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Excerpted From:  Reshaad Shirazi, It's High Time to Dump the High-Crime Area Factor, 21 Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law 76 -118 (Fall, 2016) (285 Footnotes) (Full Document)

Judges consider whether an area is high crime when determining if reasonable suspicion exists. The Supreme Court's jurisprudence allows police officers to assume that a person is more likely to be engaged in criminal activity if it occurs in a "high-crime area." The main problem is that high-crime areas have disproportionately high African American populations. In a 2013 empirical study on race and crime in the United States, former Republican candidate for United State Senate, Ron Unz, argues that urban crime rates are almost entirely explained by racial distribution. Specifically, he argues that these rates can be explained by examining the distribution of African Americans in urban communities. Unz focuses his study on violent crime rates in large urban cities. His findings reveal that the size of the African American population in large urban areas is strongly correlated with higher incidents of violent crime. Unz begins by analyzing data relative to three main socioeconomic explanations for crime in major cities of at least 500,000 people: (1) urban density, (2) the size of police forces, and (3) poverty rates. Surprisingly, crime rates and urban density have a small or insignificant correlation. Unsurprisingly, the size of the local police force is fairly strongly correlated with crime. But perhaps most unexpectedly, there is only a moderate correlation between crime rates and poverty rates. In fact, "the race/crime correlation so substantially exceeds the poverty/crime relationship that much of the latter may simply be a statistical artifact due to most urban blacks being poor." Unz focuses exclusively on violent crime rates in large urban cities; nonetheless, the results of his study are stunning. The "black connection to local crime has been so strong as to almost eliminate the possible role of any other variable." This point is illustrated in the comparison of crime rates of major cities with substantial poverty rates and small black populations, to major cities with substantial poverty rates and large black populations. For example, "El Paso and Atlanta are comparable in size and have similar poverty rates, but [Atlanta] has eight times the robbery rate and over ten times the homicide rate." Comparing cities in California: "Oakland approximately matches Santa Ana in size and poverty, but has several times the rate of crime." The data show that "major cities with substantial poverty but few blacks tend to have far lower level of crime." This Note will explain why this is caused by the racist underpinnings of our society--not due to a greater propensity for African Americans to commit more crime than other races.

Institutional racism, societal racism, law enforcement racism, political racism, and racist jurisprudence are the main reasons African Americans offend at disproportionately high rates. Black offenders are accused of committing roughly 25 percent of violent crime in the United States. This is a high rate considering that African Americans account for about 14 percent of the population. Crime is mostly concentrated in central urban areas. African Americans live disproportionately in those central urban areas with the highest crime rates. In the following section, this Note extrapolates that this is due to systemic racism.

[. . .]

There is nothing in the Constitution that stops police departments from deploying their limited resources to high-crime areas. There is no need, however, for courts to make it even easier than it already is for police officers to stop and frisk black people. Police officers are more likely to arbitrarily stop blacks in high-crime areas. This leads to further community-police tensions in high-crime neighborhoods, which leads to further crime.

High rates of black crime continue to exist despite nationally declining crime rates. President Donald Trump has said that crime is "out of control" and that decades of progress are now being reversed. Similar to how Richard Nixon capitalized on white voters' fear of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Donald Trump successfully exploited white constituents' anger with eight years of having a black president and by creating a false portrayal of increasing crime rates--the need to "Make America Great Again."

When Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, began an infamous protest by kneeling during the National Anthem before the start of each NFL game in 2016, it drew national ire as many Americans were appalled by his actions. How could someone disrespect the national anthem of this great country? Perhaps Colin Kaepernick recognizes that the racial caste system still exists in America today. It just operates in more discreet ways.

Deputy Public Defender, Office of the Colorado State Public Defender. J.D. 2016, University of California, Berkeley School of Law.