Frazz, the philosophical young school custodian of the comic strip of the same name said on a recent Sunday: “People don’t hate science. They hate hearing things they don’t want to hear.”
Frazz must have been listening to the recent session of the New Mexico state legislature as it rewrote the law book on collecting data about the people caught up in the criminal justice system.
The Omnibus Criminal Justice Reform bill, passed without a single no vote in either house of the legislature and was signed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. It sets up a definitive database on everyone who is subject to the criminal justice system, assigning a “unique identifier” to everyone at the moment of his or her arrest. This marker would then follow them through the courts, through incarceration and then to the moment of their release from jail or prison. Everything the criminal justice system needs to know gathered together and available.
Except, our guest today, Jeff Proctor, investigative reporter for New Mexico In Depth and contributing editor for the Santa Fe Reporter, has pointed out, for what the system, the governor and the legislators all apparently do not want to know – the race or ethnicity of the people the new reform law puts under every other kind of scrutiny.
What the data would likely reveal are the disparities that other, less definitive studies done in New Mexico and nationally, have concluded – that Latinos and Latinas are more likely to be arrested, tried, jailed and supervised than White men and women, and that the disproportion of African Americans in the criminal record books is quantum leaps higher.
Jeff has been reporting-out since 2016 a series of raids in Albuquerque by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in which arrests of Latinos outstripped their share of the city population by almost 20 percent, compared with Whites who were arrested at a rate just above 1/3 of their share of the Albuquerque population. The raids, shaped by five undercover informants of whom three were African-American, two Hispanic and none White, produced 103 arrests. 28 of the arrested were African-Americans, 27 percent of the total, in a city with an African-American population share of three percent.
Do New Mexico state and local police arrest in similar disproportions? We do not, and presently cannot know…and that’s not an accident.
Jeff Proctor is an investigative reporter based in Albuquerque, NM. He works for the news website NM in Depth (nmindepth.com) and is a Contributing Editor at the Santa Fe Reporter. His work has appeared in the New York Times and on the NPR investigative news magazine Reveal.