An unsettling truth unfolds before our eyes: Black people in Houston, constituting only 22% of our vibrant city’s population, are bearing the brunt of a deeply concerning disparity. They make up a staggering 63% of the lives tragically lost due to police use of force since 2020.
Peering into the data from the Houston Police Department’s transparency hub, a publicly accessible database, the statistics are strikingly disproportionate. Black citizens, while comprising a significant portion of the community, are overwhelmingly overrepresented in cases of severe bodily injuries at the hands of police, accounting for a disheartening 72%. The numbers don’t lie; we cannot ignore this pressing issue any longer.
A total of 28,945 instances of police use of force were documented during this period, and it is deeply concerning that nearly 55% of these incidents involved black citizens. These statistics are a stark reminder that we must address the urgent need for reform within our law enforcement agencies.
The gravity of this situation becomes all the more apparent when we examine the racial demographics of the officers involved. In a dataset consisting of 281 cases, it is unsettling to note that roughly 49% of the injuries inflicted came from white officers, in stark contrast to the mere 2% attributed to black officers. This disparity in the officers responsible for causing substantial physical harm is a matter that cannot be brushed aside.
Amidst these alarming statistics, we find ourselves at a crossroads. It is essential to acknowledge that steps have been taken to diversify the police force, with 24% of the department’s employees being black, exceeding the citywide population by 2 percentage points. However, these efforts have not yet translated into equitable outcomes for our community.
We must also recognize that police officers often find themselves thrust into roles where they are expected to address broader societal issues beyond law enforcement. This includes patrolling high-crime areas, which often coincide with areas experiencing high poverty rates. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the poverty rate for Black Americans was nearly 19.5% in 2020, a concerning contrast to the 8.2% rate for non-Hispanic white Americans. This places an enormous burden on our officers and highlights the need for comprehensive social services and resources to address the root causes of crime.
Moreover, it is crucial to consider the mental health and well-being of both the community and our officers. The stigma surrounding mental health support within the law enforcement community is an issue that needs to be addressed comprehensively. We cannot expect our officers to serve and protect effectively if they themselves are not adequately supported.
As we confront these deeply ingrained disparities and systemic issues, it is imperative that we come together as a community for our black people in Houston and demand transparency, and advocate for change. We must hold our law enforcement agencies accountable, ensuring that discrimination and racial profiling are unequivocally forbidden and that thorough investigations are conducted into any allegations of bias.
We echo the sentiments of RoShawn Evans, the organizing director of Pure Justice, who aptly stated, “For us to be targeted 72% of the time shows the major biases and racism that we’ve been trying to get away from since slavery supposedly has ended.”
It’s time for Houston to rise to the occasion, to unite in the pursuit of justice and equality, and to demand a brighter, more equitable future for everyone, including the black people in Houston. Together, we can pave the way for meaningful reform and ensure that no community member feels marginalized or victimized by the very institutions meant to protect and serve them.