By Mitch Borden
The Midland Police Department pulled over black and Hispanic residents at consistently higher rates than whites between 2016 and 2019, a Marfa Public Radio review of police records has revealed.
Midland PD has been in hot water with residents after the controversial arrest of Tye Anders, a young black man, who was filmed last month lying on the ground as Midland police held him at gunpoint after he allegedly ran a stop sign.
The incident immediately drew criticism from Midlanders, who claim Anders’ case is an example of discrimination and use of excessive force by local police. The case has only grown in relevance to residents as nationwide protests against police brutality continue.
At a two-hour community forum organized in response to Anders’ arrest, an audience of predominantly black residents shared concerns of over-policing and racial profiling by the Midland Police Department.
Pastor Lavonda Johnson said being tailed by the police isn’t a rare event if you’re black in Midland.
“This is what they do. They follow them. They pick on ‘em,” said Johnson. “Each one of my sons have all been racially profiled.”
Several participants echoed similar sentiments of frustration throughout the event.
Still, Midland Police Chief Seth Herman maintains his officers don’t discriminate.
“Your concern for bias by us, by profiling people, that’s real,” Herman said at the public forum. “My perception of it is we’re working very hard that it is not a reality for us, that we are not employing bias.”
Herman explained the Midland Police Department makes efforts to weed out bias, including releasing an annual report called the Racial Profiling Analysis, which is required by state law. Each year, the study tallies traffic stops that ended with some sort of warning, ticket or arrest alongside demographic data.
According to the 2016 – 2019 reports, black and Hispanic drivers are consistently pulled over at higher rates than white drivers. Last year, black drivers were almost twice as likely to be arrested after a traffic stop than white drivers, and more frequently searched too.
In 2019, Midland PD made 1,220 traffic stops that included a search. 20 percent of those pulled over were African American, a far cry from the city’s demographic breakdown. According to Census Bureau estimates from the same year, about 7 percent of Midlanders are African American and around 45 percent are white.
Texas State University’s Dr. Brian Withrow has studied police bias for two decades. He was also a police officer for 13 years, and said trends like the ones at Midland PD don’t just happen.
Withrow explained racial profiling is difficult to prove, and data from traffic stops only paints part of the picture. He believes if Midland’s numbers consistently indicate minorities are pulled over at high rates and if residents are afraid of the police, the police department likely has a problem.
“There’s a reason why those numbers are higher,” according to Withrow, “And that reason may not be something illegal, or unconstitutional, but there’s a reason why they are higher.”
Withrow laid it out like this:
“If I’m a black man, and I’m looking at those numbers year after year after year seeing black people overrepresented in stops, arrests, and searches. It would be pretty hard for me to tell my son ‘yeah, it’s okay, trust the police.”
In a written statement, a spokesperson for the Midland Police Department told Marfa Public Radio no complaints were filed against officers last year concerning racial profiling. They also claimed none of the department’s policies caused people of color to be pulled over more than white drivers, and characterized the trends as an issue with the state’s reporting requirements.
Last year’s racial profiling report also noted that specifically in 2019, Midland PD switched programs for filing reports. The new software did not require the race of drivers to be submitted, which caused some aberrations in the data that make up the city’s latest numbers.
John Norman, Midland’s only black city councilman who also organized the community forum, told Marfa Public Radio that he is currently in the process of working to form a citizens advisory committee for the Midland Police Department.
He also said more community forums on policing will be held in the future, but so far no dates have been set.