Opponents of attempts to tighten New Hampshire’s bail laws say requiring bail from more suspects will disproportionately hurt Black Granite Staters — not because of crime rates, but because of “staggering racial bias.”

It is a powerful political argument, though one that does not appear to be backed by data.

In 2018, Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bail reform law designed to reduce the number of people held in pretrial detention and impose an “economic fairness” filter on the process. “Senate Bill 556 represents the culmination of a bipartisan effort to address these issues and reform our bail system by ensuring economic fairness, protecting the rights of defendants, and enhancing public safety. I am proud today to sign Senate Bill 556 into law,” Sununu said at the time.

Less than four years later, Sununu is urging the legislature to tighten bail requirements once again, even giving the issue a shout-out in his State of the State address last month.

“I saw just yesterday the Senate passed SB 294, that will ensure violent criminals don’t automatically walk free on bail. I mean, who wants to see a violent criminal walk free on bail?” Sununu asked, “Attackers shouldn’t be able just to walk right out and prey on their victims once again. And this legislature’s standing up and doing something about it.”

And this week, the GOP-controlled House will consider HB 1476 that, while it doesn’t change how first-time defendants are treated, adds additional requirements for repeat offenders.

“Property crime is up 10 percent in Manchester since their bail reform passed, and our community has had enough,” said state Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester), one of the bill’s sponsors. “Our police are worn down by having to arrest the same people over and over again just to see them walk hours later only to re-offend again.”

The politics of bail reform appear to have changed radically since the wake of the George Floyd murder when progressive policing ideas were on the rise. “‘Bail reform’ in 2022 emerging as the equivalent of ‘defund the police’ in 2020,” National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar said Sunday.

Supporters of the original push to lower bail requirements — or eliminating cash bail entirely — aren’t happy.

“By most measures, the current law has been working,” says Ross Connolly with New Hampshire’s chapter of the libertarian-leaning Americans for Prosperity. “New Hampshire has seen a reduction in crime since the passage of pretrial reform in 2018. However, we understand concerns with how the law has been implemented in certain areas of the state.”

“This is a targeted issue that needs a targeted solution. Unfortunately, none of the proposals so far have addressed the issue in a manner that protects due process rights and will not have the potential to be used to re-criminalize poverty in New Hampshire,” Connolly added.

But opponents in the state’s Black Lives Matter movement say the real issue isn’t re-offending. It’s race.

“In the nearly two years since Mr. Floyd’s death, not only have politicians failed to deliver on their promises, they are actively pushing legislation to expand the incarceration of Black, Brown and other marginalized people in the Granite State,” Ronelle Tshiela and Clifton West with the state’s Black Lives Matter organization wrote in Sunday’s Union-Leader. 

They reject HB 1476 “because New Hampshire’s criminal laws are enforced with staggering racial bias, this new law would disproportionately harm the same communities that our political leaders have said they support. How? Because Black people are disproportionately arrested, they will also be disproportionately incarcerated under this mandated one-size-fits-all legislation,” they wrote.

Tshiela and West point to overall arrest numbers to argue that Black people are arrested at a disproportionate rate and that racism is the cause for that disparity.

“For individuals and communities already suffering from the legacy of racism in America, including right here in New Hampshire, the unnecessary pretrial detention of disproportionately Black people will only serve to create additional harms.”

However, data show Black Americans are far more likely to commit violent crimes than their fellow Americans, and arrest numbers tend to reflect that fact. Half of all murders and robberies are committed by Black people, though they make up just 13 percent of the population.

According to Rafael Mangual of the Manhattan Institute, people of color commit a disproportionate amount of crime. “Nationwide, Black Americans have a homicide rate about eight times higher than that of Whites. Black males are just 7 percent of the population, but represent about 50 percent of both homicide perpetrators and victims.”

Some BLM activists argue Black perpetrators are arrested far more often than their White counterparts, and that is the reason for the statistics. While there may be some disparity, a 2021 study comparing FBI crime statistics and victim reports of the race of their alleged assailants found “no statistically significant differences by race between offenders identified and persons arrested.”

Heather Mac Donald, author of “The War on Cops” and an expert on policing and crime data, is even more blunt:

“The bodies don’t lie.  According to the CDC, blacks between the ages of 10 and 34 die of homicide at 13 times the rate of whites.  They are being killed not by the police, not by whites, but by other blacks, overwhelmingly in drive-by shootings.  The black crime commission rate is jas disproportionate as the black death by homicide rateThe black arrest rate reflects the black crime rate,” Mac Donald told NHJournal.

“If whites were being killed at the rate at which blacks are killed by other blacks, there would be a national revolution.”

The claim of “staggering racial bias” among New Hampshire’s police and courts may not be bolstered by data, but it is commonly repeated by progressive Democrats. New Hampshire state Rep. Manny Espitia, for example, recently upbraided a fellow House Democrat for calling law enforcement during an encounter with a Black activist “despite being fully cognizant of the heightened dangers Black men face in this country in the presence of law enforcement.” (Espitia currently sits on the House Criminal Justice Committee.)

And U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren famously called the American criminal justice system “racist from front to back.”

Tsheila did not respond to a request for comment regarding the data in the op-ed.

For Berry, the focus should be on the victims, not the offenders.

“They can stand up for repeat offenders who flaunt the law all they want, but anyone who lives in and around Manchester knows that the policy of catch-and-release has backfired and needs to be corrected,” Berry said. “If someone is arrested multiple times while out on bail, something is going on in their life that needs to be addressed. The bail commissioners cannot do that. Only a judge can.”