Discrimination Accusations for the LPD

West Texas' Dark History of Racial Discrimination May Remain a Problem

By Melissa McMillan
Photos by Melissa McMillan

African American grad student

A recent African-American Texas Tech University graduate, who wishes to remain anonymous, claims he was the victim of an illegal search and seizure when police responded to a trash can fire at his Lubbock home. According to the 25-year-old sports studies graduate, police kicked down a locked door in his home in order to conduct a search.

He was one of 302,064 African-Americans arrested in 2009, in the state of Texas, alone -- that's 10.16 percent of the state's black population. The Texas Tech alumnus said he believes police were motivated to search his locked bedroom when they determined he was black by the many pictures throughout his home. He also said he does not understand why the police would kick down his bedroom door and search his house without a warrant when the fire was in the kitchen and had been put out.

Unfortunately for the student, the police found a small marijuana-growing operation in his bedroom.

However, according to federal law, there are only four main circumstances in which a warrant is not required for the police to search your house: consent, which is obvious, plain view, if police are legally on your property and can plainly see something illegal, search incident to arrest, which means if you're being arrested the police have the right to search, and exigent circumstances – if in an emergency situation waiting for a search warrant could compromise safety. Because the plants and associated contraband were behind locked doors, nothing illegal was in plain sight and no one's safety was at stake. The graduate said he and his attorney believe his rights were violated.

"The door was kicked down. There was no reason for them to go through the house. A fire is not probable cause for search. If your house catches on fire, (police are) not supposed to say, 'Oh, I'm going to check for drugs.' They're supposed to come and check to make sure everything is okay."

The Texas Tech graduate went on to say that he has never been in trouble, but he has dealt with racial profiling in the form of being frequently pulled over and questioned by police ever since he moved to Lubbock to attend school at Texas Tech.

"Lubbock is the only place that I've ever been pulled over," he said with derision, "that I can think of. I've never been in trouble, there's nothing in my whole past. I've never been in trouble, but then I got to Lubbock and – it's prejudice. I don't care what anybody says. It's prejudice and it's bad – and it's stereotyping.

"It's why I can't go certain places. I stay out of certain parts of town, certain areas, because I already know that if you're over there, you're going to get messed with. You're going to get profiled. It sucks, because you can't have a nice car, but you can't have too sh***y of a car, because then they're going to pull you over, so you have to have something in-between."

Click to see the full video interview with the recent graduate

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, in 2009, Lubbock police arrested 5.7 times more black citizens per capita than white citizens for drug-related charges. In a city where African-Americans make up only 7.8 percent of the population, 36 percent of the citizens arrested for drug-related offenses were black. This is higher than 5.42 times more African-American drug arrests per capita in Dallas, 5.0 in Midland, or 3.17 for the state of Texas.

Click here to see a Google Docs folder containing the data sourced above and below.

Percentage of population charts

Infographic: Population percentage by ethnicity, vs. drug arrest percentages, by ethnicity.

According to Gregory Stevens, captain and commander of the Lubbock Police Department's Internal Affairs section, thinks the Lubbock Police Department has nothing to hide in regards to their arrest data. When asked if he thinks Lubbock police are doing anything unethical or biased, he said, "No, not at all."

"As the commander of our internal affairs section: no, not at all," Stevens said. "We had no reports, no claims of racial profiling last year in terms of traffic stops and things like that. In fact, I think it's been two or three years since we have, and we investigate every one of those kinds of complaints. We have a very robust academic program that teaches ethics, that really espouses the idea that not all ends justify the means -- and so, in that vein, we make sure that when people come out of the academy and hit the streets, they understand that their job is to enforce all the laws ethically, fairly, and without bias."

Click to see the video interview with Captain Stevens.

Stevens also stated that maintaining objectivity is a challenge – not because of racial bias, but because of everything from age, to gender, to factors like a suspect's choice in music. However, he said that police officers are required to remain objective, even when natural biases may occur.

"I mean, without putting race into the mix, not very many officers are big rap music fans with 24-inch wheels on their car, and things like that. So, in dealing with traffic violators and things like that, there's going to be natural bias there," Stevens said. "And (police are) required to act without that bias – to treat that person the same as your average West Texas guy that drives a pickup, and wears clothes that aren't too baggy. We teach on a basis of: same person, (it) doesn't matter. If they're driving 14 over the speed limit, they're driving 14 over the speed limit – that's all there is at issue. … Not how big the wheels are, not the kind of music that's coming out of the speakers, not whether their hat has a flat bill faced one way or the other, and certainly not the color of their skin."

