Extensive research over the past several decades has documented how minorities are stopped and arrested at higher rates than caucasians, and how they typically receive higher pretrial bonds and more harsh sentences. A professor at the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College is playing an important role in the conversation about whether these trends are continuing with the enforcement of broad new laws related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wendy Calaway is a practicing attorney and criminal justice professor at UC Blue Ash College. She was recently interviewed for a story in the Washington Post that examined whether black and Latino residents across the U.S. are facing harsher treatment than their white counterparts as police enforce stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines.
The article noted specific cases around the country, including that of Rashaan Davis. He is the black man who was arrested in March after posting a video of himself and others in Over-the-Rhine ignoring Ohio’s new stay-at-home order. Police arrested Davis and prosecutors charged him with violation of the order, a misdemeanor, and inciting violence, which is a felony. His bond was set at $350,000.
Calaway has worked with a colleague to conduct research on the need for bail reform in the U.S. Their findings, which have been published in prominent law reviews, show how the system disproportionately punishes poor and minority people who can’t post bail and are forced to spend time behind bars awaiting trial without being convicted of a crime.
That research was a big reason Calaway got involved with the Davis case. “I was concerned when the stay-at-home order was issued that disparate enforcement would be a problem,” says Calaway. “When Rashaan was arrested and his case hit the news cycle, the disparity in his arrest and bond was startling, as was the rhetoric around the case.”
Though she did not represent Davis, Calaway filed a brief to explain why the bond was unconstitutional and note the racial disparities in the way the stay-at-home order was being enforced. Her efforts resulted in the misdemeanor charge getting dropped and Davis being released from jail on electronic monitoring. The felony charge remains, pending a grand jury hearing.
The article notes that Calaway and other professors have reviewed arrest data from the first days of the stay-at-home order in Ohio. They found that 14 of the 20 people arrested in Hamilton County were black. Of the white defendants, 95 percent were released without bond, while that was true for less than half of the black defendants. The article also highlights numerous incidents nationwide where minorities are singled out and treated as criminals for minor social distancing violations, or simply for wearing a mask to protect their health.
For Calaway, the research continues on the developments from the past few months. She and a colleague are currently working on a journal article about the contrasting response of the criminal justice system to people of color who are accused of violating stay-at-home orders and how it highlights the disparities across the system.
“I think this is a really important conversation to have right now in the broader context of race in this country,” says Calaway. “The hope with this research is that people start to see how and why this is happening so that we can all work to change these practices to ensure equal just for all becomes a reality and not just a slogan.”
Read the full story here.