From WILL - The Public Square -

Durl Kruse of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice, on reviewing juvenile cases in Champaign County

Hello, my name is Durl Kruse and I am a member of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice.

Unknown to many in our community is the striking statistical differences in criminal charges that exist between white and black juveniles in Champaign County. It is time to shine a bright light on the subject and begin a much overdue community discussion as to the reasons and implications for these significant differences.

Recently Champaign Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice requested from the State Attorney’s office records of all juvenile criminal cases filed between January 2008 and October 2009. A close review of this information revealed some startling facts. But first some background information.

According to 2008 U.S. census data there are approximately 38,500 persons under 18 living in Champaign County. Roughly 78% or 30,000 are white and 11.5% or 4,400 are black. There were a total of 525 juvenile cases filed in Champaign County of which 20% or 106 were white and 73% or 384 were black.

So, what does this tell us? It says that 3.5 of every 1000 white youth while almost 87 of every 1000 black youth faced a criminal charge during this period. Black youth are nearly 25 times more likely than white youth to face a criminal charge in Champaign County.

One must certainly ask why is that? What is happening here? How does this impact our community and especially the black community?

A closer look at the data reveals some other troubling facts.

Once juvenile cases enter the criminal justice system, almost 37% of all white cases and about 50% of all black cases result in a felony or a misdemeanor conviction. That’s a discrepancy of close to 13%. If the courts are fair and impartial, one would think the percentages would be similar, but they are not. Is this a reflection of a racial bias in our criminal justice system?

Take another example.

Of 22 charges of resisting arrest or obstructing justice, zero were white while twenty were black. What is one to derive from this fact? Could law enforcement intentionally be charging black juveniles more aggressively than white juveniles?

There is much more to discuss than time permits. But clearly this should be a topic of concern to all in our community, especially leaders of our schools, local government officials, the media, churches, law enforcement agencies, and the criminal justice system itself.

Asking the difficult questions is one way to begin the process. We must confront and address these facts if we are to help all our youth become productive successful members of our community.