Although public commentary describes the United States as "post-racial", racism continues to exert a very real and pervasive influence on institutional policies and processes, interpersonal interactions, neighborhood infrastructure, socioeconomic opportunities, media imagery, and more. RISE is a project designed to illuminate some of the ways in which racism operates in this country.

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In August of 2012, The New York Times did brief audio interviews with NYC residents across the five boroughs, asking them for their views on the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy.  One White woman stated, “I highly believe in the stop and frisk.  I don’t care what color you are.  We hear the African American and Spanish society complaining about it.  The White people don’t complain!  If you stop me, you stop me, give me a ticket, frisk me, do what you gotta do.  It’s a difference of how everybody looks at it.  I’m sure there’s a lot of White teenagers that get pulled over and stopped—they just don’t make the big public nuisance that other people do.  And it’s not being prejudiced.  It’s just seeing things the way they are” [1].  In fact, that’s not the way things are.  White teenagers are not being pulled over in numbers anywhere near those of Black and Latino youth.   The overwhelming majority of individuals who are subjected to NYPD stop and frisk procedures are Black and Latino people (especially males, but not just youth).  If in fact “White people don’t complain”, it is because with regard to stop and frisk, White people have little to complain about.  The frequent experience of being surveilled, stopped, and searched by the police—and the feelings of humiliation and dehumanization that accompany those stops—belongs primarily to Black and Latino New Yorkers.  The policy also creates mistrust, doubt and fear of the police, particularly because of a history of racial profiling and major incidents of police brutality [2].

Stop-and-frisk (or, the official NYPD name, “Stop, Question and Frisk”) is “the practice by which an NYPD officer initiates a stop of an individual on the street allegedly based on so-called reasonable suspicion of criminal activity” [2, p.1], and during which frisking (searching) may also occur.  Although the name stop and frisk implies one procedure, stopping someone and frisking someone are two separate acts, and each has its own level of required legal justification.  If a police officer stops someone, she or he must have “reasonable suspicion the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an unlawful act.”  If the officer wants to frisk that person, she or he must have “reason to believe the person stopped has a weapon that poses a threat to the officer’s safety, a higher and more specific standard [3, p.8].  Those legal requirements are not being met when hundreds of thousands of people are being stopped.  There were 685,724 stops in 2011, and of these 53% were Black, 34% were Latino, and 9% were White [3].  The huge number of stops has increased every year.  For example, there were approximately 97,000 stops in 2002, but by 2006 there were more than 506,000 [3]. The most frequent reason (more than 50%) for stops was “furtive movements” [4], which is too vague to clearly indicate the suspected criminal activity.  

Below are statistics over the past several years.

—In 70 out of 76 precincts, Black and Latino people accounted for more than 50% of stops, and comprised more than 90% of stops in 33 precincts.  Even in precincts where the numbers of Black and Latino residents are very low (e.g., 8% in the 6th Precinct in Greenwich Village), they were still more than 70% of stops in six of those precincts [3].
—Black and Latino males ages 14 to 24 are 4.7% of the city’s population, but they were 42% of stops in 2011.  In fact, there were more stops of young Black men (168,216) than there were young Black men in the city (158,406) [3].
—Among stops in 2011, 88% did not result in an arrest or summons [5].  Between 2004 and 2009, only 5.4% of stops resulted in arrests, showing that the vast majority of stops were of people who had done nothing wrong [6].  
—In 2009, more than half a million New Yorkers were stopped, and 87% of them were Black and Latino [7].  And in almost 36% of stops, officers did not list an acceptable suspected crime [6].
—As noted above, frisking can only legally take place when the officer reasonably suspects that the person has a weapon and could endanger the officer’s safety.  But 56% of people who were stopped were frisked, and a weapon was only found 1.9% of the time [3].
—As with stops, Black and Latino people (58%) were more likely to be frisked than White people (44%)—but less likely to be found with a weapon [3].
—Whether or not frisking takes place depends a great deal on what precinct it is.  Officers in the 46th Precinct (the Bronx) frisked people 80% of the time, but officers in the 17th Precinct (East Side of Manhattan) frisked people 28% of the time [3].  This suggests that officers are making those decisions on something other than standardized legal guidelines.
—Cases where officers used physical force (e.g., putting the suspect on the ground, drawing a firearm or batton), are more likely to involve Black and Latino people [3].
—The NYPD contends that stop and frisk is justified and important to getting illegal guns off the streets.  But each year, less than 1% of stops produces a gun.  In 2003, 1 gun was found for every 266 people stopped.  In 2011, even though hundreds of thousands more people were stopped, these numbers only produced 1 gun for every 2,982 additional people that were stopped [3].  Put another way, officers stopped approximately 161,000 stops in 2003 and obtained 604 guns.  In 2011 they stopped more than 685,000 people, but only obtained 780 guns [4].
—Only about 6% of stops lead to arrests, but officers do frequently write summonses for “disorderly conduct” and other minor infractions [4].  If those infractions result in fines, they can cost hundreds of dollars, making it hard for poor families to pay.  And, people who do not appear in court to face judgment or pay fines can end up with a bench warrant.  This means the next time they are stopped on the street, the warrant will lead to being handcuffed and taken to jail [4].
—The NYPD also contends that Black people are disproportionately stopped because they commit most of the violent crime in the city.  However, approximately 90% of people stopped are for reasons other than violent crime.  Also, violent crimes are less than 10% of all crimes in the city, and almost half of violent crime complaints do not include the suspect’s race at all [7].
—Researchers have determined that Black and Latino people were stopped more frequently than Whites, in comparison to their overall population, and after controlling for estimated rates of crime by race and ethnicity, including violent crime [8].  

