Black men are 8 times more likely to be stopped by Oakland police than White men, data shows

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The ABC7 I-Team analyzed traffic stop data compiled by the Oakland Police Department and found racial disparities have slightly improved between 2015 and 2018.

However, according to our analysis, Black men were eight times more likely to be stopped by police than White men and three times more likely to be stopped than Hispanic men during that time period.

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For Oakland native Darry Gentry, it happened in his driveway.

"The officer thought I was suspicious," Gentry said. "I pulled over and asked the officer what's the problem?"

Gentry was driving down his street and pulled over in front of his house.

"I told the officer, 'I live right here,'" Gentry said. "Would you like to see my keys? But, he still sent me through hell."

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A similar situation happened to Najari Smith in August of 2018.

"We were just riding our bikes and listening to music like we do every first Friday of the month," he said.

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The Richmond-native owns a bicycle shop, Rich City Rides, and co-founded a youth bicycle group to bring kids together in the neighborhood.

In early August of 2018, the musical tradition took an unexpected turn.

"We were riding in honor of our sister Nia Wilson who was killed by BART police," he said. "The ride was going fine until we were leaving the intersection... a police officer comes out and grabbed my handle bar."

Smith said he WAS arrested shortly thereafter.

"I asked 'why are you stopping me?' He told me he was stopping me for playing loud music," he said.

Oakland Police cited Smith for violating a noise ordinance. He spent two nights in jail with a $5,000 bond.

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"Why do you think you were arrested?" ABC7's Stephanie Sierra asked.

"Bicycling while Black, existing while Black... it's the reality here in America."

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It's a grim reality everywhere.

ABC7's data analysis show that 86 percent of Black men and women in Oakland who were stopped were not arrested.

Civil Rights attorney John Burris see's it all the time.

"The innocent people are being stopped, then they get searched, they get handcuffed, and they don't find anything," Burris said. "It's insulting. It's an infringement on their personal dignity."

According to the most recent police data from 2018, African Americans make up 55 percent of police stops despite representing roughly 23 percent of the population.

ABC7 sat down with interim Oakland Police Chief Susan Manheimer, who was appointed after these incidents occurred, but recognizes there's a problem.

"I think before we used to cast a wide net and it was based on suspect or geographic data. But today we are able with assistant-based intelligence led policing to actually get the officers the information to actually make informed stops," the interim Chief said.

Informed stops, also known as intelligence-led policing, started in 2016.

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"For example, we can stop vehicles wanted in homicides, shootings, robberies," Manheimer said. "We get officers this information and they are then able to make informed stops."

So, is the strategy working?

ABC7's analysis found 2,277 White people were stopped in 2018. Yet, there were 10,874 Africans Americans stopped during the same time period.

The data shows less than half were based on intelligence-led stops.

"We have not solved the problem at all," said Burris.

"What would you say to those who criticize that's not good enough?" Sierra asked.

"We agree. At Oakland, we are always striving for improvement. We are always looking at that data."

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Tracking data is part of the solution, but what about monitoring behavior?

ABC7 filed a records request two months ago looking for the number of complaints filed against Oakland Police officers over the past five years. But, our requests have received two notices for additional time and have yet to be filled.

"As a young man growing up here, I would've wished law enforcement was doing their job that was more humane;" said Oakland Deputy Chief LeRonne Armstrong. "That I could walk down the street and not feel like I was going to be approached by a cop for no reason."

Despite what happened in the past, Armstrong says change is happening now within the Oakland Police Department.

"We are working on changing the culture of the organization, making all of us more accountable about who we are in contact with by filling out stop data forms that are really comprehensive," he said.

The question is will these internal changes - really change policing on the streets?

The law says one is presumed innocent not presumed guilty.

A right that should've been afforded to Smith.

"You should be able to exist without being harassed," said Smith. "We have rights and we can confront an unjust system."

The city of Oakland settled Smith's case for $147,500 in late June 2020.

Chief Manheimer said the department is working with leading academic researchers to address disparities in traffic stops across the city. The department mentioned they are working directly with Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt of Stanford University.

The body camera footage used in the story is attributed to Real World Police.

Yun Choi and Lindsey Feingold contributed to this report.
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