by Naja and Arnaud Girard…
The issue of racially selective law enforcement has finally erupted at the highest levels of Monroe County’s criminal justice system. Sheriff Rick Ramsay is “outraged” at the words of Chief Assistant Public Defender Trish Gibson. Data and statistics are flying around.
This is a taste of the problem:
A female voice is heard, very loud: “Illegal search! Illegal search! What they stop the man for?! They stopped him for nothin.” Spread-eagled, in the middle of Emma Street, being recorded by Officer Hall’s dashcam, was Ricky Cartwright screaming in pain while Officer Siracuse was blasting him with his police Taser.
Apparently Cartwright had been riding his bicycle in Bahama Village with a beer in his hand. The open container arrest would yield a trace of cocaine, so minute it could not be measured, less than 20 grams of marijuana, and some cash stuck in a pack of cigarettes. This type of arrest does produce results. Ricky Cartwright was successfully prosecuted and convicted for possession of illegal drugs.
However, many have complained that officers use much more severe and intrusive methods when policing the Black community, mindful of the fact that, east of Whitehead Street, tourists are never stopped and searched for drinking in public.
KWPD has finally admitted that public strip searches are illegal –It did so only after The Blue Paper published videos of young black men with their pants at their ankles, standing in the middle of the street, while officer Siracuse slaps on his infamous latex gloves before getting into “exploration mode.” No one has even suggested that such treatment has ever been imposed on Whites in the community.
Video: Another of Key West’s Black residents is strip searched [allegedly cavity searched] in public:
At the April 13, 2015 Florida Keys ACLU Annual Meeting, Trish Gibson, a 20-year veteran of the Public Defender’s office, claimed that KWPD sends its confidential informants to Bahama Village, Key West’s Black community, but never to Duval Street where over 2.7 million tourists a year come to party at the bars and strip clubs.
“I do believe there is selective enforcement on where we are getting our arrests for drug cases,” said Gibson, “…I have probably a good 20 drug cases right now and not one of them is Caucasian. Every single one of them is Black.”
But Sheriff Rick Ramsay argues that the caseload of a public defender at any given time isn’t a fair representation of the local criminal justice system. The Sheriff provided data showing that from Jan 1, 2014 to present, 68% of those arrested for drug-related crimes were Whites and only 33% were Black, proving, he said, that KWPD does not have an issue with racial bias in drug crime enforcement.
This claim, however, would have been a hard sell during Cartwright’s arrest. The following comes straight out of Officer Siracuse’s police report:
“Cartwright began yelling as loud as he could and almost immediately a large crowd began forming around us […] Within minutes a crowd of at least 50 bystanders surrounded us. In spite of my order to stay back they kept drawing closer and closer.”
On May 9th of last year, Detectives Siracuse and Wormington believed a menacing crowd besieged them: Wormington called for the Calvary – literally. The first back-up on scene was an officer riding a horse: the one you see during Fantasy Fest. The officers then decided to retreat with their prisoner, one block to the north where they would be more protected. Quite a circus…
So who’s right? Many Blacks in the Village as well as others in the community believe Blacks in Key West are victims of selective enforcement; A claim that the Sheriff and KWPD officials vehemently deny.
To figure out what is really going on, it is crucial to clarify the numbers. Blue Paper reporters spent days analyzing every drug arrest in Key West since January 2014.
The first problem with Sheriff Ramsay’s numbers is that they show 68% of the drug-related arrests since January 2014 were of Whites and that only 1 person arrested was Hispanic. If one wants to know whether the White majority receives preferential treatment, all the minorities must be identified and set aside. In fact, we found in the raw data that Hispanics made up 13% of the drug arrests for that period, but were for some reason counted as Caucasians. This in turn would mean that only 55% of those arrested on drug-related charges were “White”. The Sheriff’s data showed 33% were Black.
The next issue is that a number of those arrested were tourists. According to 2012 population data Whites made up 68.3% of Key West’s 25,119 permanent population. The tourist population is overwhelmingly White. In 2012, tourists represented an average daily population of 7,435 in Key West. To try to make the numbers more closely match reality, we added another 7000 tourists to the 2012 population of Whites [17156 + 7000] and about 100 to the Black population [2487 + 100]. The adjusted population numbers are approximately 24,156 Whites and 2587 Blacks.
In fact, when factoring in tourists, on an average day, Whites outnumber Blacks in Key West by as much as 9 to 1. Considering the total population of Whites versus Blacks on an average day in Key West and the number of arrests in each group for the given period, we found that Blacks in Key West are 6 times more likely to be arrested on drug-related charges than Whites. *
This certainly backs up Ms. Gibson’s claim of selective enforcement of drug-related crime.
Local criminal defense attorney Julio Margali has long been aware of the racial bias issue here in Key West.
“This is not new,” says Margali, “my office used to be on Petronia Street. I remember looking at the police systematically stopping and frisking black kids — boys really. I got so sick of it I threatened one officer with a lawsuit. And what happened? He came back the next day to slap a parking ticket on my car. My car, I might add, parked inside of my own parking lot.”
More frequent searches of Black residents predictably results in a greater probability of finding drugs and in more arrests. One Bahama Village resident explained: “By the time the police have searched 100 people for drugs, nobody cares if, on the 101st time, they caught a guy with a crack rock. Everybody hates their guts by then, for not letting us have a life.”
While the tourist industry sells Key West as a Paradise, the silent pain and misery wrecking the innocent families of convicted drug offenders is taking its toll. Behind many doors in Bahama Village are children without fathers, mothers working two jobs, young women unable to find a husband. Certainly the drug offenders are chiefly responsible, but the perception that hardship is dispensed unequally upon Black families must add considerable fear and hopelessness — the debate regarding this essential element of Key West’s bad conscience needs to continue to grow.
“We need to a better job at combating our biases. We all have biases. Whether admitted or subconscious,” said Chief Lee during the April 13th ACLU meeting. It was Chief Lee who decided to put a stop to the public strip searches despite the State Attorney’s failure to condemn the unlawful practice. The Chief also created the “pizza with a cop” program in the Village. These are all steps in the right direction, but it is going to take more than pizza to fix it all.
We’re not saying that there is no drug-related crime enforcement when it comes to Whites in Key West, but only that the numbers show that Blacks in Key West are approximately 6 times more likely to be arrested for a drug-related offense than their White brothers and sisters.
Having spent most of our lives in Key West, we have a hard time believing that Whites would be less tangled in illegal drugs then their Black counterparts.
Why does it matter?
Because the perception of justice and fairness is as important as justice itself. Selective enforcement denies the targeted group the right to have faith in equal protection, equal justice. It quickly leads those in the targeted group to believe the deck is stacked against them. It replaces the energy that springs from optimism by the anger born of mistrust and hopelessness. This is why it is important to openly discuss an existing enforcement policy that targets Blacks 6 times more than Whites.
NOTE: *160 whites arrested on drug related charges Jan 1, 2014 – April 22, 2015: 160 / 24156 = .0066 [0.6 percent of adjusted white population arrested]
94 blacks arrested on drug related charges Jan 1, 2014 to April 22, 2015: 94 / 2587 = .0363 [3.6 percent of adjusted black population arrested]
After reviewing the raw data, we came up with 293 KWPD drug arrests from Jan 1, 2014 thru April 22, 2015. 160 of those were of Whites, 94 were of Blacks, and 38 were of Hispanics and 1 was Asian. [7 of the Whites arrested on drug charges were Homeless.] The percentages, without factoring in tourists, were: 54% White, 32% Black, and 13% Hispanic. [Data was not provided in an EXCEL friendly format – so there is a possibility of some human error in this accounting.]
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