A Detroit-based public defenders office is calling out the city and surrounding Wayne County for what it views as disproportionately targeting Black residents for gun possession crimes.
97 percent of those charged for carrying a concealed gun (CCW) without a permit in the city since March 2020 were black, according to data released by Neighborhood Defender Services (NDS) on Wednesday. That’s despite the Census Bureau estimating just over 78 percent of Detroit residents are black. The nonprofit public defense practice said the disproportionate effects came as police quadrupled the number of arrests for carrying without a permit. The group accused law enforcement of using the permit law as an excuse to pull over and arrest black residents.
“In practice, CCW charges in Wayne County are not about public safety at all,” Chantá Parker, Managing Director of NDS Detroit, said in a statement. “In fact, the data indicates arrest and prosecution for driving while Black. These arrests of otherwise law-abiding citizens is what our legal system has spent so much of its energy on while COVID wreaks havoc on our communities.”
The news indicates increasing attention being paid to the effect gun-carry laws have on black residents of American cities. The statement from NDS is just the latest example of public defenders speaking out. Last November, public defenders based in New York City filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court detailing how minority populations in New York bear the brunt of CCW enforcement in the city. The arguments have focused on the fact many of these arrests and prosecutions are for carrying a gun without proof of any intent to commit a crime with it.
According to NDS, arrests for gun-carry offenses have multiplied since 2020.
“Arrests for CCW-only offenses have quadrupled since the pandemic began,” the group said. “Between January 1, 2018 and March 2020, DPD arrested an average of 256 people on CCW-only charges per quarter. That number has surged to 1017 arrests for CCW-only per quarter.”
They said the surge in arrests was highly localized, with just three neighborhoods accounting for a 700 percent increase in enforcement. And with the surge in arrests has come a significant spike in prosecutions for CCW-only charges. According to NDS, CCW-only charges now make up 30 percent of the caseload before the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office. They said the prosecutions were also racially disparate since the Census Bureau estimates just over 38 percent of county residents are black.
“NDS represents people in 25 percent of the felony cases filed in Wayne County,” they said. “Since March 11, 2020, NDS’ referral rate for Black clients facing CCW-only charges has risen 205 percent; the referral rate for all non-Black clients facing the same charge decreased by 8 percent. Today, 32 out of every 33 CCW-only prosecutions in Detroit are Black people, according to Third Circuit Court data.”
In a press conference Wednesday, NDS called for Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to dismiss all CCW-only charges currently pending.
In a statement to The Reload, Worthy said her office had discontinued a diversion program for CCW offenses that had not proved as effective as expected. She also said her office was working on new program options for addressing the surge in CCW arrests.
“WCPO is not the arresting agency,” Worthy said. “We are charged with reviewing and evaluating cases that are presented to us by police agencies to determine if criminal charges will issue. We cannot ignore them. Having said that, we are not a rubber stamp for the police, and generally speaking approximately one-third of the cases that are presented do not result in criminal charges.”
NDS also accused the Detroit Police Department of using “Stop and Frisk” tactics and pretextual stops to arrest Detroiters for CCW-only offenses. The group demanded the department release comprehensive stop data, including the reason for the stop and the race of the person involved.
The Detroit Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.