December 1, 2020
PITTSBURGH – The ALC Court Watch, launched by the Abolitionist Law Center in January 2020 to keep courts accountable through data collection and public reporting, has published its first Court Watch Docket Report. Examining municipal court docket information from May 11, 2020 through June 8, 2020, the Report analyzes trends in arrests and bail decisions, highlighting the impact of police and judicial discretion. Notably, the vast racial disparities described in the report lay bare an undeniable system of racial apartheid.
The report states that while Black residents make up only 23.2% of the Pittsburgh population, they experienced 44% of all traffic stops, 71% of all frisks, 69% of all warrantless search and seizures, and 63% of all arrests conducted by the Pittsburgh Police in 2019. Additionally, ALC Court Watch found that Black men, who make up less than 7% of the county population, made up 44% of all misdemeanor defendants. It was also noted that the imposition of money bail tended to be concentrated among individuals from zip codes with a higher proportion of Black residents, with 9 such zip codes (out of the 127 represented by defendants in total) accounting for 37% of all defendants and 38% of the dollar value of monetary bail imposed during this period.
The impact of judicial discretion was highlighted in the report as well, which found that just 3 out of 47 judges were responsible for 34% of all monetary bail impositions and 41% of all secured monetary bail impositions. The lack of standards and glaring inconsistencies present in judicial decisions were pointed to as evidence of the need for a total upheaval of current bail practices.
In sum, the data accumulated by the Court Watch Program shows that—as a result of racially disparate policing and bail decisions—Black residents are more likely to be arrested, charged, and have monetary bail imposed against them. This alone meets the legal definition of racial apartheid, a crime against humanity as defined by international human rights law standards. The report places blame for this state of affairs on police, prosecutors, judges, and elected officials, calling their failure to correct these glaring disparities demonstrative of an intentional policy of racial apartheid.
“Aggregating and interpreting how the visceral and exploitative everyday violences play out – largely against Black community members – makes the apartheid practices of the county undeniably clear.” said Autumn Redcross, ALC Court Watch Director.
The report, which is the first in what is to be a series of regular publications, closes with three key demands:
defunding the police,
ending cash bail,
and opening the courts.
It demands a reduction of police funding to pre-Peduto levels, with the rest of the funding to be put towards education, housing, and healthcare. Additionally, it calls for an end to the bail-as-ransom system of cash bail that drains resources from this county’s most vulnerable communities. Finally, it calls for full remote access through live-streaming of all court proceedings for the sake of transparency, democracy, and accountability.