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ACLU report highlights racial disparities in state

February 22, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island indicates that black residents are disproportionately suspended from school, profiled by police and incarcerated, a pattern referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

The report contains data collected over the past decade by various sources indicating that people of color in Rhode Island are subject to discrimination by educators and law enforcement.

“This was an attempt to take a ‘big-picture’ look at racism and racial disparities over a lifetime,” said Hillary Davis, ACLU of RI policy associate. “It really is intended to demonstrate that these issues are extraordinarily interconnected and we can’t look at one without looking at another.”

The data from Thursday’s report show that many individuals are set up from a young age to end up in the prison system, Davis said.

Black students in Rhode Island public elementary schools are six times as likely to be suspended as white students, according to data collected by the ACLU of RI. In eight years, schools issued suspensions against elementary school students more than 17,000 times. Twenty-eight percent of those suspensions involved a black student, although black students made up approximately nine percent of the student body.

A 2003 study by Northeastern University found that non-whites were more likely to be stopped by police and then searched once stopped, though they were less likely than their white counterparts to be found with contraband.

Based on more recent data provided by Northeastern, the ACLU found that police departments across the state searched non-white individuals more frequently than whites. Most notably, the Rhode Island State Police searched more than twice as many non-whites as whites in 2014, while the Woonsocket Police Department searched three times as many.

A state police spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment. A spokesman for the Woonsocket Police Department said they had no comment.

Black males in Rhode Island are 9.3 times as likely as white males to end up in juvenile detention, according to Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.

James Vincent, president of the NAACP Providence Branch, said black children are being punished, even if it is subconsciously.

“Kids who are unfairly suspended in school end up in jail,” Vincent said. “They end up not being able to get jobs. They end up being a drag on state economies.”

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