A wolf in sheep's clothing: race and policing in Teaneck, NJ

By Marie Mendoza

Phillip Pannell (middle) and his friends.

The new Black Lives Matter mural painted at Teaneck High School.

According to a study by FiveThirtyEight, police are killing fewer people in big cities, but more in suburban and rural areas.  Suburbia is a space often constructed out of white flight, but over the years, these spaces are undergoing a transformation.  Black and Brown people are leaving cities, either by choice or being pushed out due to the rising cost of living. They currently make up a little more than a third of all suburban residents. Now, conversations are emerging about the over-policing of black people in suburbs. These conversations are reminiscent of ones that have taken place in my hometown, a place that has been struggling with the diversification of its population. 

This is "A wolf in sheep's clothing," an analysis of race and policing in the suburbs as told through one American town--Teaneck, New Jersey, a place that was once regarded as a model for racial harmony. 
The data behind the story:

"The Force Report," a 12-month long investigation conducted by NJ Advance Media collected 72,677 use-of-force forms covering 2012-2016 from police departments across New Jersey. Using these documents they created a comprehensive database of police force. For Teaneck, they found that based on population, a Black person in Teaneck is 119% more likely to have force used on than a white person. Black people in Teaneck make up 30.3% of the town’s population, yet they account for 55% of arrests.

While working on this project, I sought to find out if the Teaneck Police Department had made an effort to remedy these inequalities in the years following the database's release. Through the Open Public Records Act, I complied Teaneck Police arrest logs from 2019-2020 and use of force reports from 2018-2020. 

The disparities that were found in the Force Report still exist. 
Marie Mendoza

Marie Mendoza is a Chicago-based audio producer, and a fellow at WBEZ Chicago. She's a graduate of Northwestern University, where she got her start in radio at WNUR 89.3 FM. She's reported on issues ranging from gentrification in Humboldt Park to the street vendor community in Chicago.  You can see more of her work at marieannmendoza.myportfolio.com
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