Below is a graph showing the disproportionality in stops compared to the city population, using NYCLU published data [3].  Black and Latino residents are a huge proportion of those who are stopped, at rates much higher than their percentage in the city.  For example, Black people comprise 26% of the city, but they are 52% of those who are stopped.  On the other hand, White people are 47% of the population, but they are only 9% of those who are stopped.  

Below are two graphs showing the numbers of stops that involve physical force in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods (precincts), compared to the numbers in White neighborhoods (precincts), again using NYCLU data.  As shown in the graph, the numbers are in the thousands in Black and Latino areas, but in the hundreds in White areas.



The NYCLU produced these analyses using the NYPD’s own data (the same is true with analyses by The New York Times, etc.).  The data on stop and frisk is available to the public here: (requires the program SPSS).  The NYCLU also has 2011 data here, in .CSV file format, and includes a PDF file that defines the variables and codes in the dataset.  The numbers in the poster (post above this one) come from analysis of the 2010 dataset, and are focused on Black people specifically (not including Latinos).  These data are available as a result of a number of legal challenges.  In 1999, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a class action lawsuit against the NYPD for stop and frisk policies that violated the Fourth Amendment (protection from unreasonable stops and seizures) and the Fourteenth Amendment (equal protection of the laws).  The plaintiffs sought damages and the dismantling of the Street Crime Unit (SCU), which was a commando unit of officers that worked in unmarked cars and plainclothes.  In 1999, four SCU officers shot and killed Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant.  While the case was in progress, the SCU was disbanded, and in 2003, New York City agreed to settle the case [9].  The settlement required that the NYPD maintain a written anti-racial profiling policy, audit police officers and their stop and frisk record, provide the audit results to the CCR, provide public education, and more.  Although the NYPD has provided the stop and frisk datasets, there has been significant non-compliance with other aspects of the settlement.  That, plus a large increase in stop and frisk over the years has resulted in a new class-action lawsuit, Floyd et al., v. The City of New York, et al. (described more below).

Although statistics that show the sheer number of stops are important, they are not the entire picture.  It is also important to look at the manner in which these stops are conducted.  Black and Latino communities are feeling under siege and harassed by the police [2].  Interviews with New Yorkers who have experienced these stops describe them as part of daily life, as occurring without explanation or apology, and as making them feel belittled and like animals [10, 5].  One boy told The New York Times about being stopped and frisked at age 12, when he was barely scraping five feet tall.  He walked out of his house, and crossed the street to a friend’s home.  While doing so, he was stopped by police officers:  “When I looked up, I see the cop.  He was like, ‘You,’ and I was like, ‘Me?’  He said, ‘Yeah,’” Tyari recalled.  “He said, ‘Empty your book bag,’ and I was like, ‘Okay,’ and I was taking my time. Then he said, ‘You need to hurry up.’ And he started emptying my book bag and dropped my stuff on the ground.”  After taking him back home for identification, the officers left [11].  Another eighth grader was stopped on his way to school by a jeep full of five officers who ordered him to put up his hands, threw his books on the floor and questioned him about drugs and gang members.  He too was returned home, and his mother yelled at the officers, who then patted him on the head and said “My bad” [11].  In an Op-Ed, Nicholas Peart recounts several serious and frightening incidents that have led him to incorporate “into my daily life the sense that I might find myself up against a wall or on the ground with an officer’s gun at my head.  For a black man in his 20s like me, it’s just a fact of life in New York” [12].  Julie Dressner and Edwin Martinez’ short documentary reveals the pain and anxiety connected to frequent stops [13].  Finally, The Nation published a chilling account of an actual stop in progress.  A Latino youth was able to record his stop live on his phone, and listeners can hear the physical aggression, racial epithets and humiliation he encountered simply for walking down the street:

Also in the video, some NYPD officers describe the directives that come down from higher administrative levels to complete more and more stops, or else face sanctions and punishment such as poor reviews, more dangerous assignments, and ostracizing from other officers.  Officers have reported that their colleagues had to attend remedial classes for those who fail to record enough stops and arrests [14]. In 2010, the Village Voice published a series of recordings one officer made (without NYPD knowledge or approval) in 2008 and 2009 in such settings as precinct roll call.  The recordings give a “behind the scenes” look into commanders’ instructions to increase stops, particularly at the end of the quarter or end of the year, in order to make certain quotas (  Clearly, 685,000 stops could not take place based on the individual predilections of single officers.  

What does the future hold for stop and frisk?  Currently, challenges are happening from community organizations, civil liberties groups, lawsuits and legislative bodies.  Some changes have already begun to take place.  For example:

1.  The NYC Council has proposed legislation to bring accountability to the NYPD.  Called the Community Safety Act, it seeks to protect New Yorkers against discriminatory profiling and unlawful searches, require officers to identify and explain themselves to the public, and establish an NYPD Inspector General Office (;  

2.  Congressman José E. Serrano (, NYC Councilmember Jumaane Williams and other elected officials have asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate NYPD’s stop and frisk policies.