Captain Stevens However, Captain Stevens said that there are many immeasurable factors that contribute to Lubbock's disproportionate number of black arrests, but one likely reason he cited is the high numbers of police officers on the east side, Lubbock's poorest area with the highest concentration of minorities. Stevens elaborated that, "You don't go fish where the fish only bite every now and then. You fish where they bite most often, right? So, where are you most likely to go and be productive? So, that's unfair."

The Substance and Mental Health Administration's National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2009 showed that 49 percent of white individuals have used illicit drugs during their lifetime, compared with 47.1 percent of Hispanics and 42.9 percent of blacks. So, blacks are not using drugs at a higher rate than whites.

Patrick Metze, associate professor of law at Texas Tech University's School of Law and director of all three criminal defense clinics, said that drug use in the white community is absolutely more prevalent than it is in the black community, and considering that the white community is drastically larger than the black community, statistics clearly indicate that the white community has far more available "fish."

Click to see the full video interview with Professor Metze

Metze also said that the problem with Stevens' analogy is that if you put a lot of hooks in a small pond with few fish, you'll obviously catch more fish than you would in a large pond with few hooks. Metze went on to say that the problem with law enforcement is that it is self-sustaining, as police departments rely on revenue derived from things like arrests and tickets, and he expressed concern over the conflict of interest and lack of checks and balances within police departments.

"And they really are kind of maintaining their own, to be honest with you," Metze said. "We've got plenty of police. We have plenty of crimes. And the prisons are full, and the jails are full, and they're locking people up right and left, all the time, all over the United States. You know, there are over 1,600 different ways to go to jail in Texas. We have so many laws and ways to go to jail, that the cops don't even know them all.

"It's ludicrous (to think) that arrests of blacks at [nearly] six times their population is not racially biased. The other part of that is the socioeconomic part of it, because they're, on the average, poorer. It depends on where you live, and the kind of culture you live in, but as far as the actual number of people using drugs, whites are far more inclined, by number, to be using drugs than blacks are. That's just the way it is."

Stevens, on the other hand, disagreed with Metze on the subject of usage rates. When asked why the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration's drug usage numbers indicate that fewer minorities use drugs over the course of their lifetimes as compared with whites, Stevens said that usage numbers are typically self-disclosed, making the data unreliable and susceptible to scrutiny. He also said that he does not know why one ethnic or racial group would be more highly represented in the drug market, but that socioeconomic and educational factors likely play a role. He went on to say that he suspects, in fact, certain demographic groups are more highly represented in the drug market, just as their arrest percentages suggest.

Patrick Metze However, Metze asserted that there is, in fact, a racial component to the disproportionate number of drug-related arrests for blacks, as well as a significant class factor. "The reason the jails are full is because -- of course there's a racial component – but, they generally pick on the poor people. (Police) go to the poor side of town where they can get away with more. There are actually officers (in Lubbock) that have a reputation (of) 'oh yeah, he'll pull you over every couple of weeks, and if you let him go through your car, he'll let you go.' They accept that type of treatment as part of their lifestyle.

"Of course, if you pull over all the white kids leaving Monterey High School and you search all of their cars, you're going to have a much higher incidence of white kids going to jail for drugs. It's pretty simple, actually. But, they don't stop all the white kids at Monterey, and they don't stop all the white kids at Coronado, and they don't go up and down 50th Street pulling kids over, or 82nd Street. They don't go out to Wolfforth, and they don't go out to Frenship and pull all the white kids over and search all of their cars.

"But, on the black side of town, they do it pretty regularly, and there are cops that are known to pull you over, just to pull you over. And when they do find something, it's remarkable how many times there's no video of that arrest. 'The machine wasn't working,' or 'he didn't keep the video, because he didn't think there was anything evidentiary on it,' or whatever excuses they give you – we get that all the time.

"The truth of the matter is there are certain officers that make their reputation with arrests, and if you're going to arrest people, you pick on poor people. They don't fight back, they're much more submissive, they don't hire lawyers -- it's just much easier. They're just easier to catch because they do things more in the street, out in the front yard, more in the parks than the rich kids do in southwest Lubbock. There's just as much dope in southwest Lubbock, but they're in $300,000 homes when momma and daddy are on vacation, rather than the beat up old car that [practically] has 'Police! Stop me, arrest me!' on the side of it."

