Just before 5:00 a.m. on July 27, 2000, Alfred Johnson was arrested for selling $20 worth of cocaine in Belltown. According to court records, Johnson, a 45-year-old black man, allegedly sold the drug to an undercover Seattle police officer, who was part of a "buy-bust" operation. During buy-bust stings, cops pose as folks looking for drugs so they can catch drug dealers.

Problem is, the buy-bust program may be skewed against blacks. In 1999, a Harvard study found that 57 percent of drug arrests, and 79 percent of buy-bust arrests in Seattle involved blacks, who are just 8.3 percent of Seattle's population. Attorneys with the Racial Disparity Project (RDP) at the Defender Association took that study much further, gathering thousands of Seattle drug arrest documents and creating a database that details things like the location of arrests, the type of drug involved, the race of the arrestee, and the type of police action (like a buy-bust operation) that led to the arrest. From that database, the RDP came up with comprehensive figures, like the racial makeup of arrestees involved in cocaine buy-bust arrests, for example.

Attorneys in Johnson's case, which was consolidated with 18 other buy-bust cases in May 2001, would like to use those figures, but the RDP's findings are tied up in court. The King County Prosecutor and the SPD are challenging the figures' release, saying the court order that gave the RDP an all-access pass to police documents prohibited public release of the results.

But on November 10, public defenders will argue otherwise. King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones will decide whether the conclusions--which the RDP has been forced to sit on for a few months--can be made public, and used in the larger buy-bust case (the raw database itself will remain protected).

"The issue being discussed is whether the public can learn what the police force has been up to--whether the RDP can tell anyone what they've learned about SPD arrest stats," activist Lea Zengage, with Justice Works!, wrote to supporters last week. "In a way, this is the most important issue to arise so far in the case, because it's about whether we can have access to what has been learned, to inform the community about the causes of, and possible solutions for, racial disparity." Justice Works! hopes to pack the courtroom with supporters during the 8:30 a.m. hearing, which they hope will result in the immediate release of the RDP's findings.