3. Earlier this year, the Bronx District Attorney’s office told the NYPD that it would no longer prosecute people stopped for trespassing without clear demonstrations that the arrests were warranted.  Trespassing arrests are a variation of stop and frisk, and had been made in public housing developments or under the Clean Halls program, where police officers patrolled the hallways of private buildings [15].  The Bronx DA contended that it knew of people who had been arrested for trespassing despite being residents’ guests [15].  For example, in Brownsville, residents stated that they were frequently stopped and or ticketed for entering their own or friends’ homes in public housing because they did not use a key—but that was because the front door lock was broken [16].

4.  In September of 2011, Commissioner Kelly issued a memorandum stating that police were not to arrest people who were found to have small amounts of marijuana in their pockets after a stop [17].  However, even though arrests dropped significantly after the memorandum, they increased 6% during the first eight months of 2011 [18].  In June of 2012, Governor Cuomo proposed legislation for NY State in which the possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana in public view would be downgraded to a violation, instead of a misdemeanor [17].  

5.  Finally, as noted above, a Floyd v. City of New York is a federal class-action lawsuit challenging the racial inequality in who is stopped, and the constitutionality of stop and frisk.  Granted class-action status in May [19], the lawsuit alleges that stop and frisk violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.  The lawsuit deals with 5 basic issues:
(1)  Whether the NYPD is stopping and frisking people without reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct, which would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment;
(2)  Whether the NYPD is racially profiling people and targeting who to stop based on race and/or national origin, which would violate the Fourteenth Amedment;
(3)  Whether the NYPD is conducting searches and seizures and excessive force in a way that violates the Fourth Amendment;
(4)  Whether the City, Commissioner Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg have failed to adequately screen, train, supervise and discipline police officers and if so, if those failures have caused violations of the Constitution;
(5)  Whether the City, Commissioner Kelly, and Mayor Bloomberg have encouraged and given official approval to stops and frisks that are unconstitutional.

The case is set to begin trial on March 18, 2013.  It remains to be seen whether the U.S. District Court will rule that the City and the NYPD are violating the constitutional rights of Black and Latino people in New York City.


[1]  The New York Times, August 20, 2012.  New Yorkers Speak Out on Stop, Question and Frisk Policy.
[2] Center for Constitutional Rights. NYPD Stop-and-Frisk Statistics 2009 and 2010. Retrieved on December 12, 2012 from
[3] New York Civil Liberties Union . (2012). Stop-and-Frisk  2011 Report. Retrieved on December 12, 2012 from
[4] The New York Times (Editorial).  Injustices of Stop and Frisk. (2012, May 13, p. A22)
[5] Ruderman, W. (2012, June 20). Rude or Polite, City Officers Leave Raw Feelings in Stops. The New York Times.  Retrieved on December 12, 2012 from
[6] The New York Times.  Reform Stop-and-Frisk (Editorial).  (2012, May 16, p. A26).
[7] Center for Constitutional Rights. (2010). Stop-and-Frisk: Fagan Report Summary. Retrieved on December 12, 2012 from
[8] Gelman, A., Fagan, J., & Kiss, A.  (2007).  An analysis of the New York City Police Department’s “Stop-and-Frisk” policy in the context of claims of racial bias.  Journal of the American Statistical Association, 102(479), 813-823.
[10] Powell, M. (2012a, May 14). For New York Police, There’s No End to the Stops. The New York Times. Retrieved on December 12, 2012 from
[11]  Chang, A. (2012, May 29). For City’s Teens, Stop and Frisk Is Black and White. [Radio broadcast]. WNYC News. Retrieved December 12, 2012, from:
[12] Peart, N.K. (2011, December 17). Why is the NYPD after me? The New York Times.
[14] Powell, M. (2012b, May 28). Arguments for Most Police Street Stops, and the Math, Don’t Hold Up. The New York Times . Retrieved on December 12, 2012 from
[15].  The New York Times.  Losing Faith in Stop-and-Frisk. (Editorial). (2012, September 26,  p. A28).

[16] Rivera, R., Baker , A., & Roberts, J. (2010, July 11). A Few Blocks, 4 Years, 52,000 Police Stops. The New York Times.  Retrieved on December 12, 2012 from
[17] Kaplan, T.  (2012, June 4).  Bloomberg Backs Plan to Limit Arrests for Marijuana.  The New York Times.

[18] Newman, A.  (2012, February 1).  Marijuana arrests rose in 2011, despite police directive.  The New York Times.

[19] Baker, A. (2012, May 16). Judge Grants Class-Action Status to Stop-and-Frisk Suit . New York Times . Retrieved on December 12, 2012 from

In the late 90s and early 2000s, Black people in the United States held $.10 of wealth for every $1.00 Whites held [1].  Today, the gap has grown.  In 2009, the median wealth of White households was 20 times that of Blacks [2].  In other words, Blacks now hold just $.05 to the dollar.  The median wealth by race in 2009 was:  Whites = $113,149; Blacks = $5,677.  And, 35% of Black people had zero or negative net worth, a 6% increase from 2005, when it was 29% [2].  Wealth refers to assets such as an owned home, car, stocks, retirement funds, or savings accounts, minus debts, such as a mortgage, student loans, car note, or credit card debt.  In the United States, a home is the single largest source of wealth.  In 2004, 69% of Americans owned their home [2].  In fact, homeownership and wealth has been described this way:

—“An owned home is the most important asset in the portfolio of most households” [2, p.15].
—“Real estate, for either personal use or rental purposes, is the most highly valued asset owned by households.” [2, p. 18].
—“Homeownership is by far the single most important way families accumulate wealth.” [1, p. 3].

