Has the election of President Barack Obama solved one of the more persistent stains of racial injustice in this country? Has his ascension to the highest office in the world cured all racial ills and ushered in a utopia of racial harmony? Can we now talk about racial profiling in the past tense? Of course not!
The trajectory of the troubles for people of color has not changed with the election of one man. Although his election is a significant milestone in American history, there are still many wounds to heal and many remnants of racial inequality roaming freely in our streets. Consider the plight of prominent Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. who was arrested in his home last year. After a long day of teaching future leaders, he went home to find his front door jammed. As he tried to “jimmy” the door open, a cop from the Cambridge, Massachusetts city’s police department believed he was breaking into his own home. He was ultimately arrested for a public disturbance offense. Was that racial profiling? Not sure! But do you really believe his white counterparts could be accused of the same thing? Probably not!
No one is saying that being a street cop is easy. I’m the first to sympathize with many of the challenges they have. In the course of a day they have to act as social workers in one situation and then gear up for a riot the next. However, that is the job, isn’t it?
Do we forgive the doctor who makes a mistake that causes a patient to die for no reason?
Do we accept teachers who decide their going to teach wrong material to our kids?
Do we even forgive the cashier at McDonald’s that gets our order wrong?
No! Each job has an expectation of excellence. No matter the stress, challenge or level of responsibility. If a cop cannot consistently obey the rule of law then how can they effectively enforce it? I understand that the pay is bad, and, oh, yeah, you could get killed every day. But each day they decide to wear the uniform, so they must accept the accountability that comes with it.
Amnesty International USA did a study on racial profiling and found that a staggering number of people in the United States had been victims of this race crime. Here are the stats:
* Approximately thirty-two million Americans, a number equivalent to the population of Canada, report they have already been victims of racial profiling.
* Approximately eighty-seven million Americans are at a high risk of being subjected to future racial profiling during their lifetime.
* Racial profiling directly affects Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Arab Americans, Persian Americans, American Muslims, many immigrants and visitors, and, under certain circumstances, White Americans.
* Racial profiling happens to both women and men, affects all age groups, is used against people from all socio-economic backgrounds, and occurs in rural, suburban, and urban areas.
* Racial profiling of citizens and visitors of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, and others, who appear to be from these areas or members of the Muslim and Sikh faiths, has substantially increased since September 11, 2001.
According to a Human Rights Watch report released in April of 2009, although “Whites and Blacks engage in drug offenses at similar rates, blacks were 2.8 to 5.5 times more likely to be arrested than whites in every year between 1980 and 2007” . The facts bear this out. Blacks are arrested on drug charges in wildly disproportionate numbers. To put it more simply, approximately one third of drug arrestees since 1980 were black. However, consider these numbers in the light that African-Americans make up only about 13% of the population and 13% of drug users. Many of our congressional leaders (mainly Democrats) who are pushing drug law reform have always been aware of massive racial disparities in the application and structure of policies prohibiting the sale and use of drugs.
Unfortunately, their attempt at reforming the law has gotten little traction. As the head of the Human Rights Watch Organization, Jamie Fellner stated, “Jim Crow may be dead, but the drug war has never been color-blind. […] Although Whites and Blacks use and sell drugs, the heavy hand of the law is more likely to fall on Black shoulders.”
Despite these realities, most people of color do not wake up in the morning looking to become victims of racism. Each day most people of color strive to make their individual contribution to this country and to their communities. Sadly, there are many people in power that believe that law enforcement officials are simply employing common sense stereotypes to “get the job done”. They do this for reasons of simple efficiency. A policeman who concentrates a disproportionate amount of his limited time and resources on young Black men is going to uncover far more crimes—and therefore be far more successful in his career, is the belief. They believe that focusing on older White men is a waste of time, given the odds. Yet consider this. Wasn’t Bernie Maddoff a 70 year old white man? Federal investigators believe the fraud he ran that started as early as 1980 took almost $65 billion dollars from innocent people. Now for comparison purposes add up the total amount of stolen goods and money by incarcerated people of color in the history of this country.
Maybe watching elderly white men is not such a bad idea. At least it’s a start!
Source: Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch
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