QUINTIN BULLOCK, D.D.S., president of Community College of Allegheny County, was co-chair of a task force that gave the City of Pittsburgh recommendations on reforming its police force.
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
Nearly 12 percent of Pittsburgh’s Black male population was arrested by Pittsburgh Police in 2020, a rate more than six times that of Pittsburgh’s White male population.
And the city’s Black females were arrested more than four times as much as Pittsburgh’s White females last year.
These are just some of the findings that highlighted the latest set of reports from Ralph L. Bangs, Ph.D., former associate director of the Center on Race and Social Problems at the University of Pittsburgh, obtained exclusively by the New Pittsburgh Courier, Feb. 23.
Ralph L. Bangs, Ph.D.
Pittsburgh’s Black population seems to shrink with every passing year. In 2000, U.S. Census data showed the city with 90,642 African Americans, or 27 percent. By 2010, the number decreased to 79,710 (26 percent). As of 2019, the number decreased further, to 69,065 (23 percent). Still, 3,883 Black males were arrested at least once in Pittsburgh in 2020, or 11.7 percent of Pittsburgh’s Black male population. White males greatly outnumber Black males in the city, but less than two percent of its population demographic were arrested in the city in 2020 (1,746), according to one of the reports.
Data also revealed that 1,220 Black females were arrested at least once in Pittsburgh last year, compared to 733 White females, although White females greatly outnumber Black females in town.
For decades, social scientists have documented the racial disparities that exist in the Pittsburgh region, backed up by the data. These disparities show up in everything from economics, education, and health, to youth and families and the criminal justice system. Dr. Bangs, who has been authoring research studies on race and its corresponding social problems that arise in Pittsburgh for more than 25 years, wrote in one of his latest reports, “Pittsburgh’s Deplorable Black Conditions,” that nothing much has changed since 1994, the year of one of his published reports while with Pitt.
“The overall conclusion is irrefutable: a large part of the Black population in the Pittsburgh area has had deplorable living conditions for many decades,” Dr. Bangs wrote in the report, “Blacks in the Pittsburgh area continue to be extremely disadvantaged.”
Of the 3,883 Black males in Pittsburgh that were arrested at least once in 2020, Black males ages 19-29 were particularly affected, according to Dr. Bangs’ report, titled, “Black-White Disparities In Arrests In The City Of Pittsburgh.” Almost 22 percent of Black males in this age range were arrested last year (1,574), meaning that 41 percent of all arrests of Black males in Pittsburgh in 2020 were between the ages of 19 and 29. White males in the city ages 19-29 accounted for 29 percent of all White male arrests last year.
There are two primary reasons why Blacks have much higher rates of arrest than Whites in Pittsburgh and the country, according to Dr. Bangs: A much higher share of Blacks than Whites living in “extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods,” leading to higher Black crime and arrest rates, and; Blacks being arrested for drug-related offenses at much higher rates than Whites.
Last year, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto commissioned a 15-person task force to give the city recommendations on reforming the Pittsburgh Police force, “that will make Pittsburgh a safe and healthy place for all of our citizens, especially for members of our Black community,” he said.
In October 2020, the report was released. The report pulled no punches. “Racial disparities pervade every aspect of routine police enforcement activity in Pittsburgh,” it read. “The central data examined here, coming from the (Pittsburgh Bureau of Police) itself in its annual reports and the information the Bureau provides to the Department of Human Services, permits no other conclusion, and in most categories, these disparities are widening—that is, they are getting worse as time goes on, not better.”
Among the recommendations: Creating new and modifying existing programs to support a culture of community policing; Expanding partnerships to handle non-serious crime responses with the goal of moving as many of these responsibilities to others or through hybrid police-social service response models; Reforming hiring practices to ensure that law enforcement better reflects Pittsburgh demographics and promotes a “guardian mindset,” and; Instituting an office within the mayor’s administration to track, analyze, and present data, and use the data to inform police policy and reduce over-policing of minority communities.
Dr. Bangs’ data chart outlining Pittsburgh Police actions from 2019 was included in the task force’s October 2020 report, which revealed that Black males were “frisked during traffic stops” 9.9 times more than White males. In another category, “field search/warrantless search and seizure,” Black males were 9.2 times more likely to have it done to them by Pittsburgh Police than White males.
“The conclusion seems inescapable: the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police’s routine activities show regular and substantial patterns of racial disparities across all of the Bureau’s measured and published dimensions. No one tendered any explanation to the task force for these disparities,” the task force’s report read, which was obtained by the Courier. “That is not to say there are no explanations; rather, we can only say we received none. This leaves open the possibility—unrebutted at this point—that these disparities indicate the presence of discrimination based on race.”
Quintin B. Bullock, D.D.S., the president of Community College of Allegheny County, served as co-chair of the task force, told the Courier in an exclusive interview, March 1, that gathering even more data on the actions of the Pittsburgh Police is crucial, going forward. “I think we can better understand those different routines by looking at the data on a regular, comprehensive format so that it helps to explain, make the necessary corrective actions and help address the sources of disparate outcomes,” Dr. Bullock, who is Black, said.
When higher percentages of African Americans are arrested, there becomes a higher possibility that Blacks will be charged with crimes (and convicted) at a higher rate. Studies have long shown how the disproportionate incarceration of African American males greatly impacts the Black community as a whole. It creates, among other things, less two-income, two-parent households in Black communities, leading to a higher chance of a family living in poverty.
Last year, when the Center for Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee released its study comparing racial inequality among the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, it found that the Pittsburgh area was among the worst in the country for Black poverty rate (30 percent) and Black children in poverty (45 percent). Additionally, the study gave Pittsburgh low marks for Black median household income ($33,121), Blacks 25 and over with at least a four-year college degree (20 percent), and Black youth ages 16-24 not employed and not in school (21 percent).
Dr. Bangs made it clear in his “Pittsburgh’s Deplorable Black Living Conditions” report that “massive reform of criminal justice in the Pittsburgh area is needed.” He added: “We need to end police targeting of African Americans for traffic stops, pedestrian stops, searches and arrests. Ban all consent searches and minimize probable causes searches. End arrests for low-level offenses. Use social workers for mental health, drug addiction, homelessness and other behavioral problems. End pretrial detention and cash bail. Reduce spending on police, jails and prisons, and other parts of the criminal justice system and invest the savings in the African American community.”
Dr. Bangs also recommended that companies in Pittsburgh hire more African Americans for high-salary positions, create thousands of jobs for Black youth during the summer, and grant more money to Pittsburgh’s African American nonprofit organizations.
“If major changes aren’t made in 2021,” Dr. Bangs wrote in his report, “then all citizens and leaders must ask themselves why African Americans should live here. There are many urban areas in America with better African American conditions. Why shouldn’t African American families, workers, and businesses leave? Why shouldn’t high school graduates from here find good jobs in other urban areas or go to college in areas with better post-graduation opportunities?”