Human Rights

Civil Rights Report Reveals Blatantly Disproportionate Black Youth Arrests in Oakland

A new report by civil rights groups shows police forces in Oakland, CA appear to target black students for trivial—or nonexistent—offenses.

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Disproportionate numbers of black youth are arrested, but not charged, “in the name of public safety” in Oakland according to “From Report Card to Criminal Record: The Impact of Policing On Oakland Youth,”  a new report issued by Black Organizing Project, Public Counsel, and the ACLU of Northern California

In their report summary, the authors say their findings reveal “disturbing trends in disproportionate arrests and law enforcement contacts with youth of color, coupled with the underfunding of counselors, mental health professionals, and others whose presence could work to reduce the need for law enforcement.” And the authors provide the incredible data that on average over a seven year period, black youths accounted for 73.5 percent of all juvenile arrests by the Oakland Police Department each year, even though they made up just 29 percent of the Oakland youth population.

The report also shows that more than half of the arrests of black youth did not lead to charges or further involvement by probation officials, and black youth represented 78 percent of those whose arrests were not "sustained" according to the report's authors.

“This raises questions about the appropriate role of police in our schools,” the report says. “Why are police being called for so many non-serious incidents, situations that may be better handled by counselors, administrators, school staff or parent volunteers?”

According to the report, Oakland Unified School District employs 20.5 school counselors—meaning just one school counselor for every 1,854 students.

While the report does not cite the number of arrests in or near schools in particular, it does note that police forces within Oakland's schools alone made 85 arrests from 2010 to 2012.

According to the summary, all the data shown in the report comes directly from Oakland Unified School District, the Oakland School Police Department, the Oakland Police Department and Alameda County Probation.

“Black youth were referred to the Alameda County Probation at more than two and a half times their percentage in the population," the report's summary reveals. "This means they are six times more likely than Hispanic youth, and 23 times more likely than white youth, to be arrested and referred to Alameda County Probation."

In the last two years alone, the report shows, black youth made up 30.5 percent of the Oakland School district’s population, but account for 73 percent of the Oakland School Police Department’s (OSPD) 85 reported arrests. In the same time, the OSPD did not report the arrest of a single white student.

In an August 29 article about the report, the Center for Public Integrity connected Oakland's decreasingly effective police force to the severe budget cutbacks the city of Oakland has faced since recession hit six years ago. The CPI article notes, due to its ever-deteriorating budget, Oakland’s city police department “has lost a quarter of its force since 2008” and Oakland’s violent crime rate rose almost 20 percent in one year between 2011 and 2012. 

The civil rights groups that compiled the report are demanding that Oakland’s schools better define the role of police and are demanding a “memorandum of understanding.” The groups are also asking both school and city police forces to increase their oversight of youth policing.

According to CPI, California legislators are “considering an amended proposal that would encourage schools to clarify police roles on campuses statewide in safety plans.”

April M. Short is a freelance writer who focuses on health, wellness and social justice. She previously worked as AlterNet's drugs and health editor.