Report: Cali Sheriff’s Departments May Engage in ‘Black Codes’

Photo:  Alexanderstock23 (Shutterstock)
Photo: Alexanderstock23 (Shutterstock)

A new report from Catalyst California and ACLU SoCal found the state’s sheriff’s department engages in patrol activities tainted with racial bias and that “undermine community safety.” Their behaviors include profiling and harassing communities of color in a way reflective of Black codes and Jim Crow laws.

Data obtained through the Racial & Identity Profiling Act details the ways the members of the sheriff’s department take advantage of their rank and partake in racially biased practices. For example, the report cited a California State Auditor who found officers publicly promoted and defended white supremacist groups. Are we surprised? Probably not. Additionally, their elected position as sheriff makes them almost immune from accountability because they are independent from oversight by other elected officials, the report says.

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Though, one of the biggest issues costing the state money and community trust is the abuse of minor traffic stops which the report calls “pretextual stops.”

More from Catalyst California:

However, sheriff’s department stop data for the sampled jurisdictions indicate that patrol activities are not greatly dedicated to responding to calls for service from community members. Rather, as explained below, the data show that agencies spend a significant amount of time and public resources stopping people for minor traffic violations—such as a broken taillight, driving without valid registration, or incorrectly displaying a license plate—that pose non-imminent and relatively little to no safety risks (i.e., pretextual stops).

For years people of color have had to disproportionately endure degrading pretextual stops and the attendant dehumanizing trauma, harassment, and unjustified uses of force that all too often arise as a result. Both experts and data show that pretextual stops are racially biased, harmful, and an inefficient use of public resources because they are not an effective means of preventing serious harms from occurring.40 Pretextual stops are a “repackaged and sanitized version of the ways age-old ‘vagrancy’ laws,”41 Black codes, and Jim Crow were enforced to maintain racialized hierarchy and economic stratification under the guise of “safety”

It’s been said that slavery has never gone away, but instead become more sophisticated. The same goes for any other form of institutionalized racism. Law enforcement wasn’t created to protect and serve Black people. It was to capture and persecute us. The way police operate in 2022 parallels the time when Black people were being questioned for the legitimacy of their citizenship or right to exist.

The war on drugs and crime didn’t help and only tightened the lens officers had on the Black community. And at what cost?

“Our state and local governments must recognize that outdated “tough-on-crime” approaches not only fail to meaningfully advance safety, but also disproportionately harm communities of color by annually funneling billions of dollars to sheriff’s departments that prioritize racially-biased patrol activities,” read the report.

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