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Poll finds that blacks, whites differ in opinions of treatment in local courts

Oct 27, 2016

Black and white residents of southeast Michigan differ in their perceptions of how people of color are treated in local courts, according to a recent poll commissioned by the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

About half – 49%– of African-Americans surveyed said blacks were treated worse in the courtrooms, but just 16% of whites agreed. Nearly two-thirds – 64% – of whites said they think blacks are treated the same as whites, but only 40% of African Americans agreed that treatment is similar.

For Oak Park resident Taneka Jones, a trip to a local traffic court informed the responses she gave in the poll. The African-American woman says while she was in court she witnessed a judge yell at a black man for “getting loud” and “being rude to her.”

“[The man] was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ to the point where everybody in the courtroom was like, ‘What is she [the judge] talking about?’” says Jones. “And she’s done that to me too.”

Jones was one of the 600 respondents in a poll conducted for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative (DJC) by the Lansing-based EPIC-MRA. Done by telephone last summer, the survey included residents of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties.

Questions focused on racial attitudes and race relations, and the DJC reported the full results earlier this year. Overall, the poll has margin of error of plus- or minus-4%.

According to the survey, about seven in 10 metro Detroiters say they believe race relations are getting better or at least have stayed the same during the past decade. But race relations was one of the top regional concerns – along with crime, education, and the economy and jobs – for people surveyed.

Deborah Shoop, a white resident of Farmington Hills, says she hasn’t seen any racial discord toward black people in her local court system. But, she says, she does believe law enforcement uses profiling to discriminate against people and not just because of their race.

“I think that there’s profiling also due to age,” she says, explaining she thinks older drivers receive more scrutiny.

"It may be true in some instances but I can't believe it%u2019s true in all instances."

Retiree Paul Beaudrie lives in Southgate. He says he believes black people in his community get different treatment than white people in the local court system.

“This is a primarily a Caucasian community. There are very few minorities living in this city. And I just have that feeling,” says Beaudrie, who is white.

Everyone should be treated equally, he says, but it’s not just the fault of the legal system. He says he believes black people shouldn’t always use their ethnicity as a defense.

“People, I think are tired of the so-called race card being pulled, and I just think it’s a way of what they figure is evening the score,” he says. “It may be true in some instances but I can’t believe it’s true in all instances.”

Support for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative on Michigan Radio comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Renaissance Journalism's Michigan Reporting Initiative, the Ford Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.