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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 29, 2010 10 years ago

'Racism fuels Newtown perception'

by: Robin Roy City Editor

The way affluent whites in Sarasota view black Newtown residents causes those in Newtown to commit crimes.

That was the basic hypothesis one of the Police Advisory Panel’s advisers offered to panel members April 26.

“If you feel you are devalued, how can you expect to achieve or obey the law?” asked Dr. James Unnever, a University of South Florida professor who specializes in police officers’ disparate treatment of minorities.

Unnever said studies show that if blacks, particularly black men, believe that whites think they are criminals, then they develop the attitude of, “Why should I follow the law?”

“If the prevailing attitude is that (Newtown is crime-ridden), the solution to the situation doesn’t reside in Newtown. It resides in white people,” he said.

To get a handle on how whites perceive Newtown residents, Unnever suggested the panel should recommend to city commissioners that a citywide survey be conducted to study those attitudes.

Unnever said, at the very least, the city’s black and Hispanic communities should have veto power over the police officers who are assigned to their neighborhoods.

Panel member Barbara Langston, a Newtown resident, supported the idea of a survey, because she believes most whites feel that men in Newtown are all criminals and the all the women are illiterate.

“Anyone who spends one hour in Newtown sees it’s not crime-ridden,” she said. “It’s one of the most friendliest places. The city needs to address its racism.”

Police department arrest figures show that in the past 12 months, there have been 6,317 criminal charges filed in police zones 2 and 3, which make up Newtown. That makes up more than 19% of the total criminal charges filed in the entire city, including 24% of the robberies, 43% of the armed robberies, 83% of the murders, 100% of the kidnappings.

Another panel adviser, though, shot down the idea of a survey.

With tongue in cheek, Ernie Scott said the police department should pull extra patrols out of Newtown and distribute officers evenly in every neighborhood, so there doesn’t appear to be any area that has more crime than another.

“Do you want to do that?” asked Scott. “It doesn’t make sense. The way affluent whites view Newtown is not the officers’ problem.”

The End is Near

The Police Advisory Panel has just three more bi-weekly meetings left in its six-month lifespan. Panel members will begin submitting their ideas to place in the final report, which will contain recommendations to improve the policies and procedures of the police department. The report will be presented to the City Commission for its consideration.

Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].

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