Metze said that the police take advantage of how easy it is to make arrests with poor people and literally stalk them on the poor side of town, waiting for someone to make a mistake such as not using their turn signal, or simply saying that there is a legitimate reason pull them over. He said police do this in order to search these individuals, and that it has nothing to do with the fact that the people on the poor side of town have more of a drug problem than people in southwest Lubbock: "That's just bullshit, and everybody knows it that has ever looked at it."

Conversely, Stevens said that it makes sense to the police department that they patrol more heavily in poorer areas with higher call volumes, thus increasing the number of arrests, in order to keep the people of the area safe. He said that the people in these poor neighborhoods want their area cleaned up, and the police are trying to do good by having such a large presence in the area.

"In my experience, and certainly the way I've always conducted myself, and my peers and what not, working undercover and working as a patrol officer: it didn't matter at all, to me, what race the subject was, no more than what their body weight was -- I couldn't have cared less," the former narcotics agent said.

"If they were going to sell me cocaine, I brought money to the table and bought it. I didn't care (about their ethnicity) anything more than the color of the shirt they were wearing. And in 99 percent, and probably 99.9 percent of all police enforcement situations, that's exactly how that goes. So, there's not a clear cut answer as to the arrests rates and why (minorities) are arrested at a higher rate. ... But, you have more policemen over here; more eyes, more ears, more noses – more arrests – that's gonna drive (the minority arrests) number up. And so, I think that is a huge factor that comes into play."

Captain Stevens went on to say that what the Lubbock police are doing is perfectly within their rights and ethical guidelines, but, proper checks and balances of the police department may not exist in small cities.

"If it's a lawful search, if it's legal, then that's okay, absolutely," Stevens said. "That's where our training in ethics and our training in understanding that not all means justify the ends, things like that come into play -- to keep (unethical behavior) in check.

That is where good supervision and a robust Internal Affairs section come into play. We keep that kind of stuff in check, and if it gets out of check, then they are not policemen anymore. And so, I think that's why you see a lot of issues sometimes in smaller areas, because there aren't those things in place."

Captain Stevens also stated that when potential racial bias in a police department is being examined, instances of whites being treated with special leniency is just as important to look into as instances in which blacks may have been treated more harshly. "You've gotta show the example of when a police officer pulls over a car, smells marijuana and then says 'oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize that you folks were white. Please, go ahead and have a good night,' and that just doesn't happen."

However, a senior Texas Tech student, who does not wish to be named, described a recent run-in with the Lubbock police in which he feels he narrowly escaped felony charges due to his Caucasian appearance, coupled with his family's affluence. The student said that police arrived at his home at 4 a.m. in response to a call regarding a woman in distress. He had just finished smoking marijuana with his female friend when he allowed an officer in the home to speak with her.

"So, he goes into my house and I told him which room (the bedroom) was: 'the one down on the right, at the end of the hall.' He goes in with his flashlight, and I have posters of marijuana leaves on my wall, I have a Reefer Madness poster, I have a quarter ounce [of marijuana] sitting on the table in the main front room, and I also had a bong sitting out on the table with an ashtray, with papers, a lot of rolling materials – so, I know he saw it, he had to. He shined his flashlight all around.

"He went in to talk to this girl, and, of course she was fine, but, in my room I have a lot of black light posters and a lot of pipes, and other bongs as well. They were talking for at least a good five to 10 minutes – so, he had to have seen those, as well, unless he just wasn't paying attention. The door closest to the front door, that he walked by to go to the (bedroom) to talk to her, was where I was actually growing marijuana. You could definitely smell that, also."

After answering some questions about why he was in Lubbock, what he was studying in school, and what his father did for a living, the police departed, leaving the student feeling as though he had been treated with special leniency. However, he said that he feels as though things would have gone differently if he were a minority.

A Caucasian TTU senior Click to see the full video interview

According to Professor Metze, discriminatory issues like the Texas Tech student alumnus' experiences are all too common, but the general public and the police departments don't hear about these problems often, because minorities and the poor do not tend to voice their concerns or complain about injustice.

"Generally, (poor people) don't raise a fuss," Metze said. "Poor people generally accept their plight. It's the way they live. They may bitch amongst themselves, or occasionally to somebody like me, but, for the most part, they just accept their plight as a part of life. They know that by complaining, it's not going to do any good -- you're going to get an Internal Affairs person such as Captain Stevens who's going to, pardon the expression, whitewash whatever complaints they make. I mean, (unethical behavior) doesn't happen? Yeah right, it happens all the time, every day. Why it happens, I don't know. I'm sure there's a racial component. I'm sure there's also some sort of psychological thing on the cops that take those kinds of jobs.

