The noxious effects of racial profiling
By Dr. M. Rick Turner
Thanks to the proliferation of social media and the motivation and concern of the black press, the biggest news story in the country on March 26 was the killing of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a self-appointed guardian of public safety on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla.
The NAACP and other civil and human rights organizations throughout the United States held massive protests to condemn this killing. New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote during the week of the disclosure of Trayvon Martin’s death, “Trayvon’s death and the public outcry about the case … shined a harsh light on the plight of young black men in America and the shadow of suspicion that hangs over them. It has also renewed the debate about racial profiling — which is completely incongruous to any basic concept of fairness.”
Stemming from this outcry over injustice, the Albemarle-Charlottesville Branch of the NAACP convened a town hall meeting on April 11 at First Baptist Church, where approximately 200 community members and representatives of the city, county and University of Virginia police departments met to discuss issues of urgency regarding police and community relations. The focus of the evening discussion was to open public dialogue and to re-examine and challenge the issue of racial profiling that — until the death of Trayvon Martin — had fallen out of the public mind.
Contrary to the belief of many Americans, racial profiling is inadequate policing. Extensive study done after racial profiling incidents on the New Jersey Turnpike shows that racial profiling is neither an efficient nor an effective tool for fighting crime.
At a 1999 conference in Washington, “Strengthening Police-Community Relationship,” former President Bill Clinton called racial profiling a “morally indefensible, deeply corrosive practice.” He added that “racial profiling is in fact the opposite of good police work, where actions are based on hard facts, not stereotypes. It is wrong, it is destructive, and it must be stopped.”
Law professor and author David A. Harris states: “As a society, we look for equal justice under the law; instead, we get a concentrated focus on black and other people of color. We look for the Fourth Amendment to restrain police behavior; instead we have a free-for-all, unrestrained by the Constitution in any practical sense.”
At our recent town meeting, in two hours of needed discussion, some community members related incidents regarding their experience being racially profiled on the street and in their homes. As the discussion continued, police department personnel seemed attentive and eager to participate in the dialogue. I came away from the discussion somewhat encouraged, but nevertheless still wondering how we can avoid a Trayvon Martin incident in Charlottesville.
One way is for the police to explicitly ban racial profiling and remove race from their policing. Professor David A. Harris, the author of “Profile in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work,” states: “When we use race as a way to predict who might be a criminal, because we believe the statistics bear this out, a funny thing happens. The prophecy is fulfilled and the theory works. We arrest more blacks and Latinos, convict more blacks and Latinos. As we go round and round this circle, we never notice facts that lie just outside our vision. And we never ask ourselves questions … because we have the answers we need already.”
According to many Charlottesville community residents, racial profiling is dangerous, damaging and humiliating; causes community antagonism, and in essence is an ineffective way to fight crime and apprehend criminals.
The police chief from Portland, Ore., recently said that “all of modern policing must confront a central issue as it moves into the 21st century, and that is not just to confront racial profiling; rather, it is to remove race from police decision making altogether.”
Many African-American men and women that I have talked with in Charlottesville, Albemarle and the University of Virginia communities have made it clear that when stopped by the police, it is often the nature of the interaction with the police that they feel most deeply aggrieved about, not the stop itself. The way events unfold after the stop has everything to do with the perception they carry away from these encounters.
Racial profiling and the dubious tactics of many police impose substantial costs on innocent citizens of color, who as a result must bear the burden of public humiliation and personal degradation at a level unimaginable to whites. One University of Virginia student explained, “The problem began outside the classroom. As African-American students, once you’re stopped outside the classroom, your humanity was attacked on a weekly, if not daily basis, while I was at UVa.” Victims often feel emptiness due to the lack of a meaningful relationship between the police and members of the African-American community.
Many of us have followed the issue of racial profiling — especially since events in New Jersey in the 1990s where it was acknowledged that racial profiling was rampant on Interstate 95 by state troopers. One of the primary recommendations following this revelation was for police departments to have mandatory diversity training and other cultural-competency-building experiences that would help officers better understand the correct and civil ways to police all communities.
According to the National Black Police Association, diversity training is not enough, whether in university policing or in the general population. The organization further states that diversity training is not taken seriously enough, nor is it updated to adequately address profiling. It is concerned that too many officers and employees see this practice as an enforcement tool rather than a tool to assist them in becoming more racially sensitive.
For this reason, racial profiling must be confronted directly. A well-thought-out, intentional program must be put in place, not just as part of racial and cultural awareness, but as an issue of whether profiling is morally right and/or the best way to fight crime.
