Racial Profiling from New York to Arizona
A while back, one of my Hispanic students, let’s call him Jon, came to class distraught. The day before he had woken up late, and on his walk to school he decided to take a short cut through the nearby college’s track. He never made it to school that day. He was arrested for trespassing.
Jon is a quiet, polite young man, who, despite a learning disability, dedicates his time and energies to his studies. He is neither a nuisance in school nor to society. Yet, he was arrested for trespassing on property that most would confuse with public grounds. (People not affiliated with the college are constantly using the track for recreation or, like Jon, as a shortcut.) Furthermore, most students from my school mistakenly consider the college’s track as our school’s property, since our physical education classes are given permission from the college to use the track on a regular basis.
Jon was spooked by his arrest, shaking his head as he recounted his six-hour stay in jail that had him shuttling from cage to cage until he saw the insides of five cells. His approaching court date worried him, too.
“I’m eighteen,” he told me nervously, fearing that the trespassing offense would lead to jail time or a record (even though every arrest, even every stop-and-frisk, is recorded in the police database). He felt violated, mistreated, and offended. “I can’t even think right now,” he told me when I tried to work with him on his essay.
How is a law-abiding, young person, who makes an innocent mistake, supposed to better themself in this society when some cops misuse their powers? Bush promised no child would be left behind and Obama hopes every kid will race to the top, but there’s a bigger issue at hand, such as when kids like Jon, who are on their way to school, are arrested for blunders and forced to postpone their educational goals in lieu of fears about prison cells.
Jon’s story is not unique. According to the Executive Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Vincent Warren, “For many kids, getting stopped by the police while walking home from school has become a normal afterschool activity, and that’s tragic.”
Now, if this were a white, non-Hispanic teen cutting across the track to get to school, would he have been arrested, or even stopped? The answer can be found in the statistics and legislation from places like New York and Arizona.
It’s difficult to deny that today’s policing employs bias. CCR calls the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisks “racial profiling,” “unconstitutional,” and “suspicion-less.” A police officers menu of reasons for stopping individuals–”fits a relevant description,” “furtive movements,” “inappropriate attire for season,” “inappropriate bulge,” or “wearing clothes commonly used in a crime”–basically allows them the leeway to stop any civilian aside from those bee-lining at an unsuspicious pace, in some sort of leotard, sans bulge.
In a preliminary report, CCR noted that there was nearly a 10 percent rise in the number of New Yorkers stopped by police. They also reported “In 2009, a record 575,304 people were stopped, 87 percent of whom were black and Hispanic.”
Meanwhile, the report indicated that only 1.3 percent of last year’s stops resulted in police finding a weapon, while only 6 percent of the stops resulted in arrests. Blacks fall below the average for stops resulting in a weapon or arrest. Hispanics stopped by police were found with weapons 1.4 percent of the time, while whites who were stopped yielded a weapon 1.7 percent of the time and were arrested more than 6 percent of the time.
This appalling tactic of racial profiling used by the police is no better than a bobbing-for-criminals approach, and for black and Hispanic communities, the police department’s motto “To serve and protect” is mutating into “To be mistrusted and feared.”
Move cross country and the new Arizona law that grants police the power to ask “suspects” for their documents is nothing more than an attempt to rid the state of illegal immigrants at the expense of Hispanic-looking Americans. This law guarantees that Hispanic Americans, who are legal citizens of this country, will be stopped-and-frisked more often, which will lead to a state breeding feelings of inferiority that were felt in the days of segregation.
Targeting our citizens by the color of their skin does not resemble a democracy, and if that’s what we’re trying to uphold here in America, then legislators and police officers burdened with the task of curbing illegal immigration and crime need to employ a better method than racial profiling.
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