Thus, any analysis about the destruction of Black wealth has to focus on the historical (and present) barriers Black people have faced in owning property, and therefore in accumulating wealth.  These barriers are structural, meaning that they have to do with the way society is structured.  For Black people, barriers to homeownership are not as simple as having lower incomes or being poor.  Thomas Shapiro [1] points out that wealth is intergenerational. Unlike an individual salary or income, which is used to support daily life, wealth is passed down from generation to generation.  He defines transformative assets as unearned, inherited wealth that transforms a family’s position, making it possible for them to have certain life experiences beyond what would have been possible based on their own achievements, jobs, or income.  For example, for many White families, inheritances, gifts, or loans for down payments (e.g., from parents) allows them to live a particular lifestyle, buy a home, or contribute to other needed resources such as a child’s college education. 

It goes without saying that for the first few centuries of U.S. history, Black people did not own property in large numbers.  In fact, they were the property that Whites owned.  Held as slaves, Black people were the building blocks of wealth for many White families.  Fast forward past emancipation, sharecropping, the industrialization of the North, the first great migration of hundreds of thousands of Black people from the South to the North, and the ensuing race riots Whites initiated in reaction to the influx of Black neighbors.  Taken together, by the early 1920s, segregation was becoming entrenched in northern cities, and White residents used a number of methods to ensure that Blacks would stay in Black neighborhoods.  These included threats, harassment, offers to buy out black homeowners, and when these didn’t work, physical violence, cross burnings, and most dramatic, bombings.  [3].  Between 1917 and 1921 58 Black homes in Chicago were bombed; one Black man, a real estate agent, had his home bombed 5 times in one year [3]. 
Other strategies to exclude Black neighbors were enacted through homeowner’s associations.  They fought for zoning restrictions, offered cash bonuses to Black renters to convince them to move out, boycotted real estate agents who sold to Black people, and most importantly, developed restrictive covenants to prevent sales to Black buyers.  Restrictive covenants were legally binding agreements that homeowners would not sell their property to a Black buyer, nor would their children.  The typical covenant lasted for 20 years, and was strictly enforced by law.  Homeowners who violated the agreement and sold their home to a Black household could be sued for damages in court.  Covenants were ruled unconstitutional in 1948, but continued in less obvious form for many years afterward. [3]

Realtors also played a critical role in maintaining the color line.  They outright refused to show properties in White neighborhoods to Black buyers, or steered them to Black neighborhoods.  Because Black households were restricted in where they could live, there was an enormous housing crunch, and demand for Black housing was extremely high.  Therefore, White realtors also began to induce panic selling among White homeowners.  They entered White neighborhoods, often times with Black families along, and scared White families into selling their homes before Black people entered the neighborhood.  This tactic, called blockbusting, made money for realtors, who often divided up the newly bought house, and either rented it at high prices to Black individuals and families, or resold at high prices [3]. 

By 1930, most cities had a well-defined Black ghetto.  But within these borders, would-be Black homebuyers were blocked by banks and the federal government from buying homes. After the stock market crash in 1929, there were massive defaults on mortgages, people lost their life savings, and cities were not collecting taxes.  In fact, in 1933, 50% of mortgages were in default [4].  As a result, the HOLC (Home Owner’s Loan Corporation) was developed in 1933 to assist distressed homeowners with new financing and mortgages.  The HOLC was authorized by Congress to take over and refinance delinquent mortgages, and also to create funding for new homes.  Within only a few years, millions of applications were in.  But, there was a catch, at least for Black homeowners or potential buyers.  HOLC would not provide financing to everyone.  Decisions were made based on characteristics of the individual and the neighborhood.  Neighborhood characteristics included things like the demand, the % of current homeowners, and the age and type of building.  The racial and ethnic characteristics were also paramount.  HOLC developed a color coding to determine which neighborhoods were “good” and were not risky.  The colors were green, blue, yellow and red.  Green was the best, red was the worst.  Neighborhoods that had anything more than a trivial amount of Black residents, had a racially mixed population, or did not have restricted covenants in place were coded red — hence the term redlining.  Red neighborhoods were cut off from any government financing.  Below is an HOLC map of Brooklyn, made available by this site (which got the map from the National Archives):  As can be seen, Black neighborhoods such as Bedford-Stuyvesant were entirely red.  Private banks have also redlined Black neighborhoods for years.

