- Faith & Family
Racial profiling has become a hot topic in the U.S. following nationwide protests on how Sanford, Florida police handled the shooting and death of Trayvon Martin by self-appointed watch captain, George Zimmerman. It has been a practice employed by many law enforcement officials for decades that began to be seriously questioned after 9/11 when hosts of Arab-Americans and Muslims became targets of profiling. Now, with Martin’s senseless death, the spotlight has once again been placed on racial profiling including the young Black men who are often its target as well as the impact it has on illegal immigrants.
Several weeks ago, the Judiciary Democrats held a forum, “Protecting a “Suspect Community: Racial Profiling and Hate Crimes,” and invited Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), Albert Dotson, Jr., chairman of the 100 Black Men of America, Inc. and Robert Parker, former director of the Miami-Dade Police Department and community liaison for the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence to testify.
“I wanted the committee to hear from Al Dotson and Robert Parker because they have experienced and survived racial profiling,”
Wilson said. “This is something that dates back to the days of slavery. Today it affects our community more than we can imagine. Every Black boy and man at one point in their lives have been viewed as suspicious, feared by the larger community [whites] — even reviled. Women grab their purses, people lock their car doors and our boys and men are routinely followed in stores or stopped by police. We cannot pretend that this doesn’t exist. We see the impact even in our schools where Black boys are suspended at much higher rates than white boys. Trayvon Martin was with his father because he had been suspended. Just think if our policies were different and more just — perhaps Trayvon would still be alive.”
Can we change perspectives?
Parker, 58, has been in law enforcement for most of his life. He says that profiling happens everyday based on race, gender, ethnicity or particular factors to a person.
“Sometimes profiling targets a specific action and as a police officer I have seen citizens racially profiled under the guise of citizen or neighborhood watches,” he said. “In the case of Trayvon Martin, neither his conduct or the way he was walking should have led Zimmerman to be concerned. But that’s what happens with racial profiling. America has not gone far enough in protecting its citizens. We have legislation and statutes to prevent it, but there is something that is engrained in the minds of many Americans. We have to deal with this as a priority issue and address it. Why haven’t we seen real change? Because it doesn’t happen to the majority of Americans. They are the majority but profiling happens to those of us in the minority.”
For the moment, Parker says talking to young boys on a routine basis may be one way to help keep them alive if and when they are profiled.
“I tell boys how to conduct themselves in certain encounters and while it may enrage them at that moment, they should remain calm and refrain from getting into a verbal or physical altercation,” he added. “When the person that confronts them is an authority figure, like the police, they should say as little as possible and follow their orders. Confronting the issue should come later, after they are safe from potential harm.”
Change begins with one small voice
Dotson believes every conversation designed to eradicate racial profiling and other prejudgments based on ignorance is a movement in the right direction.
“So long as we recognize and conclude during these discussions that our society cherishes life . . . no law should find such behavior [like that of George Zimmerman’s] to be acceptable,” he said. “The 100 Black Men mentor young men ages 8 to 18 throughout our 116 Chapter network. Scenarios like [Trayvon Martin] in which clothing made Zimmerman think he was suspicious as we walked in his own neighborhood with candy in his hand during inclement weather, continue to happen to far too many other boys — they are evidence that racial profiling can lead to murder and injustice. We have attempted to use this tragic incident to make sure our young people fully appreciate the danger of ignorance.”
Wilson later testified, along with other members of Congress, mostly minorities, before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Sub-committee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights about problems with racial profiling in their communities.
By D. Kevin McNeir