"We also have a system that protects (police officers). They train them on how to lie, and they train them on how to testify and they train them on what the magic words are to justify what they're doing. It's not honest, but they train them. Where do these guys learn that (a suspect) consented to the search? Well, they learn that because they tell them if they consent to the search, then you can search them and whatever you find is OK. Well, how do you make a guy consent to a search? They're dressed in all their finery, they've got a gun on their hip, they've got mace, they've got sticks, they've got backup – they call, and four or five of them will show up, all of them with machines, and all of them with guns. That's voluntary? No, people consent because they don't think that they have any choice. "Lots of them don't even consent, quite frankly, they just start searching them, and if they find something, then they 'consented.' They lie. And they learn to lie. Does that mean they're all that way? No, they're not all that way. But, the guys that make their living out of going to the east side and arresting people? Yes, they're that way; absolutely. Have you ever heard of anybody being arrested for 'failure to walk on the sidewalk where provided' on the southwest part of town? No. (On the east side) it's common. If a black male is walking in the street, they will pull him over and arrest him – not give him a ticket – for failure to walk where the sidewalk is provided, and they will haul him to jail. Why do they do that? So they can search him (for drugs)."

Professor Metze said that this occurs to such a degree in Lubbock that one of the night magistrates complained to a police officer about how many "failure to walk on the sidewalk" arrests he was bringing in from the east side, with none of them coming from the west side of town. According to Metze, the night magistrate's supervisor then attempted to have him fired for "prejudice against police officers."

"The bottom line is we have too many police, too many laws, too many things that are illegal, and they pick on poor people," Metze said. "And, most of the people they pick on are black and Hispanic, because they're the poorest. We all know where (the poor) live, and that's the area that they search, all the time. That's the area that the arrests come out of; it's not a coincidence. But, maybe some of (the police officers) really believe they're doing God's work, and that this is what they're supposed to do."

Captain Stevens agreed that our country's justice system has some flaws, but he still believes that it is the best system of justice in the world.

"If a Tech student's got money and they hire a great attorney, (a driving while intoxicated charge) is gonna get dropped to a (public intoxication charge) – not the second one, but the first one will. Whereas, if you don't have money – if you arrest a 27-year-old guy that hangs drywall when he works, 'cause he, you know, he doesn't have the money to hire anybody. He can't hang drywall when it's too humid; he's getting a public defender and he's drawing a conviction, that's all there is to that. And, even though I say that's still the best justice system in the world, he didn't get his hands cut off like he would in Pakistan or somewhere, right? So, who's going to gripe about it? Sounds like a great deal, all the way around, really."

However, when the fact was brought up that a person facing a prison sentence for a non-violent crime might rather lose a hand than a part of their lives, he acknowledged that perceptions on what qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment are subject to opinion. Additionally, Metze said that the justice system's faults revolve around politics and money.

"It's all politics and money put on the backs of, primarily, the middle class and poor people," Metze said. "We live in a state that prides itself on putting things on the backs of the middle class and poor. And it's not just this state; it's all over the United States. Last night I was listening to the TV, and there were these two police officers who prided themselves on being Republicans who no longer felt like they could support the party because they said that their union dues were (no longer) allowed to be taken out of their checks. They could still take the money out of their checks for insurance, to go to an insurance company, but they could not any longer have payroll deductions taken out for their union dues."

Metze noted that the reasoning for this is because the Republican Party has successfully manipulated a whole host of political systems, in Texas and beyond, in their favor: "The cops said 'do you think insurance companies still give political contributions?' ... The truth is that (they) don't want money going to unions, because (unions) support the Democrats, and the insurance companies support the Republicans. So, it's perfectly all right to have payroll deductions for that – that's the culture that we're in, right now. How does it change? I don't know. I don't know if it has to get so bad that the people rise up, but I doubt that. I mean, how many generations politely went to the back of the bus?"

Metze said that in order to develop much-needed leaders in disadvantaged communities, and ensure equality in our society, the entire system has to improve – especially education. He said that educating pregnant mothers on how to raise healthy children, so that those children can complete their education and go on to raise their own healthy, educated children needs to be accomplished for several generations in order for the poor and minorities to better their communities. He also said that the white majority and the rich need to take an interest in improving the lives of their less fortunate neighbors. "As far as the state is concerned, we have got to get our kids through school. We have got to provide them with an opportunity to do better, financially, when they become adults. We've got to decriminalize things that have been made criminal and stop criminalizing our society. We look at the statistics on how many people we incarcerate in the United States, and we are of course No. 1. We are ahead of Russia and China … every time anybody blinks, we have to make it illegal and we have to put people in jail for it. ... We'll just have to keep drawing attention to the craziness and hope that, one by one, they begin to figure it out. But, as long as (the majority is) scared, they'll vote for fear every time. And I don't know how you scare people into doing the right thing."