A few years later, the FHA (Federal Housing Administration) was created to guarantee the mortgage loans made by private banks.  Before the FHA, mortgages were usually not given for more than 66% of a property’s value.  So, homebuyers needed to put down 33% for a down payment.  The creation of the FHA allowed for 90% of the value being guaranteed by the government, which meant only a 10% down payment.   The FHA also created 25-30 year mortgages that amortized (were paid off) by the end of the mortgage [3].  The Underwriting Manual for the FHA outlined the policies it would follow in the kinds of loans it would guarantee.  First, it required that restrictive covenants were in place and enforced before it would insure a mortgage [4, 3].  The FHA stated that “It must be realized that deed restrictions, to be effective, must be enforced” [4, p. 411], and pointed out that it was important for White homeowners to realize that this enforcement would benefit their investments.  Thus, it was not only individual homeowners or associations that excluded Black people from homes—the federal government put this in place on a large scale by making it policy.  The FHA also used the HOLC procedures and saw Black people as a risk.  Even though the FHA had no evidence that integrated neighborhoods harmed property values, they actively tried to prevent the “invasion” of Black people into White neighborhoods.  [4].  For example, before the FHA would insure a mortgage, banks had to submit reports on the neighborhood.  One of the questions they had to answer was “Are inharmonious racial or social groups present in the neighborhood?  If not, is there any danger of infiltration of such groups?” [4, p. 407].  The FHA policies and manuals encouraged man-made barriers such as walls, highways or cul-de-sacs, and also natural ones such as hills and ravines, to keep out unwanted groups.  Detroit’s wall at 8 Mile Road is an example of FHA policies.  A developer who sought to build housing for Whites in the area was only insured by the FHA after he built a 6-foot wall to clearly prevent Black neighbors from mixing in this proposed development.  See:

By using militarized language such as “invasion” and “infiltration” the FHA cast Black people as enemy combatants [4, p. 408].  The end result was that the “enemy” had extremely limited access to the federal funds that were fundamental in creating American suburbia, and that made White, middle and upper class neighborhoods the only areas that had value.  Between 1940 and 1947, only 19 new FHA-backed housing developments were open to minorities, compared to the $33 billion of insurance that underwrote almost 3.5 million houses and 650,000 rentals and co-op units for Whites [4].  And so, Black people were largely frozen out of home ownership.  Whole cities had no access to FHA money.  As late as 1966, Camden and Paterson, NJ had zero FHA-backed mortgages [3].  Home values tripled from 1970 to 1980, so those who “owned homes before the late 1970s had an opportunity to accumulate wealth in the form of home equity, while those who did not missed an excellent opportunity” [5, p.108].  Black people by and large missed out, setting the stage for low wealth compared to Whites.  And, for those who did own property, urban renewal (which razed many urban communities) created the loss of homes and businesses for many in Black communities.

But, lest we think that this kind of discrimination is a thing of the past, it is clear that Black home buyers, renters and loan-seekers still face ongoing discrimination today.  Real estate brokers continue to steer White and Black homeseekers into different neighborhoods, deny Black homeseekers access to properties, provide less information, and give worse terms on mortgages and other resources.  In 2000 a nationwide study by HUD, White testers heard the following kinds of comments by brokers [6]:

—Birmingham, AL:  “There are a lot of Blacks there, but that’s up to you.”
—Los Angeles:  “That area is full of Hispanics and Blacks that don’t know how to keep clean.”
—Chicago:  “[Area] has a questionable ethnic mix that you might not like.  I could probably lose my license for saying this!”
—Detroit:  [Area] is different from here; it’s multicultural…I’m not allowed to steer you, but there are some areas that you wouldn’t want to live in.”

In 2006 in New York City, the National Fair Housing Alliance reported that Corcoran Real Estate brokers were engaging in steering, withholding information, and providing limited service.  In one test, a White homeseeker saw 13 homes, while a Black homeseeker saw only one [7].  In Ohio, a Black homeseeker made a $239,000 offer on a house.  But, later that day, the seller accepted an offer from a White family that was $4,000 less.  The seller was reportedly worried that the Black homeseeker would not be able to come up with financing [8].  Of cases filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, discrimination was most often perpetrated by landlords and owners (84%), and once Black homeseekers actually gained access to a home, they faced harassment and intimidation (16% of cases) and discriminatory terms and conditions such as receiving different rental terms, being denied access to facilities, repairs, maintenance, etc. (84% of cases) [8].  In Washington, DC, examples of discrimination include [9]:

—A Black tester is told that they must meet with a mortgage lender before being shown homes.  The White tester is shown 2 without.
—A Black tester is shown a 1 BR apt and quoted rent of $675; the White tester (1 hr. later) is quoted $625.
—A Black tester is politely shown a model apt in a complex, and given basic information.  15 minutes later a White tester is shown the model apartment, 3 actual apartments, and offered 1 month free rent on a 12 month lease.
—A Black tester is steered to an FHA loan, despite good credit and enough money for a 10% down payment. The White tester is told that they can save $21,000 over 30 years with a conventional loan instead of an FHA loan.

This last example is important because racial differences in loan terms and the foreclosures that result are the last step in destroying Black wealth.  Black households have more of their net worth (59%) in home equity, compared to other assets.  Thus, when the economic downturn and bursting of the housing bubble hit, they were hit hard.  In fact, the bursting of the housing bubble deflated Black wealth by 53%, compared to 16% for Whites.  [2].  Inequalities in other areas, such as employment, meant that these households also had to take on more debt to get by [2].  Less assets and more debt=less wealth.  Overall, between 2001 and 2011, for Black households, “the first half of the decade brought little, if any growth, while the second half of the decade resulted in devastatingly large losses” and gains that occurred in closing the wealth gap in the 90s were reversed [10, p. 1].  But how did Black households become entangled in the housing bubble? 

