other cities must have fallen on truly apartheid conditions. The problem that emerges in terms of this "equality" of three groups of traffic stops is how the police are able to pick out black people for traffic stops at a rate far beyond the black fraction of the population. We have concluded that there is a search involved, but it must also be associated with a focused recognition factor. 

Inside the recognition factor

To begin with, let us make note of a graph in the report whose title is “Percentage of Stops Resulting in an Arrest, by Driver’s Race, 2012-2016.” (fig 7, p.25) This graph has already generated some questions here as to why an infraction might result in more than just a ticket? 

For Asians, almost 3% of stops result in arrest. For black drivers, 1.9% result in an arrest. For Latino drivers, 2.1%. For whites, 1.2%. These are small numbers. But as a percentage of all the stops over a 5 year period for each racial group, the number is far from trivial. For whites, it amounts to 160 arrests over the 5 year period (from a population of around 65,000). For black people, the number is 260 (from a population of 9,500). For Latinos, it comes to 106 (pop. 13,000). Once again, black people are bearing the brunt. As figures, they don’t particularly stand out from the others. Another graph shows the percentage of traffic stops that result in a search. For whites, that comes to 5.3%, for Black drivers, it is 20.2%, and for Latino drivers it is 15.1%. Again, these figures affirm what we have encountered, that black people are subjected to inordinate demands by the police, beyond what their population would warrant. 

Since the arrest numbers over a five year period are small, it raises the question, why couldn’t the nature of the arrests be specified in the data given the CPE? Could there have been something in that list that might have been incriminating, such as those video-ed acts of officers pulling drivers out of their cars and throwing them to the ground? Is that far-fetched? 

But let us turn to the companion graph entitled “Percentages of stops resulting in a citation without an arrest by driver race, 2012-2016” (Fig 6, p. 24). And this one seems to break the pattern. 

While 46% of white stops resulted in a citation, the number of black stops that resulted in a citation was only 24%. Presumably, if a traffic stop did not result in a citation (nor in an arrest), then the driver was simply told to travel on. For white drivers, this apparently happened 54% of the time, while for black drivers, it happened 76% percent of the time. Given the total number of stops of drivers from each of these two groups (which are essential equal in total number of stops), white drivers appear to have been ticketed at twice the rate of black drivers. 

But we are left with the fact that three quarters of the time, black drivers were stopped and then not cited for anything. Given the high degree of attention paid to black drivers by the BPD, what does this low citation rate mean? It does not relate to group population size, nor to the percentage of black stops. It simply states there was no good reason for the traffic stop. One can say the same for white stops. Half the time, when they are stopped, no reason is found for a citation. 

Let us use this fact of white stops as a norm. Inventing a measure based on white experience as a norm for other races is clearly a mistake. But in this case, it will be useful as a way of measuring what happens to black drivers. What the white case provides, as a norm, is one in which roughly 50% of the stops result in no citation (or arrest). That is what happens to white drivers. Let us apply it to black drivers. If 24% of their stops result in citations, then it would be "normal" that 24% of the time no citation would be issued (in equivalence with white citation rates). But that leaves 52% of the black stops for which there was no reason at all, except the desire to stop a black driver. That implies that 52% of the black stops were purely gratuitous. 

To stop a driver is to inconvenience them, and to subject them to an unexpected break in their daily routine or social plans (although in some cases maybe not so unexpected). It is to take an active stance toward (against) the person the officer has noticed (regardless of the reason). To act against a person for no reason is to harass. In its gratuitousness, it is similar to stalking or bullying. It is to do something to another person without the other having had any participation in bringing it about. To render another an object in that sense is to assume a lesser social status for them. And concomitantly, it is to assume an entitlement on the part of the stalker or harassing person. Or rather, to aggress actively out of a sense of entitlement is to produce that lesser social status. The call for equity by social justice movements is a call for undoing the inequity that such procedures (of harassment) produce. 

We can define a “harassment quotient” for each racial group, namely, the degree to which gratuitous action is taken against them. The harassment quotient for black people in Berkeley (with respect to traffic stops) would be 52 (representing the 52% of gratuitous stops beyond the "norm"). Since Asians and Others were cited in 40% of their traffic stops, their harassment quotient is 20 (representing the excess over twice their citation rate). For Latinos, cited 33% of the time, the harassment quotient is 34. These are liberal estimates, because we are using police behavior toward white people as a standard. But they provide a kind of ball park figure by which to measure the harassment that people of color experience when driving. 

This notion of a harassment quotient (HQ) is further affirmed in the graph on the percentage of stops resulting in searches (Fig 8). Black people are searched 4 times more often than white drivers when stopped. To harass signifies a deep-seated desire to harass. This is not just racial profiling. It is part of a structure of harassment, which is both intentional and desired by the police. 



