Statistics exposing racial disparities in Contra Costa County's criminal justice system were presented at a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, and the supervisors asked for a group to be formed to explore the issue.
Supervisors admitted that there's been a lack of progress in combating inequalities across all parts of the local criminal justice system, where the only area black residents' presence doesn't stand out is in the makeup of juries, according to data showcased Tuesday.
"One of the things that we continue to identity is this huge disparity -- and we're not closing the gap," Supervisor Federal Glover said.
Glover was involved in discussions a decade ago involving a county study revealing that for every white juvenile arrested, there were almost six times as many black juveniles arrested in communities such as Bay Point. And more recent data shows little has changed.
County staff, for example, highlighted that despite the 2013 census indicating that only around 10% of the county's residents were black, this population made up 40% of adults in the pre-trial phase of criminal prosecution.
Meanwhile, only 7.5% of jurors between 2011 and 2015 were black, according to the county's data. And Hispanic or Latino populations, nearly 25% of the county's residents, only accounted for around 15% of jurors.
Tim Ewell of the county administrator's office stated it plainly.
"There is disparity within (the county's) criminal justice system, specifically in regards to black community," he told supervisors.
This discussion came almost exactly a year after a group motivated by the Black Lives Matter movement, the Contra Costa County Racial Justice Coalition, called on supervisors to respond to these racial inequalities.
On April 7, 2015, the coalition, which is associated with the county's public defenders, wrote a letter enumerating several measures the county could implement to help reduce racism in the justice system.
Part of the impetus for the letter was District Attorney Mark Peterson's rebuke of a demonstration highlighting these issues held by members of the Public Defender's Office in December 2014.
"We don't consider race in our charging decisions," Peterson wrote in a four-page statement. "Unfortunately, it's a sad fact that these crimes are perpetrated disproportionately by poor people of color, and it's equally true that these violent crimes are perpetrated disproportionately upon poor people of color."
The coalition's April letter to supervisors included a response to comments from Peterson, rejecting what the coalition's leaders said were his claims that "law enforcement is 'colorblind.'"
Addressing the issue Tuesday, Supervisor John Gioia said it was important to emphasize that pointing fingers was counterproductive.
"The point is to bring everyone to the table and have an open discussion," he said.
But Gioia did add, "People become defensive when there are questions about race and the criminal justice system, and they shouldn't."
Supervisors approved the recommended creation of a 15-member ad hoc task force, a group comprised of representatives from various organizations, to review and discuss available data and examine potential solutions.
"We all know setting up a task force like this does not solve one of the most complex issues of our time," Gioia said. "But at least there are some things that can be done locally that can help us make progress."
People during public comment Tuesday asked that the committee that's being formed, referred to as the Contra Costa County Disproportionate Minority Contact Task Force, to include a neutral facilitator.
"When you get a group this large that is discussing something this charged with emotion, history and nuance, you need someone facilitating that," Public Defender Robin Lipetzky said.
Other supervisors asked that the committee also include members of the general public who are not affiliated with any organization.
Glover expressed hopes that the timeline on the task force's formation and its discussions could move quickly enough to result in the development of solutions.
"We're never going to close the (county's criminal justice) gap if we don't start implementing changes," he said.
The coalition that initially sent the letter has asked for steps to be taken by the county including requiring employees to participate in mandatory implicit bias training, conducting audits of arrests and prosecutions and generating a public report and establishing a civilian police review board and civilian police complaint intake.
It also calls for restoring parity in compensation between the District Attorney and Public Defender positions and policies to be implemented increasing proportional representation of people of color sitting on juries.