Racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system is a fact. But the fact of racial disproportionality is the beginning and not the end of the conversation. The fact that blacks are overrepresented in stop, arrest, charge, pretrial detention, conviction, and incarceration statistics demonstrates only correlation and not causation. A number of commentators caution that disproportionality and the overrepresentation of blacks, Native-Americans, and Hispanics in Washington State’s prisons do not prove racial discrimination. Further, the fact of disproportionality at each stage of criminal justice processing does not prove that racial discrimination occurs at each particular stage. For example, the observed disproportionality at imprisonment might merely be a downstream artifact of disproportionality at conviction, which might in turn be a downstream artifact of pretrial detention, charge, arrest, or stop. Closer analysis of each stage is required in order to determine whether observed disproportionality is a product of legally relevant factors as opposed to suggesting more strongly that race plays an illegitimate role. This article seeks to examine more closely the disproportionality with regard to traffic stops, citations, and searches. We focus on three reports produced by a team of researchers from Washington State University (WSU) that examine Washington State Patrol traffic stops, citations, and searches.
Mario L. Barnes and Robert S. Chang, Analyzing Stops, Citations, and Searches in Washington and Beyond, 35 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 673 (2012).