The angry bar room over at Countess Cathedral has been publishing a steady stream of contempt at the creation of a Racial Justice Task Force recently.
The task force is designed to study the glaring racial disparities of the local criminal justice system. The News-Gazette allowed jail architect Dennis Kimme, (who, for the last three years has been positioning his company to be the architects of the next $32 million dollar jail construction project) and Kimme's client, Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh, a chance to vent some plain common sense over all this "political correctness" the county board is foolishly following.
Kimme argued that numbers are just numbers while Walsh played the dysfunctional-black-family card to explain the lopsided statistics. Kimme went so far as to shamelessly use the recent homicides and drive-by shootings in Champaign-Urbana to justify such disparities like why it's necessary to jail black males for driving on a suspended license at a higher rate. For Kimme, black people are in jail more because black people do more crimes and more violent crimes. Period.
News-Gazette columnist Tom Kacich tried to dismiss the racial disparity by announcing the problem was for the state and federal governments to handle.
The arguments would appeal to your common sense if you were ignorant of how police work and court cases are done in Champaign County; and weren't aware of how frequent it is for people of all races to break a law.
Byron Clark, member of the North End Breakfast Club, told the county board at its meeting October 22nd:
"We know that the War on Drugs essentially became a war on black people because we are the only ones who are held responsible for that. What's been hard for whites to understand, in the here and now, in the contemporary, and admit- and own- that blacks are treated differently than their white counterparts."
Champaign County's criminal justice system seems to divide us into two very different worlds.
White people have the luxury of knowing their behavior isn't watched.
Black people believe they are under constant surveillance from the police at all times.
White people rarely have their cars stopped by police.
Black drivers are stopped by police whenever possible.
White neighborhoods are not investigated for drug selling.
Black neighborhoods are under constant surveillance for underground drug markets.
White people are offered courteous service from police.
Black people are disrespected and insulted by police.
White people can negotiate with police.
Black people are considered to be resisting an officer if they "backtalk" an officer.
White people are offered mercy from police.
Black people are searched and arrested whenever possible.
White people are given leniency in a court of law.
Black people have the book thrown at them in a court of law.
Is that true?
What is at stake here with the creation of an independent body searching through the records of law enforcement, is a full accounting of this constant, daily intervention; its patterns and tendencies- that generate 25,000 traffic tickets, 8,000 arrests and 3,850 prosecutions per year with a near-95% conviction rate.
The surprising county board approval of a Racial Justice Task force challenges Champaign County to measure whether the patrols, investigations, traffic stops, detentions, searches, arrests, prosecutions and sentences are racially biased.
Those that want to improve are willing to look in the mirror.
Those that like it just the way it is will fabricate excuses.
Photo of Jim Dey by Rob McColley.