By GRIFFIN MALONE
In late August, Chris Wise posted his mugshot on Twitter. While leaving a Portland demonstration against police brutality, Wise was grabbed from the sidewalk by officers.
A tall, lanky, Black medic who’s known for cracking jokes at protests, Wise was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer.
The caption on Wise’s Twitter photo read: “I told them I was black.” Yet, the booking information for his mugshot reads: “Race: White”.
A documented trend
Many people on Twitter responded with shock. But, for a lot of protesters of color, this came as no surprise. In fact, people of color being marked as either “white” or “unknown” upon arrest has become a documented trend over the last five months of protests. *
Photo by Griffin Malone
While it’s difficult to get the full data on this phenomenon, this reporter spoke with 17 different people who say their race was incorrectly marked when booked.
Law enforcement officials deny there’s a problem with mis-identification by race, but these errors point towards the larger issue of racial bias in policing— part of the multiple grievances that sparked this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.
Kirra (name and exact information has been altered for anonymity), who was arrested at the beginning of the protests, says they were mis-gendered repeatedly and were marked as white after speaking in their Indigenous language.
Another Indigenous arrestee who I spoke with told officers repeatedly that they were Indigenous, but the officers marked them down as “Asian”. When they were released their papers said “unknown”.
Aaron (another pseudonym), who is Latino, was arrested in late August for disorderly conduct. He asked the officers specifically to mark him down as Latino— and was told that wasn’t an option. Hispanic is, however, a common option in booking records. The officers marked him down as “white”.
“I’ve struggled with my identity being a Latino male in the United States,” Aaron said. “It was like I was being robbed of the little thing that makes me feel somewhat connected to my family, my relatives in Mexico, my ancestors.”
Race and policing
Having accurate data around race and arrests is crucial because it can shed light on systemic disparities, social justice advocates and academics agree.
Mark Leymon, a criminology and criminal justice professor at Portland State University, says that this consistent error of marking arrested protestors of color as white paints a false image of progress, and skews critical data.
“I don’t like to speak on intent,” Leymon said, “but the data errors we see from Portland police go beyond the normal data entry error rate.” The error rate on bookings for white arrestees came out to a little under 1 percent, our analysis of arrest records found.
The majority of our reporting was done during this summer’s protests and ensuing arrests, but based on social media reports, mis-identification based on race is still an issue.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, an organization that awards grants to justice systems based on the results of its studies, found that between 2014 and 2019 Black and Latinx residents of Multnomah County were over-represented in their courts system. These findings led them to give a $2 million dollar grant to Multnomah County to make improvments.
Police Bureau data, however, brings into question whether this money has been of any help. In the first / second quarter of 2020, their data shows 18.4 percent of total traffic stops in Portland were marked as Black or African American— nearly three times the rate of white drivers.
In late August, Courthouse News found Black protesters in Portland were nearly twice as likely to be arrested as white protestors.
This summer, we talked to protesters, mostly people of color, about their personal experiences with policing.
Law enforcement responds
When asked about this issue, a spokesperson for the Portland Police Bureau said: “As far as our officers marking race on police reports, it is based on what the person in the report offers or the perceived race. Officers have no reason to mark something different… As for mugshots and booking pages [errors], we do not control what [the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office] MSCO puts out.”
But a spokesperson for MSCO put the responsibility back on PPB, saying that “the records technicians are copying information directly from arrest documents, which are filled out by the arresting officers.”
Leymon went on to say in his five years participating in the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council, a Multnomah County monthly conference on police reform and public safety, he has seen little to no participation from Portland’s police chief. When emailed regarding their participation, Portland mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell failed to respond.
Years ago, Multnomah County created a bi-monthly subcommittee called RED (racial and ethnic disparities). When asked recently about their attendance, the Portland Police Bureau responded via email: “Can you tell me more about RED?.”
Leymon says he can’t recall ever seeing Lovell or the previous police chief in attendance.
Leymon said that without proper data, identifying and solving issues of racial disparity in Multnomah County’s criminal justice system becomes extremely difficult.
“At some point it’s just an issue of whether they care enough,” he said. “Multnomah County seems to be trying— but PPB, I’m not so sure.”
* In the 300 samples analyzed there were also 12 dark skinned Middle Eastern people that were booked white. Census and government considers Middle Eastern people white so it is not included in the error rate. This is an issue entirely in itself but not technically an error of booking.
Griffin Malone is a Portland photographer, journalist, and artist. They studied interior design and film and they work with medium format film, super 8, woodworking, and copy writing.