The Definition of Petit Apartheid

Daniel E. Georges-Abeyie's term for de facto segregation originating from the myriad of discretionary decisions made at every level of the criminal justice system. First coined in Racism, Empiricism, and Criminal Justice, petit apartheid refers to the "everyday slights, insults, rough or brutal treatment and unnecessary stops, questions, and searches of blacks..." and posits that such treatment has a cumulative effect on every stage of criminal justice proceedings.

The Manifestations of Petit Apartheid

Police are trained to seek out criminals in criminalized space, leading them primarily to minority neighborhoods. Minorities tend to be less affluent, leading to high population density. High population density causes more people to congregate outside of the home, less supervision of children, and a constant struggle for ownership of limited public space. Deviance is easier to monitor, and arrests for infractures such as drug abuse are more readily made.

The problem with these practices is that police fall prey to rational racism. Because they arrest more minorities for drug use, they tend to believe that this is because minorities are using drugs more often. But when they enter minority areas with intent to arrest, and white areas with intent to protect, what is to be expected?

Additionally, police officers treat minority suspects differently, almost to the point that they are assumed to be guilty until proven innocent. Jackie Campbell, a black female police officer, noticed the stark contrast between policing in one district to another. "While working with a veteran officer in this new district we conducted a vehicle stop of a white male subject... the officer responded to the driver in a courteous manner, informing him of the nature of the stop as well as asking permission of the driver to search him... never had I witnessed an officer ask for permission of a driver to search a vehicle. It was just a given that the officer had a right to search the vehicle." She goes on to explain that police officers in these districts are able to go unpunished for these practices due to the general lack of legal knowledge of the populace, in addition to disinformation spread by police officers.

"Rational" Racism leads to racial profiling. As a result of the moral panics associated with drugs and gang affiliation, police are instructed to look for minority suspects who exhibit odd behavior, including driving old cars, cars that are too expensive for them, or minorities driving in neighborhoods where "they do not belong". Gang injunctions forbid two or more people who are suspected to be gang members (which are not open to any official scrutiny or review process) from congregation in public, at any time. Minorities are inhibited from the free use of public space, leading to greater levels of harassment by police officers.

Gang injunctions are but one of the many measures used to control the mobility of minorities and their use of public space. As real estate developers target certain spaces for revitalization or reform, they demand an area of safe space (read: white space) in order to attract investors and potential occupants. Swayed by the promise of economic prosperity for the area, police officers are willing accomplices in gentrification. When a space has been targeted, police begin to crack down on displays of ethnic identity, such as street cruisers, or graffiti. These activities offer constructive alternatives to gang affiliation, an empowering display of cultural space, and exhibit ethnic pride. However, authorities have chosen to frame these activities as gang-related, arresting cruisers and graffiti artists, claiming that these activities are quality of life violations. The primary goal is to force minorities out of public space, and out of the public eye. Said one father of his experiences with urban "revitalization" in downtown Phoenix: "Since the Stadium went up, they have been harassing the neighborhood more... they are trying to make us a parking lot."

It is a vicious cycle. As images of minorities as criminal permeate the national discourse, it leads to programs and practices targeted at arresting minorities. When these programs deliver minority offenders, we take it as proof of higher rates of minority offending.

None of this will change until we admit it exists.

Milovanovic, Dragan. Petit Apartheid in the U.S. Criminal Justice System: The Dark Figure of Racism. Durham; Carolina Academic Press, 2001.
Russell, Katheryn K. The Color of Crime. New York: Ney York University Press, 1998.
Weitzer, Ronald. Current Controversies in Criminology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003.