On Tuesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a report on racial profiling in Louisiana, describing it as “unconstitutional and counterproductive.” The report cites racial profiling as a possible driving factor behind the state’s high incarceration rate, which is the second highest in the world.
In the report, racial profiling is defined as “a law enforcement officer’s reliance – to any degree, whether the officer acknowledges it or not – on race, ethnicity, color, or national origin to choose which people to target for law enforcement action,” which, the report notes, violates the fourteenth amendment’s prohibition against discrimination based on race.
Primarily, the report presents an analysis of Louisiana’s arrest rates for marijuana possession based on 2016 FBI Uniform Crime Reporting data. In examining the data, the SPLC found that black people were nearly three times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that black and white people use marijuana “at similar rates.”
In 2016, black adults comprised 30.6% of Louisiana’s adult population but 53.7% of adults who were arrested and 67.5% of adults in prison.
In certain parts of the state, the racial discrepancy in marijuana possession arrests was even higher. In Baton Rouge, for example, the SPLC found that a black person was six times as likely as a white person to be arrested for marijuana possession. The report also highlights the town of Gretna—previously termed the “arrest capital of the United States” for its high arrest rate. In 2016, black people accounted for two-thirds of those arrested in Gretna but only one-third of the city’s population.
The report also recognizes the racial disparities in Louisiana’s prison population. In 2016, “black adults comprised 30.6% of Louisiana’s adult population but 53.7% of adults who were arrested and 67.5% of adults in prison.” Generally, black adults are 4.3 times as likely as white adults to be serving a felony prison sentence in Louisiana.
In conclusion, the SPLC emphasizes the need for law enforcement agencies to adopt policies on racial profiling—especially since, according to the report, “more than a third of the state’s law enforcement agencies lack any policy on racial profiling.” It reads:
Eliminating racial profiling must be a priority if Louisiana wants to shed its status as one of the world’s most prolific incarcerators. To address these harms, Louisiana law enforcement agencies must adopt and enforce effective policies against racial profiling and take other steps to ensure constitutional policing. For their parts, the Legislature and the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Criminal Justice should institute a host of reforms to curb this unconstitutional and counterproductive practice.