Racial Bias Evident in Drug Prosecutions in San Diego: Data

NBC 7 Investigates finds African-Americans nearly five times more likely to face prosecution than others

African-Americans in San Diego are approximately five times more likely to get prosecuted for minor drug offenses than Whites and Hispanics, according to data obtained by NBC 7 Investigates through a public records request.

Data from San Diego’s City Attorney’s Office shows 6,666 African-Americans were prosecuted for a variety of drug-related misdemeanors since January 1, 2013, just under half the number of prosecutions of Whites for similar offenses. This, despite the fact that according to the city of San Diego, African Americans make up 6.5 percent of the population whereas Whites make up 56.7 percent of the population.

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The data also reveals that African-Americans are five times more likely to be prosecuted for minor drug infractions than Hispanics who were prosecuted 6,149 times for misdemeanor drug cases since 2013, more than 500 fewer times than African-Americans.

In all African-Americans accounted for 23 percent of all drug cases filed by the city of San Diego since 2013.

The prosecution rate against African-Americans coincides with national incarceration rate figures from a United Nations report by The Sentencing Project which shows African-American are 5.9 times more likely to be sent to jail than whites and Hispanic adults. 

“The community needs to take this to the city council and make the city council make a decision,” said attorney Dante Pride who works with community groups on civil rights issues in San Diego. “ We need to make the city attorney make a decision. We need to make a plan of action and keep yelling from the rooftops until it changes.”

Pride says the disparities in prosecutions according to race often start on the streets and in neighborhoods and he has experienced it firsthand growing up.

“I went to Morse High School,” said Pride. ”It's a well-known fact within that community specifically. And I think San Diego in general that African-Americans are just targeted more by the police.”

In a statement, San Diego’s City Attorney’s Office wrote, “Our Office reviews the cases that are presented to us by law enforcement, evaluates the evidence, and prosecutes those cases that can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. In an effort to reduce drug-related prosecutions, our office has created programs to help those individuals deal with addiction.”

But other cities in the U.S. are taking more steps to address the racial disparity in prosecutions.

Prosecutors in San Francisco, according to a June 2019 report in the New York Times, have implemented what they call “blind prosecutions,” where prosecutors are not included certain details such as race and names in order to remove bias in the prosecutorial process. 

In Brooklyn and in Dallas County, Texas, prosecutors stopped trying low-level marijuana cases.  

Pride considers those as steps in the right direction, but is skeptical that San Diego will follow suit soon, at least not until the community forces action. 

“We all have been yelling it that this is happening in San Diego. And these numbers just validates it. There's nothing else we can do except yell, yell, yell, yell.”

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