When Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested at his own home for disorderly conduct by a white Cambridge police officer last summer, President Obama led a chorus of critics denouncing the police action. The New England Center for Investigative Reporting says the arrest raised the question of whether officers disproportionately arrest blacks for disorderly conduct, considered one of the most discretionary and most abused charges in the criminal justice system.
But a review of the Cambridge department's handling of disorderly conduct cases from 2004 to 2009 finds no evidence of racial profiling. Instead, the analysis finds that the most common factor linking people who are arrested in Cambridge for disorderly conduct is that they were allegedly screaming or cursing in front of police. Of the 392 adults arrested for disorderly conduct, 57 percent were white, and 34 percent were black. That racial breakdown almost exactly mirrored the racial composition of the population that Cambridge police investigated for disorderly conduct. Cambridge is 68 percent white and 12 percent black. Racial profiling specialists said the fairest way to analyze the Cambridge Police Department's conduct was to compare the racial makeup of those charged to that of those investigated and not to the racial makeup of the overall population. The most striking conclusion from the Cambridge police data is that the majority of those arrested for disorderly conduct were allegedly yelling, often screaming obscenities, in front of police before the handcuffs snapped shut.