After years of being denied access to mortgage loans and related financing, some lenders became very interested in making funds available to Black homeseekers.  With traditional lenders staying away from urban markets, and with the rise of mortgage-backed securities being traded as investments, predatory lenders and subprime lenders had a ready market [11].  Wall Street wanted more and more mortgages to use as securities, which meant more and more mortgages needed to be given to people—the higher the risk, the better. And, since Black borrowers often could not obtain conventional mortgages, predatory lenders were ready to give loans at very high rates. Subprime mortgage loans are those that are 3% or higher than the rate for a standard long-term Treasury bond.  On a $350,000 mortgage, a subprime loan adds on $272,000 more in interest over 30 years, compared to a mortgage of the same amount with a conventional loan [12].  Subprime loans also tend to have more penalties, higher fees, and adjustable interest rates, which means monthly payments could change every so often, usually becoming much more expensive.  Black people and neighborhoods were targeted for these loans.  According to a HUD study in 2002, subprime lenders are 5 times more visible in Black compared to White neighborhoods [11].  The NAACP has filed a class-action lawsuit against major lenders, arguing that this targeting constitutes reverse redlining [12]. 

But subprime lenders did not target Black borrowers simply because they have lower incomes.  The Black middle class has actually been the hardest hit.  Black households earning $68,000 or more were 5 times more likely to have a subprime loan than White counterparts, and even White borrowers who earn less [12].  According to The New York Times, among borrowers earning $150,000-$250,000, 20% of Whites, but 62% of Blacks held subprime loans.  New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation also found that 58.5% of home loans to Blacks were high cost, compared to 15% for Whites [13].  Black neighborhoods, in addition to individuals, also have higher rates of subprime lending.  For example, in 2006, in Jamaica, where the median household income was $45,000, the subprime rate was 46%.  In Bay Ridge, with an income of $50,000, it was 3.6% [13].  In 2001, Bedford-Stuyvesant had a rate of 14.3%, compared to Park Slope at 3%.  Queens Village was 9.8%, compared to Bayside at 3.5% [14].  These disparities led Sarah Ludwig, executive director of the Advocacy Project, to state that “There’s no question that if you live in a predominantly African American and Latino neighborhood, you’re going to be paying more for your mortgage.” [13].  It is not surprising, then, that Black and Latino neighborhoods have the highest rates of foreclosure. 

In addition to the high costs of subprime loans, other issues such as job and income loss and sickness also hamper people’s ability to pay their mortgages on time, and Black and Latino people have higher rates of unemployment and illness.  In New York City, the Community Districts with the highest foreclosure rates are Brownsville, Bed-Stuy and East New York, all Black and Latino neighborhoods.  In fact, than 50% of properties that were taken by the lender were in less than 9% of Community Districts [15].  In other words, foreclosures are highly concentrated in only a few areas, and those areas are marked by the color line.  When a house is foreclosed, the homeowner loses a major source of wealth, and damage to their credit rating then makes other financial opportunities less likely.  That loss of wealth is transmitted intergenerationally, and means that it will persist over time.  And, foreclosures damage communities.  For example, 3 foreclosures within 500 feet lowers the sale price of a property by 3% [16].  Thus, both individual and community wealth are destroyed.  And, research has shown that expanded lending to minority homeowners through the Community Reinvestment Act is not related to foreclosure rates—but racial segregation is [17].

But, for many Americans, the destruction of Black wealth apparently is the fault of Black people (and policies that sought to open opportunities that had been closed for so long), not decades and even centuries of racial inequality.  Ignoring the institutional processes that set these problems in motion, some commenters to The New York Times [12] said the following:

—“It’s simple … there shouldn’t have been so many mortgages issued to minorities if they couldn’t pay for them. The left wing likes to ignore reality and this is the result, as usual!”
—“this is what happens when you force loans on people whose culture does not celebrate the American values of hard work and diligence.”
—“Thank you Congressman Barney Frank for forcing lenders to make loans to minority borrowers who might not otherwise have qualified.”
—“It is incumbent upon YOU to decide if you can afford the loan you are about to take out. When I bought my house, I told my wife that under no circumstances will we get anything other than a fixed rate loan. I told this to the loan officer as well and of course, she showed us some ARM’s and I.O. loans in addition to the fixed rate loans. Thanks, but no thanks. We got the fixed rate loan we wanted but would simply have left if we did not qualify for that. Reason? I educated myself beforehand by researching and reading up on taking out a mortgage. There’s a sucker born every minute and sadly is seems as though many of us need the government to protect us from ourselves.”
—“Isn’t the “oppression” of white folks responsible for all of the ills that plague minority communities? How long before Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson demand that those who made smart decisions bail out these people? Obama is already giving money to these minorities who bought houses they didn’t deserve. They should move to public housing (aka the projects/the ‘hood) where they will better fit in, and will feel more comfortable, and be able to save more money.
—-“Of course race needs to be injected into this story as if to soften the impact of the idiotic borrowing choices of certain individuals. Sorry, no tears here. Rather than making this story one of black and white, perhaps you should really focus on the reasons why these people find themselves in their current situation. A real journalist would find out what most of us already know - these so-called victimized homeowners treated their properties like piggybanks for years with little regard on how they were going to repay their loans.  Now our Government is stepping in to help them with our tax dollars. Our society is rapidly becoming one of catering to the bottom at the expense of the top. Personal responsibility is dead.”

