Recent headlines across the country have brought awareness to how police officers sometimes treat people of color. It can be difficult to draw broad conclusions from media reports, however. After all, while coverage of a single incident may be shocking, it also may not provide much insight into how officers generally behave.
For a better understanding of how the criminal justice system affects people of color, it is important to look at the facts. On a per-capita basis, publicly available statistics demonstrate police officers arrest far more people of color than whites.
The racial breakdown of the U.S.
The U.S. is racially diversifying faster than many had predicted. According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 60.1% of Americans were white in 2019. That year, 18.5% of the population reported being Hispanic and 12.5% identified as black.
These population statistics show a 9% drop in the number of white Americans between 2000 and 2019. During that same period, the population of blacks and Hispanics increased by 6.3%.
Racial disparities in arrest rates
According to statistics from the Prison Policy Initiative, out of every 100,000 black Americans, officers arrested 6,109 blacks in 2018. The per capita arrest rate for whites was much lower that year, with officers arresting only 2,795 white suspects for every 100,000 white individuals.
When it comes to incarceration, the statistics are even more staggering at 2,306 blacks versus just 450 whites per 100,000 citizens.
While police officers should not consider race when deciding whether to arrest a suspect, people of color may find themselves in handcuffs more often than whites. Consequently, members of the black and Hispanic communities may want to develop a strategy for interacting with officers and dealing with arrests.