Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Racial profiling is alive and well

There used to be a joke in Green Bay that if you saw a black man in town you knew he played for the Packers. I adopted that and changed it around a little bit: If you saw a black man in North Tonawanda you knew he worked for Confer Plastics.

That’s pretty much still the case. In a city of 31,000 people, African-Americans represent 0.8% of the population. That diversity rate is similar to neighboring communities like Tonawanda (0.9%) and Wheatfield (0.4%) and a far cry from the numbers in Niagara Falls (21.6%), Lockport (7.2%) or the entire state of New York (15.9%).

A minority is a minority. But when the statistics define you as being unique (less than 1% of the general population) the odds aren’t in your favor --- nor is the general sentiment.

When you don’t look like everyone else in town, you look like you don’t belong and an accusing eye is cast upon you instantly and without question from the public and those who serve the public. Young black men in white communities are marked men.   

My coworkers know that too well. Two recent situations, two of many over the years, show that racial profiling is an integral component of local policing.

One of my black coworkers was driving through Wheatfield when he was pulled over for an expired inspection. During the course of their conversation, the officer asked him this (despite having a clean record): “Do you have something in that car I need to be aware of? Do I have to get the dog?” Would that questioning or attitude have been posed to a white man?

More recently and more significantly, one of my coworkers ventured over the Canal into Tonawanda to grab a sandwich for lunch. A policeman obviously didn’t like the way he looked, because within a minute of getting into his car he was pulled over. The cop told him he looked like a drug dealer, so searched him and his car. There were no drugs. The kid isn’t a drug dealer. Never was. Never will be.     

He was humiliated, scared, and visibly shaken by the experience. You can’t blame him for any of those emotions (or for harboring other ones) because it was patently obvious that he was checked out only because of his skin color.
Despite the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, blacks across America, not just here in Western New York, are still being treated like second class citizens.

Among the most damning examples of this was the conduct of the Los Angeles police department as determined in a federal study issued less than 10 years ago. It’s a city where blacks represent just under 10% of the population.  Per 10,000 residents, the black stop rate was 3,400 stops higher than the white stop rate. Relative to stopped whites, stopped blacks were 127% more likely to be frisked and 76% more likely to be searched. Frisked blacks were 42% less likely to be found with a weapon than frisked whites and consensual searches of blacks were 37% less likely to uncover weapons, 24% less likely to uncover drugs, and 25% less likely to uncover any other type of contraband than consensual searches of whites.

That’s LA. What about a place that considers itself more compassionate and progressive? How about Connecticut? Even there, racial profiling runs rampant.

In a study released in September that analyzed the statewide traffic stops in the period of October through May, it was found that Connecticut police made 370,000 traffic stops. Blacks made up 14% of the stops, even though they comprise less than 8% of the population. Hispanics, which are 9.7% of that state's population, made up 11.8% of all traffic stops.

Racial profiling is a national epidemic. It doesn’t matter if it’s gritty Los Angeles, squeaky-clean Connecticut or blue collar New York – it’s everywhere. But sadly, beyond the usual people like the ACLU or the NAACP, very few discuss the matter with earnestness and demand the same of their law enforcement agencies.

It’s especially frustrating because Christians will routinely post to Facebook and take to radio and TV to rail against the profiling and mistreatment of their religion’s believers in Middle Eastern countries, counting it as one of the greatest sins on Earth. Yet, their darker-skinned neighbors, friends, and coworkers are treated the same way here in America (the land of the free) -- in their own communities -- just for their complexion alone and no one is raising a stink.

We’re all one people and the majority needs to realize that of the minority.  

From the 10 November 2014 Greater Niagara Newspapers    

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