[1] Shapiro, T.M. (2005). The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality. New York: Oxford University Press.
[2] Pew Research Center (2011).  Wealth gaps rise to record highs between Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics.
[3] Massey, D. S., & Denton, N. A. (1993). American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
[4] Kimble, J.  (2007).  Insuring inequality:  The role of the Federal Housing Administration in the urban ghettoization of African Americans.  Law & Social Inquiry, 32(2), 399-434.
[5] Oliver, M.L., & Shapiro, T.M. (1997).  Black Wealth/White Wealth:  A New Perspective on Racial Inequality.  New York:  Routledge.
[6] Galster, G., & Godfrey, E. (2005). By words and deeds:  Racial steering by real estate agents in the U.S. in 2000. Journal of the American Planning Association, 71(3), 251-268.
[7] National Fair Housing Alliance. (2006). Housing Segregation Background Report:    Brooklyn, New York.
[8] Roscigno, V. J., Karafin, D. L., & Tester, G. (2009). The Complexities and Processes of Racial Housing Discrimination. Social Problems, 56(1), 49-69.
[9] Squires, G. D., Friedman, S., & Saidat, C. E. (2002). Experiencing Residential Segregation: A Contemporary Study of Washington, D.C. Urban Affairs Review, 38(2), 155-183.
[10] Rosenbaum, E.  (2012).  Homeownership’s wild ride, 2001-2011.  US 2010 Project.
[11] Phillips, S. (2010). The Subprime Crisis and African Americans. Review of Black Political Economy, 37, 223- 229.
[12] Powell, M., & Roberts, J. (2009, May 16). Minorities Affected Most as New York Foreclosures Rise, The New York Times.
[13] Fernandez, M.  (2007, October 15).  Study finds disparities in mortgages by race.  The New York Times.   
[14] Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, NYU.  (2004).  State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhods.
[15] Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, NYU.  (2010).  State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhods.
[16] Weselcouch, M.  (2012).  Foreclosure crisis in New York City:  Cause and consequences.  Presentation at American Planning Association, New York Metro Chapter (Furman Center, NYU). 
[17] Rugh, J. S., & Massey, D. S. (2010). Racial Segregation and the American Foreclosure Crisis. American Sociological Review, 75(5), 629-651.

Minnesota, Mississippi, Florida and Texas filed lawsuits in 1994 against the tobacco industry (hereafter labeled Big Tobacco) to recover smoking-related healthcare costs.  40 more states then did the same.  The defendants included many of the largest tobacco companies and organizations including Phillip Morris (which subsequently changed its name to Altria), RJ Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, Lorillard, and others.  These lawsuits ended in the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) in 1998.  The Agreement required tobacco companies to pay $369 billion in the form of yearly payments to the States; created new restrictions on the advertising and marketing of tobacco products (e.g., they can no longer advertise outdoors or to children); and required Big Tobacco to publish internal company documents in a library depository in Minnesota as well as online [(e.g., at the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library at UCSF (] [1,2].

Until the MSA, many lawsuits had failed.  Between the 1950s and 1970s, individuals filed personal injury claims, but these cases tended to be dismissed or withdrawn before reaching a trial.  Part of the reason was because litigants were unable to prove that smoking was linked to cancer, and Big Tobacco repeatedly denied that nicotine was addictive or that smoking harmed health. By the the 1980s, the health risks of smoking were widely known, even though Big Tobacco continued to deny it.  But lawsuits were still unsuccessful because Big Tobacco turned around and said that smokers knew the risks and were therefore responsible for whatever happened to them.  A key legal strategy was to focus on the release of Big Tobacco internal company documents, which showed that these companies knew about the risks and were denying them. 

The internal documents revealed previously inaccessible evidence about the ways Big Tobacco marketed cigarettes, targeted specific populations, and sought to deny the dangers of smoking.  Big Tobacco’s targeting of Black populations reveals much about how these companies perceived African Americans and the strategies they used to create and maintain Black smokers.  Tobacco marketing has of course always targeted different demographic groups, and used a variety of strategies, such as featuring celebrities (e.g., actor Douglas Fairbanks in 1928:, medical testimonials/health claims (e.g., Doctors smoke Camels, 1947: and glamour (e.g., in 1967: [3]. However, targeted marketing to African Americans means that race is the focal point of the strategy—and race is never neutral [4].  As Eduardo Bonilla-Silva argues, in a racialized social system, such as the United States, racial categories necessarily imply hierarchy, and in that hierarchy, people classified as White are at the top [4].  Access to resources, power and participation in society are allocated based on position in this hierarchy.  Housing and neighborhood access are one such resource—racial segregation and housing discrimination create spatial opportunities to target Black neighborhoods exclusively.  Thus, marketing cigarettes to Black people invokes a racial hierarchy as the basis for selling a product that harms health.  And, the harm disproportionately affects Black populations.  Black men and women are 40% more likely to develop lung cancer than White counterparts [5].  For both Black men and women, among all cancers, lung cancer has the highest rates of death [6].