Limited time at our town hall meeting did not afford us the opportunity to discuss at length the issue of police accountability, but this does not negate its importance. We must be ever so diligent and persistent in seeing to it that the system of justice and the police in the city, county and the university are accountable. In a democracy, accountability is a bedrock principle for every organization and institution.
In Charlottesville and other places, there seem to be some questions regarding the transparency of data. I was happy to hear police officials from all of the departments recognize that any plan to address racial profiling must include an organized plan to collect data. The systematic collection of basic information on each and every encounter between police and citizens must happen. The importance of collecting data, including information on race and ethnicity, on traffic, pedestrian, and other police encounters, cannot be overestimated.
The stop-and-frisk policy in New York City has been highly criticized by the NAACP and Civil Liberties Union for its over-inclusiveness and noxious effects on blacks and Latinos. In 2011 it was found that the NYPD conducted 688,000 stop-and-frisks, with blacks and Latinos accounting for more than 86 percent of those targeted by police.
The form that police officers have the option to fill out after each confrontation is being questioned for its lack of emphasis on accountability of officers who draw complaints regarding their brash behavior.
A possible proposal of reform is being considered that would replicate the policy of stop-and-frisk in France, where racial profiling of immigrants is massive. The French proposal would require officers to issue receipts to those they stop that include their own identification. The logic behind this proposal is that officers might think twice about why they select certain people, and treat those they do stop with more respect. In Charlottesville and surrounding communities, police departments might want to consider this innovative approach to promote more accountability.
As it is, the stop-and-frisk policies in many areas are highly questioned because of blatant patterns of racial profiling and because most law enforcement agencies do not document or count the stops and searches unless they result in finding evidence. Consequently, we have very little information about the impact these policies have on innocent citizens.
The NAACP and other community organizations look forward to continuing this most important dialogue with police officials regarding ending discriminatory policing and improving police accountability in Charlottesville, Albemarle and at the University of Virginia.
M. Rick Turner is president of the Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP.
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The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman has cast light on how the press operates. When whites attack blacks, the media is quick to report it. But when blacks attack whites, somehow those particular news stories never see the light of day.The brutality of some of these attacks against whites has reached stunning levels. Here are some examples from the last few months:
On February 27, the day after the Martin shooting, two black males in Detroit abducted and killed a white couple. The victims were found bound, shot, and burned beyond recognition in an alley. Police are calling it a random “thrill killing.”
On February 28 in Kansas City, Missouri, two black teens attacked a thirteen-year-old white boy on his front porch as he was returning from school. They poured gasoline on him and set him on fire for no apparent reason, saying, “You get what you deserve, white boy!”
On March 14, a twenty-year-old black man broke into the home of Bob and Nancy Straight in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He raped the eighty-five-year-old Mrs. Straight and then beat her to death. Then he shot ninety-year-old Mr. Straight in the face with a pellet gun and broke his jaw and ribs. He died several days later.
On April 1 in Jackson, Mississippi, a thirty-one-year-old black man broke into a house and found a white woman inside. He forced her to lie on the floor with a blanket over her head as he shot her in the back of the head, execution-style.
On April 15 in Las Vegas, a twenty-two-year-old black man raped a thirty-eight-year-old white woman and her ten-year-old daughter. He then killed them by smashing their skulls with a hammer.
On May 12, Johnny Aparicio, a soldier at MacDill Air Force Base, was attacked by a group of blacks after his car broke down. As Aparacio was walking for help, a black male ran up and punched him. Two others joined in the attack; a fourth man ran up and kicked Aparicio in the face. The four suspects took Aparicio’s wallet and cell phone. Aparicio received facial injuries.
On June 8, Elizabeth Hutcheson was stabbed fifty times while working as a pizza delivery driver. The racially motivated murder was planned by Cadedra Cook, eighteen, and an unnamed fifteen-year-old boy. Both are charged with murder.
The national media’s unwillingness to mention these crimes will only cause the problems in the black community to fester. Imagine what would happen if every time Lindsay Lohan got into trouble, the next day, we all decided to pretend that nothing happened. She would probably be long dead by now. The liberal media also has a news blockade on black-on-black crime, which is far worse. Every time there is a three-day weekend, at least forty blacks are murdered in the city of Chicago. The only time the press will air a story on this epidemic is when it attacks the availability of hand guns. The Bureau of Justice study reveals that approximately 9,000 black Americans are murdered annually in the United States. This chilling figure is accompanied by another equally sobering fact, that 93 percent of these murders are perpetrated by other blacks. Whites comprise 85 percent of the population and only 6000 white males are murdered each year.
