Let's deal with a problem

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

About 90 percent of Iowans are white according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but about a third of the state's prison population is non-white.

According to the non-profit organization Prison Policy Initiative, the incarceration rate in Iowa is 324 per 100,000 white people. The rate is 692 for Hispanics, 2,274 for Native Americans and 3,473 for African Americans.

This cannot totally be linked to racial profiling by police departments. After all, there is a correlation between race and poverty, and there is a correlation between poverty and criminal activity, so there are factors beyond the control of the criminal justice system at work.

However, the impact of racial profiling cannot be dismissed entirely. According to a study by the ACLU, use of marijuana is about the same for whites and non-whites, yet Iowa has the worst racial disparity in the nation in the arrest rates for marijuana possession, 8 times the rate for African Americans as for whites.

Gov. Terry Branstad was asked if he would support a law banning the practice of racial profiling and requiring jurisdictions to collect race data about traffic stops and searches. He responded, "This really is a legislative issue."

Since when has the governor decided he could not weigh in on what laws the legislature should pass? In other matters, he has actively thwarted the will of the legislature, so it is ironic that on this matter, he regards just expressing an opinion as overstepping a boundary of executive authority.

We need to deal with an issue that is a serious problem across the nation and perhaps more so in Iowa than other places.