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City officials accused of racial profiling in juvenile arrests

Law enforcement officials are trained on ways to look for and respond to suspicious activity. Occasionally, a police officer’s hunch might be wrong. In addition, not all arrests may lead to prosecutions, especially in the case of minor offenses.

A recent study, however, suggests that police in Oakland, California might be arresting a disproportionate number of black youths. The study looked at arrest data over a seven-year period. Almost 74 percent of the juvenile arrests made by local police involved African American boys. That figure is troubling for two reasons. First, African Americans comprise less than one-third of the minors in that city. Furthermore, almost 80 percent of those minor African American boys were not prosecuted.

A criminal defense attorney might agree that prosecutors often have discretion in the charges they bring against criminal defendants. In the event an individual has already been arrested, an attorney might be able to negotiate for lesser charges, or a sentence that doesn’t involve jail time. With the help of an experienced attorney, a suspect might even be able to avoid charges.

However, readers may safely assume that it is rare for a prosecutor to simply decline to press charges in the face of incriminating evidence. In this case, the fact that nearly 8 out of every 10 arrests of black male youths in Oakland suggests that other factors -- such as racial profiling -- might be at work.

Unfortunately, the effect of an arrest might have negative impact for developing teenagers. The authors of the study suggest that early, negative experiences with police authorities might even make youth less likely to experience professional success -- or stay clear of the law.

Source: sfgate.com, “Oakland: Study finds racial bias in boys' arrests,” Carolyn Jones, Aug. 28, 2013