Racial profiling is harassment, but only a single dimension of it. Though spoken in a sardonic tone, “driving while black” is essentially a euphemism for harassment. It represents a procedure involving singling out certain people for harassment, which means to adopt an active stance toward (against) their existence, and for no other reason. 

It is black existence that is the core of the "recognition factor" with respect to black people, that singles them out from an environment of other people of color. In effect, it is not just color to which the police are responding. We are not just dealing with prejudice here, though that is part of the driving force of harassment. Black people are being "recognized" for their existence as African Americans, at a different rate and for a different purpose than other people of color. And the degree to which this is the case, given the small size of the black population in Berkeley, implies that there is a policy dimension to police harassment practices. Unfortunately, the CPE researchers had to assume implicitly that this could not have been the case. 

Harassment is not a goal in itself for the one who harasses. Harassment is a result of a desire to actively aggress. As an element of policy, it exists as both an individual desire and an institutional desire. As an institutional desire, it indicates pre-meditation, a pre-meditated desire to aggress, for which the harassment of its target is the result. As pre-meditated, each act of harassment by a police officer is a criminal act. And so is every act of racial profiling, as a dimension of harassment. 

Fifty years after Jim Crow was torn down, and the type of behavior that made Jim Crow work had been declared illegal, we are still only doing studies. Studies may be necessary, but there is also an element of deferral inherent in their nature. It focuses on an unspecified future for what should have been resolved in the past. 

When the police look for black drivers to stop, it is to act toward them in a way that, as an act of harassment, will reduce them to lesser social status. People have a lesser social statuts (are de-privileged) only to the extent they are actively subjected to a reduction in social status by others. It is not inborn. It is produced by those who have the power to produce it. 

If race is one of the concepts under which entire groups of people are subjected to lesser social status, then "race" is produced by that process of reduction. That is, it is the result of a process of racialization. All racialization signifies the production of “lesser social status” because it generalizes, and thus reduces individuals to de-individualized state. This is true even when the generalization is intended to be complimentary. In the US, the real political conflict is not between racists and anti-racists; it is between the racializers and the racialized. Racialization is more than "racism." It is a deeper social process than that. 

In harassing black drivers, and thus black people, as a gratuitous activity, the police are playing a role as racializers through their harassment. Police harassment of black people establishes the police as agents of that process of racialization. When white people act in a similar way toward black people, we have to recognize that they do it fundamentally as their way of being white. After the civil rights movements, it is primarily the police who have been able to do that because black people are unable by law to respond, to defend themselves, to equalize, or to object or refuse. To do so, it has been shown, can get one dragged out of one’s car. 

Let us sum this up. "Race" is something that one group of people does to others. White people are not born white; they are made white by white supremacist society. Black people are not born black; they are made black by white supremacist society. In other words, "race" is not a noun. It is not something inherent in people. It is verb. The verb is “to racialize.” It is something that white people do to others, making "others" “non-white” in order to be "white" as not-them. Race is not only a verb, it is in all aspects relational. 

One component of this process of reduction of "others" to lesser social or cultural status is to see them as threats in order to exercise gratuitous hostility and harassment against them – often covered up by patronizing and objectifying attitudes. One becomes white then by adopting a self-defensive posture. 

If "race" is a verb, then in the US it is white people who occupy the subject position of that verb, thrusting those they racialize into the object position of the verb. It is through inhabiting that subject position that white people obtain their sense of entitlement over POC. And it is on this basis that true subjectivity and autonomy, when encountered in the behavior of a person of color, is punished in the US. We have seen the suppression of the Panthers, the bombing of the MOVE organization, and the continuance of racial profiling by the police, as elements of this rejection of the other’s autonomy and subnectivity. When Breaion King or Rebecca Musarra were dragged out of their cars for speaking or not speaking, they were being assaulted for their sense of autonomy and subjectivity. 

We know the struggle against racial profiling is a political struggle. It means that we are up against an organized political interest and a political project. It is in those terms that the federalization of urban policing extends beyond the reach of mere reform. 

There is a difference between accepting remnants of the old Jim Crow structure that continue to lurk in US institutions, and the idea that government agencies have decided to build a new one. It marks the difference between completing a process of rectification through reform and sensitivity training, and a future-oriented intentional sense of purpose whose goal will mock all such training and reform. 

Racialization is not "racism." "Racism" as such may be the socio-pragmatic appearance that racialization takes, but it is a result of the racialization process, not a cause. It is not just that the police are racist. They are an active part of societal machinery that produces "race" through its processes of racialization. And in functioning as part of that societal machinery, the police (and white people to the extent they do) racialize themselves as white.