As part of that work we are looking at the relationship between the police departments and black communities in Champaign and Urbana.
We wrote earlier this month about asking for and receiving five years worth of arrest data through Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, requests.
We found major disparities in the number of arrests of black people in both communities.
In 2010, black people made up 16 percent of the population in both Champaign and Urbana, according to the U.S. Census Bureau
But in both communities at least 40 percent of the arrest charges were against black people in each of the years from 2007 to 2011.
Within the category of arrest types, there were even greater disparities.
One of the largest was in regards to “improper walking on roadway,” or jaywalking.
In Champaign from 2007 to 2011, 658, or 88 percent, of the 744 jaywalking arrests were of black people.
In Urbana, the percentage of black arrestees for the same crime was even higher during those same years.
From 2007 to 2011, 110, or 91 percent, of the people cited for jaywalking in Urbana were black.
The arrests were not distributed evenly throughout the age spectrum, but rather were concentrated among young people.
In Champaign, 85 percent of black people arrested for jaywalking for whom ages were known were younger than 30 years old.
In Urbana, the figure was 90 percent.
We went to the block of 1500 Hedge Road in Champaign to see what was happening there.
We chose that block because it had 82 jaywalking arrests of black people from 2007 to 2011.
That was the highest total in the city and 11 percent of this type of arrest in all of Champaign.
It also was more than the total number of white people arrested, 72, in the entire city combined.
When we went to the block we discovered another important fact.
Like many other streets in the Garden Hills neighborhood, it has no sidewalk.
For this edition of Crunch Time we spoke with residents of the block and heard their jaywalking experiences.
We’ve reached out to Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb by phone and by email to hear his thoughts about this and other issues between the police and black community.
He did return one of our calls and left a message. Last week, we spoke and I followed up on the conversation by sending an email that said in part:
"Thanks for your time yesterday. I know how busy you are and appreciate your carving some space to speak with me.
To give you some context about our project, we are working on a project with Citizen Access about demographic change in 16 counties in Central Illinois. As part of that coverage, we are looking at the interaction between the police departments in Champaign and Urbana and those cities’ black communities. As we discussed yesterday, Pam Dempsey, whom I am copying on this note, is our partner in this effort.
We are interested in talking with you about the arrest disparities between the number of arrest charges in Champaign against people who are black and their percentage of the population. As you probably know, the number of arrest charges in the city has dropped from 2007 to 2011, while the percentage of those charges against black people in Champaign has been at least 41 percent in each of those years. In 2011, 16 percent of Champaign residents were black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Within that, there are a number of specific crimes like jaywalking in which black people are particularly overrepresented. We’d like to hear your thoughts about those, too." (Emphasis mine)
We’ve not yet heard back from the chief, but we do want to hear from you.