Wednesday Reads — Crime and Punishment

Last night, 250 people gathered at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids to discuss crime problems in two neighborhoods at the heart of the city, and the police department’s response. The Gazette’s Adam Belz has a solid account of the meeting on this morning’s front page.

The good news, there appeared to be a strong consensus that this is, in many ways, a community involvement problem and a parent involvement problem, not simply a police or government problem. There were also plenty of attempts by panelists to argue that it shouldn’t be a race problem, either.

But the numbers were sobering. Of the 148 people arrested amid a stepped up police presence in the last three weeks, 53 percent are black. Focus on the neighborhoods has become intense since the beating of Cedar Rapids PD Officer Tim Davis as he tried to apprehend a robbery suspect. Nearly 1,000 people showed up for a benefit for the officer last night.

At the forum, Police Chief Greg Graham says his department doesn’t racially profile, and is trying its best to build trust in the neighborhood.

Then you turn to this morning’s Des Moines Register, and you’re reminded that this problem is a lot bigger than a couple of neighborhoods in Cedar Rapids.

The Register’s Lee Rood reports that, despite state efforts, the proportion of blacks admitted to Iowa prisons has reached its highest level in 14 years. They accounted for 24.3 percent of admissions during the 2009 fiscal year, and blacks make up 28.4 percent of admissions for drug crimes, the highest level since 1996.

Rood notes that in 2007, a Sentencing Project study found that Iowa incarcerates blacks at a rate 13.6 times that of whites. That was the highest ratio in the nation. Gov. Culver appointed a task force at that time, and some policy changes have been made. But the troubling disparity persists.

Also, in Waterloo this week, the Courier reports that the City Counci voted to override a mayoral veto, paving the way for the hiring of five new police officers using a federal grant. The story cites a “wave of concerns about street crime” as the impetus for an override.

Meanwhile, in Mason City, a 21-year-old man has been charged in federal court with interfering with the housing rights of a black family. From the Globe-Gazette:

Trial information filed against Justin Hanson alleges he used a dangerous weapon, willfully injured, intimidated and interfered with and attempted to injure, intimidate and interfere with a black woman, her three minor children and her sister.

The federal trial information doesn’t identify the victim by name, but Hanson pleaded guilty in May 2008 to third-degree harassment charges in connection with an incident at the Mason City home of Margaret Foster.

According to the trial information, Hanson allegedly fired a BB gun at Foster’s home and placed a racially offensive sign in the yard because the woman and her relatives were black and lived in Hanson’s neighborhood.

Elsewhere:

Davenport police haven’t caught as many speeders since re-activating red light traffic cameras as they did before a court shut them down in 2006, according to the Quad-City Times. Cedar Rapids will be setting up cameras soon.

And, you didn’t think we could go a day without a gay marriage update, did you? Covering Iowa Politics reports that Republican candidate for governor Bob Vander Plaats has come out firmly against death threats. Good for him.

And it’s going to be 60-plus degrees today. So get up from your computer and soak it in.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Wednesday Reads — Crime and Punishment

  1. lobosolo

    never let the fact get in the way of a good race story !

    A study in the ’90s found blacks convicted less frequently than whites in all but two of 14 categories of felony crimes, including murder, rape, burglary, felony theft, drug trafficking and other crimes against people. The only two types of felonies where blacks were not convicted at a lower rate than whites were felony traffic offenses and miscellaneous felonies. Cases that went to juries (only 2.8 percent of those examined) had a similar pattern, although juries convicted blacks more than whites for robbery, assault and property offenses.

    Many big-city police departments now record stops by race. But the compiled information tells you nothing about why police stop drivers. George Mason University professor Matthew Zingraff, who studied racial profiling, says, “Why a police officer makes a stop of an individual, we’ll never know that. We’ll never know the number of people who have not been stopped. It doesn’t tell us motivation. It doesn’t tell us what caught the police officer’s eye.”

  2. If 53% of those arrested were black.. what were the other 47%?

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