We’re privileged this year to be working on a project with our friends and colleagues at Citizen-Access about demographic change in 16 counties in Central Illinois.
As part of that work we’re looking at the issue of law enforcement and Champaign and Urbana’s black communities.
The tense relations between police and black residents in Champaign has received significant attention in the past few years.
The shooting in October 2009 of unarmed 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington elicited a strong community response, as the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center documented.
In October 2011 the alleged beating by Champaign police of 18-year-old Calvin Miller after he was stopped for a traffic violation sparked a protest at a city council meeting in which at least 100 people showed up in support of Miller, Citizen-Access reported.
We submitted a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request to the police departments in Champaign and Urbana asking for the records for each arrest in the years 2007 to 2011.
The Urbana department complied with our request right away.
The Champaign department at first told us that the records were not kept in electronic format, but later sent them in an Excel spreadsheet.
Download the data.
We have not yet cleaned the addresses, so do not have conclusive findings about that part of the analysis.
But we do have total numbers of arrests by race, by gender and by age for five years for Urbana and for four years for Champaign (The city did not provide age data for 2011 for the latter.).
We can say without doubt there are major disparities in the number of arrests for black people in both communities.
In 2010, 16 percent of both cities’ populations were black.
But in each year from 2007 to 2011, a minimum of 41 percent of arrest charges in Champaign were against black people.
This trend occurred at the same time that the number of arrests dropped in each of the years we examined.
The percentages of charges against black people in Champaign topped 75 percent for possession of 30 grams of marijuana or less and vehicular noise, and 80 percent for resisting an officer and improper walking on a roadway, or jaywalking.
Yet, for all the attention that has been given to law enforcement issues in Champaign,the percentages of black arrestees were even higher in Urbana.
In 2011, 49 percent, or nearly one in two, of people arrested in Urbana were African-American.
This was the third consecutive year in which the number of arrests had decreased and the percentage of black people arrested had increased.
In other words, while the percentages have gradually been trending down in Champaign, they’ve been rising in Urbana.
The percentages of black people arrested for certain crimes in Urbana are even higher than in their neighboring city.
Ninety one percent of people arrested for improper walking on roadway in Urbana were black, for example.
This Tuesday we’re going to travel to Champaign and Urbana to talk with residents about these disparities and to hear what life has been like for them to live in these communities.
We’ll also reach out to the police in both cities to hear their thoughts.
We also want to hear from you.