Blacks, hispanics more likely to be charged with felonies than whites

Gilroy
– Blacks arrested for possessing an unregistered weapon are more
likely to be charged with felonies, while whites are more likely to
be charged with misdemeanors for the same offense, according to a
study by the state attorney general.
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – Blacks arrested for possessing an unregistered weapon are more likely to be charged with felonies, while whites are more likely to be charged with misdemeanors for the same offense, according to a study by the state attorney general.

Examining four years of data, the study of California’s weapons registration law looked at how the law, which took effect Jan. 1, 2000, is being applied. Under the law, it is illegal for anyone to possess a handgun, or have a gun in the car, if he or she is not listed with the state Department of Justice as the weapon’s owner.

The study by state Attorney General Bill Lockyer prompted calls for changes from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but the state senator who wrote the law defended it.

Slightly more than 41 percent of whites were charged with felonies for carrying concealed weapons in 2003, compared with 69 percent of blacks and 63 percent of Hispanics.

Less than 40 percent of whites were charged with felonies for carrying a loaded firearm in 2003 for which they weren’t registered, while 70 percent of blacks were charged with felonies for the same offense. Nearly 70 percent of Hispanics were charged with felonies in 2003, the most recent complete statistics available.

Since the first of the year, no arrests for concealed guns have been made in Gilroy. Two Hispanic men have been arrested for illegal weapons – one for carrying a concealed knife, the other for nunchucks.

The law’s author, state Sen. Jack Scott (D-Altadena) noted that many of those charged with felony possession of an illegal handgun also were charged with other felonies at the same time.

“Perhaps more dangerous individuals are charged with a felony,” he said. “I believe this has led to a reduction in gun violence in our society.”

Alice A. Huffman, president of the California State Conference of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People, said her organization will work with the Legislature’s black caucus to change the law or its enforcement. She equated the pattern to “racial profiling” with traffic stops.

“We know intuitively that we are being dealt with more harshly than whites. This just reinforces it,” Huffman said. The overall disparity is such that, “I don’t know what else it could be other than race.”

A spokesman for Lockyer said his office is taking no position on the results of its study, just presenting the statistics to the Legislature, as required, for its review.

For more information, visit http://ag.ca.gov/cjsc/publications/misc/CWSS03/rpt03.pdf.

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