Racial discrimination in policy and policing has been a consistent problem in Texas since its inception. In a nod to this historical reality, Texas took the small step of putting laws on its books requiring law enforcement agencies to report documented instances of officers engaging in this racial profiling. The problem with these laws are that the agencies charged with monitoring or reporting these practices do not consistently enforce them.
On January 25, 2021, a KXAN investigative news report found that:
“Texas’ racial profiling laws are meant to root out policing that targets people of color. The laws have been on the books for 20 years and require law enforcement agencies each year to collect their traffic stop data in a report, comparatively analyze that information and submit the report and analysis to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, or TCOLE. A KXAN investigation found TCOLE, the state’s central repository, failed to mandate and collect the data analysis and opted not to use its enforcement authority. In hundreds of instances, racial profiling data is missing from its database.”
Agencies Fail to Compile Useful Data
Frank Baumgartner is a professor at the University of North Carolina. He specializes in the statistical analysis of law enforcement traffic stops. Baumgartner was quoted in the KXAN report as saying:
“We can’t necessarily get inside the head of the officer and study that case by case, but if we look at tens of thousands, or millions or hundreds of thousands of observations, we can see whether there’s any statistical patterns that suggest that Black and whites and Hispanics might not be treated equally by law enforcement.”
Apparently, TCOLE’s executive director Kim Vickers has difficulty understanding both the need and importance of compiling comparative data.
In response to a question by KXAN about whether her agency collected comparative racial profiling analysis on an annual basis, Vickers responded:
“That’s a very good question, and it’s a difficult question. Because what exactly is a comparative analysis? And, that can take many different forms.”
It may indeed prove difficult for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to find someone both capable and qualified in his political orbit that understands “comparative analysis.” He has consistently demonstrated a solid penchant for appointing political hacks that share his myopic vision of ignoring facts and passion for filling the state’s jails and prisons.
Analyzing Data and Asking Questions
The governor could take a few moments from his relentless political efforts to crow about his “tough on crime” bona fides and read a March 12, 2021 article in Grits For Breakfast. The Grits report offered this advice to both journalists and politicians like Abbott and Vickers:
“Black folks are slightly more overrepresented among drivers stopped by police compared to the Amarillo population. A bit over 6% of Amarilloans are black, while 11.1% of drivers stopped in 2020 were black. But because Amarillo PD patrols highways that cut through town and people who don’t live in the jurisdiction drive on their streets, it’s impossible to say with statistical certainty if the number of stops is disproportionate…
If you’re trying to identify racial disparities, look at the search data, not overall stop rates. That’s because for searches and arrests, we have an uncontestable baseline or denominator: the overall pool of people stopped.
“In Amarillo, we do see disparity on this metric. Black folks represented 11.1% of people stopped, but 18.3% of the people searched. Black folks were also subjected to ‘consent’ searches more frequently than their share of stops, making up 18.6% of all such searches. So Amarillo cops are both seeking and performing searches on black drivers more often than white ones.”
There you have it—a plain, simple metric that even Abbott and Vickers should be able to understand through a simple mathematical analysis based on honest questions. Surely, a governor who can intuitively identify “voter fraud” and a growing “border crisis” should be able to enforce the laws of the great Lone Star State that prohibit racial profiling. He was, after all, once upon a time the Attorney General of Texas.
Unfortunately, Gov. Abbott is Texas’ leading “racial profiler.”
The governor repeatedly targets Blacks and Hispanics as more likely to engage in voter fraud than white Republicans. He also assumes they are more likely to commit crimes while on pretrial release.
Racial profiling in law enforcement is rooted in the same sin as racial profiling in politics; systemic racism. Texas law enforcement uniformly “profile” Blacks and Latinos as more likely to have contraband in their vehicles, just as Abbott and his Republican cohorts in the state legislature think “Democrats” are more likely to engage in voter fraud.
The evidence is clear: Gov. Abbott and his fellow Texas Republicans, like so many in the state’s law enforcement community, are continuing a modern Jim Crow effort against Blacks and other people of color to suppress their growing influence and power.
Racial profiling in Texas goes so much further than vehicle stops and searches. It is deeply rooted in the state’s political system, fertilized by systemic racism, designed to produce not glorious Texas Bluebonnets but rather the state’s ugliest weeds.