To address racism in tobacco marketing, African Americans have filed lawsuits as well.  In the 1990s, Reverend Jesse Brown filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania on behalf of Black smokers against Big Tobacco.  Unlike other lawsuits centering on product liability, this was a civil rights lawsuit, which argued that tobacco companies engaged in “intentional and racially discriminating fraudulent course of misconduct” [7]. The argument centered on the fact that Big Tobacco was aggressively marketing mentholated cigarettes (e.g., KOOL, Newport) to entice Black  people to smoke, and that this targeted marketing put Black people at risk of negative health outcomes. For example, In 1973 Brown & Williamson was spending 17% of its budget for KOOL advertising on Black people, although they were 10% of the population.  It also was saturating Black neighborhoods in standing and bus advertisements [2].  Menthol, a compound that occurs naturally in mint (and can be made synthetically) provides a cooling sensation.  Brown v. Phillip Morris argued that menthol has damaging effects in cigarettes:  1) menthol actually becomes carcinogenic (causes cancer) when smoked; 2) menthol cigarettes have higher nicotine and tar levels than cigarettes without menthol; 3) menthol makes it easier to draw deeper and longer on the cigarette, which makes them more addictive and pushes carcinogens deeper in the lungs [7]. Research has shown that smokers who use menthol cigarettes have a harder time quitting and have worse health outcomes/greater risk of cancer.  Thus, the heavy promotion of menthols in Black neighborhoods and to Black people through other media outlets meant that a more dangerous product was being advertised.  The photo below shows the leading brands advertised at a Newark gas station.

Although Newport is now perceived as a Black brand, it was not always so.  Newport was originally marketed to Whites—only after a deliberate re-positioning by Lorillard did the brand become associated with blackness.  This clip from the Prelinger Archive shows a Newport commercial from the 1960s: 

Several programs were developed to attract Black people to Newport.  For example, in 1987, the “Inner City Sales Program” was designed to obtain new smokers and maintain current smokers among Black and Latino young adults with a high school education or less.  To do so, Lorillard was to concentrate sales and marketing efforts “on high potential geographic and ethnic niches” in the Midwest and Northeast.  This included a variety of tactics including events, sweepstakes and outdoor advertising.  The “Van Program” gave out free samples of Newport cigarettes to encourage Black people to try them.  Company documents show that Black and Latino neighborhoods were targeted.  For example, for the week of July 3, 1989, vans in Brooklyn would traverse Myrtle Avenue from Flatbush to Wycoff; Fulton Street from Flatbush to Malcolm X, and Broadway from Flushing Ave to Hart Street, among other locations [8].  Boston resident Marie Evans brought a lawsuit against Lorillard for these practices, contending that the company gave her free samples in the housing project in which she lived at the age of 13, which led to a decades-long habit before she died.  The lawsuit alleges that Lorillard deliberately tried to entice Black children to become smokers by handing out free samples in urban neighborhoods [9].

Apart from specific initiatives such as those described above, advertisements at the point-of-sale (e.g., corner store windows, next to the cash register) are frequently used to gain shoppers’ attention when they are about to make a purchase. In a study in Oklahoma County, point-of-sale ads for tobacco were less likely to occur in areas with higher numbers of White residents and residents with higher incomes.  Also, store owners were often under contract with tobacco companies.  These contracts determined the number, type and placement of tobacco ads in the store.  Because store owners who were under contract received more money and other incentives that enabled more sales, they were reluctant to take the ads down [10].  An example of point-of-sale tobacco advertising in NYC appears below.  According to bodega owners, these signs are hand delivered by tobacco company representatives  every three months.

In a document entitled “Smoke Signals”, a newsletter written by C.W. Toti Director of Marketing Services and Product Development at Lorillard, a  report on “Special Black Effort”, dated July 25, 1974 described the company’s emphasis on targeting Black people:  “You’re all probably aware that the Black population generally enjoys smoking menthol cigarettes, particularly Kool…Obviously the Black smoker is very important to the menthol segment, and thus a prime target for NEWPORT marketing efforts…With the objective of capturing a bigger share of this important segment, NEWPORT is now starting a strong advertising and point-of-sale effort, specifically Black oriented.”  The document goes on to describe these strategies, such as 8 sheet outdoor posting in Black neighborhoods.  An example of two side-by-side 8-sheet posters appears below.  Note that these ads are promoting liquor, another industry that frequently targets Black people. 

Finally, another strategy to increase NEWPORT sales was to feature Black smokers on transit advertising and a strong advertising effort in Ebony and Jet.  The document concludes that the package will be useful in “converting Black Power to Green Power…NEWPORT Green!”

The next three posts contain jpeg excerpts from several of these kinds of internal documents, all obtained from the Legacy Library at UCSF (University of California at San Francisco).  These documents were scanned exactly as they came from the tobacco companies.  All writing or other markings are from the original document.

Tobacco documents Set #1.  Each file is named with the name of the tobacco company, the year of the document, and the Bates #, which is an ID number at the UCSF Legacy Library. nd means No Date, the year of the document was not available. In order they are:

1.  PhilipMorris.1982.1002688587
2.  PhilipMorris.1983.2043891465
3.  PhilipMorris.1988.2044235614
4.  PhilipMorris.1993.2041010348
5.  PhilipMorris.1994.2041619566
6.  PhilipMorris.1997.2070951754

Tobacco documents Set #2.  Each file is named with the name of the tobacco company, the year of the document, and the Bates #, which is an ID number at the UCSF Legacy Library.  nd means No Date, the year of the document was not available.  In order they are:

1.  PhilipMorris.nd.2040581827
2.  RJReynolds.1979.501019260
3.  RJReynolds.1979.660067875
4.  RJReynolds.1981.661081684
5.  RJReynolds.1984.503926309
6.  RJReynolds.1986.661096850