It's amazing what kinds of telling data a Freedom of Information Act request can turn up. Dynamics between black residents of Champaign-Urbana Illinois and the police have been fraught in recent years since the police shooting of an unarmed teen there. Local reporter Jeff Kelly Lowenstein decided to use FOIA to take a deeper look at the arrest statistics in the metro area and got his hands on the details of every single arrest over the course of the five years between 2007 and 2011. He found striking patterns of discrimination.
There's one block in Champaign Illinois where more black people have been arrested for jaywalking than the total number of white people arrested in the entire city. Champaign-Urbana has a 16 percent black population, but 88 percent of jaywalking tickets went to black people in Champaign and an even higher percentage in Urbana. Lowenstein took his camera down to the 1500 block of Hedge Road in Champaign—the epicenter of jaywalking arrests in the city—to talk to residents. He found frustrated people and streets with no sidewalks.
Looks like Champaign-Urbana is in desperate need of two things: a police force that stops targeting black people for minor offenses, and a streetscape design with the basic pedestrian infrastructure that both allows and encourages residents to enjoy public space. Perhaps Jason Roberts and the energetic folks over at Better Block could take this on as a challenge.
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