NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — A Virginia newspaper has found that more than half of the state's disorderly conduct charges were filed against black men and women.
The Daily Press in Newport News reported Thursday that more than 2,500 disorderly conduct charges were filed by police in Virginia last year. The paper reviewed district court records across the state.
The numbers show that black Virginians are charged with offense at a disproportionately higher rate. The data also suggest that prosecutors statewide are less inclined to drop the charges against blacks than whites.
Newport News state Del. Mike Mullin, a Democrat, said the findings are "shocking." He recently tried but failed to pass legislation banning students from being charged with criminal disorderly conduct for acting out in school.
The newspaper's findings also show that the percentage of black defendants outpaces the black population in some cities. For instance, it's 73% vs 42% in Norfolk and 49% vs. 19% in Virginia Beach.
Virginia's disorderly conduct law is the only one in the state code that says it cannot be charged if conduct is punishable by any other state law.
"It is a nebulous charge; just about anything can be disorderly conduct if you describe it eloquently enough — you raise your voice, stand too close to someone, walk down the street yelling," Mullin said.
Police and prosecutors say the numbers are misleading because they consider each charge on a case-by-case basis. They also say that varying dispositions of cases often reflect someone's prior record.
Someone can be charged with disorderly conduct for behavior that has "a direct tendency to cause acts of violence," or that disrupts a funeral, religious service or government meeting, according to the statute.