Haverford–a peaceful community in Philadelphia’s Western suburbs–may be hiding a terrible secret. A report from the Haverford Community Action Network (H-CAN) claims that systemic racism has taken hold of the town’s school district and police departments. H-CAN looked into the issue of racism in the community after several families of color took their kids out of school because of racial tension.

The H-CAN report specifically details a number of incidents that paint an unflattering picture of the Haverford community’s attitude towards minorities:

  • The Haverford Township Police stops a disproportionate number of black drivers
  • In May 2017, a child was targeted with a racial slur while riding his bike near a school
  • In October 2017, a photograph of an immigrant family was falsely associated with a story about human trafficking
  • A swastika was painted onto a bench at a train station sometime in 2017
  • In 2015, racial slurs were etched onto a sidewalk
  • A hostile school environment for minorities fostered by other students and teachers
  • Testimony from families of colors who are considering moving away because of the “unwelcoming environment” in Haverford

How Can Lack of Diversity Affect the Criminal Justice System?

Philadelphia is a racially diverse city. According to the 2015 census, Philadelphia’s population is 41.5 percent black, 35.8 percent white, 13.4 Hispanic or Latino, 6.8 percent Asian, 2 percent multiracial, 0.2 percent Native American, and 0.03 percent Pacific Islanders. In contrast, Haverford is racially homogenous. The town’s population of 50,000 breaks down to around 90 percent white, 3 percent African American; 4 percent Asian, 2 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent from other, or several,

In white-dominated communities such as Haverford, people of color are often disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. H-CAN reports, for example, that around 30 percent of traffic stops in Haverford involved black drivers–even though the town is only 3 percent black. The over-policing of African Americans and other minorities doesn’t just happen on the roads. Unfortunately, the mere presence of a person of color in a wealthy white neighborhood may be enough to make people suspicious and call the police. In fact, this can even occur in diverse cities like Philadelphia. We were recently reminded of this when two black customers of a Philadelphia Starbucks were arrested after they tried to use the restroom before ordering their drinks.

Many criminal offenses require a trial by jury. A jury is a group of twelve members of the community, who will listen to the arguments of the prosecution and defense before issuing a verdict. In Pennsylvania, a jury is chosen by a criminal defendant with the help of counsel just before the actual trial begins. The jury pool from which the defendant and their attorney select each juror is composed of the registered voters in the county that the trial is taking place. For example, a jury impaneled to hear a case involving an alleged robbery that occurred in Haverford Township would be composed of registered voters in Delaware County.

For defendants of color, this can be a problem if they are being tried in a county that is predominately white. The fear is that jury members’ biases towards people of color may interfere with their ability to think about the case rationally. They may issue a guilty verdict even if the defense shows there is a reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt.

Can Haverford Change for the Better?

The H-CAN report focuses mostly on the town’s school district, which displays “overt and unconscious biases in the curriculum and from teaching staff and school officials.” Racial tensions within Haverford’s schools is the reason some families of color are considering moving. To make Haverford schools more welcoming to people of all backgrounds, H-CAN issued the following recommendations:

  • Performing an audit of the school district’s ability to address racial bias
  • Expanding the school board’s inclusivity committee
  • Implementing district-wide training programs
  • Hiring a diversity and inclusion coordinator

The Haverford school board has been receptive to H-CAN’s report and recommendations, so it is likely that some changes are in store. Whether these changes will effectively reverse deeply ingrained racial attitudes in the community is another matter.

The criminal justice system has long put people of color at a disadvantage–and not only in white-dominated communities such as Haverford. The issue goes far beyond the implicit (and sometimes explicit) racial biases of local law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and juries. The structure of the American criminal justice system itself puts minorities and the poor at a disadvantage. From the selection of juries to the cost of defending against criminal charges, the criminal justice process favors wealthy white defendants.

At Fienman Defense, we believe in giving our clients the best chances possible as they pass through the criminal justice system. In practice, this requires zealous advocacy and clear strategic thinking about their cases. No matter how hopeless your situation may seem, a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer can help. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, call us today at (215) 839-9529 for a free and confidential case consultation.

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