Phillip Arroyo is a student at FAMU on his way to a law degree, but two years ago, he was arrested for a night on a minor traffic charge. While in jail, he noticed that most of the inmates he saw were black or Hispanic. But the majority of inmate records are listed as white.
That’s because Orange County only records inmates as either ‘black’ or ‘white’ – nothing else in between. Hispanic inmates, he found, are typically just catalogged as ‘white’ when arrested in Orange County.
This prompted Arroyo, along with a group of other local activists, to start a petition to get Orange County to change its ways.
“As of now over 70% of people incarcerated in Orange County are people of color. However, you will never see this percentage anywhere because Hispanics are counted as “White” within Orange county statistics, therefore inflating the number of white people arrested and/or incarcerated, therefore surpassing the total true percentage of people of color in jail/prison.”
The petition had 52 signatures after just over two days active on Wednesday.
Arroyo said he and other speakers would be bringing it before the Orange County Commission at the Nov. 22 meeting, and that they had already spoken to District 6 Commissioner Victoria Siplin – the only minority among the commission currently – about the issue.
He said the problem was that it could skew statistics in a way that wouldn’t end up getting help for minority communities and individuals that need it – if white people were being reported as the largest number arrested, it would be that much harder to gather data on meaningful reforms needed for minority communities in particular.
“It’s like trying to swing at a pinata with a blindfold,” he said. “If we have accurate data, we can have accurate alternatives, and reasons why 70 percent of the people arrested are minorities. We can look at the social and economic and racial elements that could have been present. Right now, we’re not able to identify what the problem is.”
And, it was strange to Arroyo that Orange County, which has one of the most diverse populations in the state, would only list residents as either white or black when they arrest them. He didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but he believed the racial element could have been present.
“There are a high amount of brutality cases here,” he said, referring to one in particular – that of Noel Carter, found guilty earlier this year for attacking police in a case that some said could’ve easily been the police battering him first.
Arroyo interned at the White House in 2012, and he said his experience there, along with being arrested in 2014, shaped his desire to make a difference.
“All these life experiences have helped me to develop into a better citizen,” he said. “I’m hoping to enact meaningful change in government and society.”