Metze proceeded to say that because there is so much money in "keeping them down," unless there is a cultural shift in thinking in regards to non-violent crime and the treatment of the poor and minorities, his outlook on the country's ability to correct inequalities is not very optimistic. "It's gotta come out of the culture," Metze said. "We have to have leaders in our culture. The leaders in our culture are our political leaders and our church leaders and our community leaders. And those people have to grow a conscience. And they haven't, yet – any of those people. I mean, we have the most racist churches, the most vile things being said in the name of religion – it's just disgusting. I know I'm going to be dead in a few years, and it's going to be left to your generation, so … good luck. Because we sure screwed it up. And I don't know how you're going to fix it. I don't know if you can, except gradually."

Captain Stevens agreed that the reasons for the disparity in minority drug arrests, particularly the severe disparity in black drug arrests, expand far beyond the scope of the police department doing the arresting.

"These are issues, be they economic, be they educational, whatever those issues are, and again I don't know, but there are so many of them, probably, that impacting one or two (factors of the problems) isn't going to do it. It would take impacting several of them to make a real difference. And so, how, again, do you go about impacting those (factors)? That, to me, is the real question. And from my perspective, what can (the police) do to impact those?

"… To me, it's a challenge for society. People will always go to the police and look for the answers, because we're the ones creating a lot of the numbers, but, ultimately, it's a societal question and a question for those groups – those demographics."

Metze elaborated on the subject, saying that leadership in the black and poor communities is of the utmost importance if our society is ever going to correct the kinds of disparities data shows for the nation, as well as the state of Texas and Lubbock, especially.

Metze went on to say that there is a long history in Texas and in the United States that proves the legitimacy of his theory. "When I was younger, we had a very strong political group in Texas: the Brown Berets. They were a paramilitary, highly influential group of people. And, they were marginally illegal in their activities - when there was a problem and the Brown Berets came into town, you knew that the problem was gonna get solved. It might not be a pleasant solution, but it was gonna get solved. We used to have the Black Panthers, and the Black Panthers would come into a situation and the problem would get solved. It wasn't always legal, and it wasn't always pleasant, but nobody was going to go down Dowling street, when the Black Panthers ran Dowling street in Houston, and call anybody a nigger. It ain't gonna happen!"

However, Metze said that while educating the poor and minorities is a simple idea, it will be difficult to get our society, and our drug arrests, equalized. He went on to say that more obvious indicators of societal racism have been happening for a long time, such as the fact that we execute three times more African Americans than white people, as well as the fact that it is three times more likely for the killer of a white man to be executed than the killer of a black man.

Metze also said that, as a nation, we must enforce education, mental health and physical health upon the poor, at the expense of the rich, until the United States has a large middle class with very few rich and very few poor. Then, he said, we will begin to see some changes; but, as long as 1 percent of the population holds half of the wealth, there's no incentive for those in power to enact changes that empower the poor and the minorities.

However, in a state that did not desegregate schools until almost three years after Brown vs. Board of Education, and where interracial marriage remained illegal until 1967, Professor Metze said the road to racial equality is exceptionally challenging. Lubbock has a particularly dark history of racial bias -- even though school sports were legally integrated in the '60s, Lubbock classes remained segregated until a court order forced desegregation on the schools in 1970. And, according to Captain Stevens, the culture of segregation remains, constantly affecting the rates of drug arrests.

"Lubbock is still a city that has some pretty definite socioeconomic lines when it comes to geography … I don't know (why), they're not really drawn on a map, they just exist. And how to change those …? You can't take a pen and change them on a map, and expect them to change. So, that's not an easy answer – how to change those lines, and where they came from is not an easy answer, either, but (the defined socioeconomic lines) do exist. More so than they do in a lot of places, especially around the nation."

The war on drugs has cost the federal government more than $15 billion dollars for 2010 alone, at a rate of about $500 per second. After spending more than $1 trillion dollars in 40 years, patterns of disparity, particularly in regards to blacks, have emerged across the nation. In Lubbock alone, blacks represent a proportion of drug arrests almost six times that of their population. Richard Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, otherwise known as the drug czar, referred to drugs as a "public health problem," but data from the war on drugs indicates a race issue that experts say is deeply rooted in culture, politics and education.