The statistical evidence for the Latino Community is as equally disturbing, but that’s for another time. Mr. Turner previously exclaimed that Trayvon Martin was “Hunted down and shot like a dog!” The aforementioned death reports are far more disturbing, yet are not discussed nor apparently considered. Mr. Turner needs to stop living in the past and allowing his present day opinions to be jaundiced by the lens of forty or fifty years ago. The numbers do not lie, and unfortunately, a large segment of the population, choose to, inexcusably live a lawless lifestyle. Jails punish law breakers. The law could care less what one’s skin color is. What is society to do? Are we to not arrest criminals because gee, we can’t arrest him, we’ve met our allowed quota for ( Pick a race) today? Foolish. Mr. Turner would be better expending energy towards helping those in his community to be better citizens, and less time erroneously blaming others for the problems that exist inside the black community.
One more point, is one of attitude. Stop having one! I’ve been asked for ID by the police before. Since I’ve nothing to hide, I’ve no problem reaching into my back pocket and pulling it from my wallet. The officer has never kept it more than 10 seconds. He thanks me, I wish him well, and go on about my business. What I have observed too may times, when a person of color is requested to do the same, they can’t keep it simple. They turn into drama queens and make it a much ado about nothing situation. Keep you mouth shut and just do as you’re told, and be on your way. It ain’t rocket science, unless you’ve got something to hide.
It’s understandable that “racial profiling” feels like “racist profiling” to African-Americans, and their feelings ought to be honored and kept in mind. But the two practices shouldn’t be automatically equated. It’s not a false stereotype, for example, that Latino men and women and not African or Asian ones are coming across our southern border illegally; it’s a fact. And while stopping a high proportion of African-Americans on the New Jersey Turnpike incidents sounds racist, there is evidence to suggest that stop-and-frisk has cut down crime in New York City. I’ll bet that a great majority of the people stopped and frisked there are young men with a certain style of dress – precisely the population to which a high proportion of violent criminals belong.
Using race as one factor when trying to stop certain crimes is just common sense policing. Does it make sense to stop African-Americans for airport searches if the goal is to prevent terrorism, or to single out Hispanics in Little Italy in New York or the Old North End in Boston if the goal is to break up the Mafia? To answer “no” to these questions is to acknowledge that race should be taken into consideration in efforts to prevent certain crimes in crtain places. Given the history of rac-ism in this country, that fact should make us very uneasy. But we still need to deal with it. The young African-American man in a suit who can’t get a cab in a big city is obviously a victim of racism and deserves our sympathy and our outrage. The young African-American man in a poor neighborhood minding his own business but stopped by a cop deserves our empathy and sympathy too, but that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily a victim.
I’m glad that this issue is being discussed in Charlottesville, that victims of racism and perceived racism are being given a chance to air their grievances, that the rest of us are being forced to come to grips with racism in the community, and that the Charlottesville Police Department is being forced to evaluate and justify its criteria for stopping and questioning people. But “As African-American students, once you’re stopped outside the classroom, your humanity was attacked on a weekly, if not daily basis, while I was at UVa” is wildly ungrammatical and barely coherent, never mind logical. Did someone actually admitted to UVA speak like that? It smacks of mere emotion devoid of actual thought. It’s the sort of mindless statement that shouldn’t be admitted as part of this discussion.
Whenever “Dr.” Rick Turner and/or Winston Churchill Gooding speak or appear in print, know that the race card will be played sooner rather than later. That’s all they have.
Never addressed are issues of personal responsibility and accountability.
Someone else is always to blame.
It is easier to blame someone else. Than it is to stand up and hold oneself accountable for your own screwup. When I asked a member of city council the following question:
If there are individuals chronicly causing problems on downtown mall, why not let the court system handle this, instead of removing the benchs?
I got no verbal reply but a look of how dare you ask me this question. It is and alway will be easier to blame someone else……
Well this is the third morning in a row that someone felt they had right to come into my yard and take down signs I put up.
Yesterday, a sign with the following message written on it — the First Amendment is for everyone, not the chosen few. I put it back up and when out and ran some errands and found it laying face down in yard again. I put it up again. This morning, I found another sign knock over laying in bushes. Yes they are just sign but how dare whoever is doing this to come all way in my yard and turn on outside faucet. Just enought to cause me a hung headache when I get my water bill from city. If this is not racial profiting, I don’t know what is. So my skin color is white but that doesn’t mean I am white. Tell that to my grandmother. It is time for the good people here in Charlottesville to stand up to these individuals who love to deal in world of hate.