Thursday, July 23, 2009

Racial Profiling: The Never Ending Story

One day back in 1985, as a seventeen year old kid in NYC, I entered the subway station on 96th Street to catch the Number 6 train. I had just finished my shift at a Red Apple Supermarket and was looking forward to going home and relaxing. As I walked to the platform, two white police officers corralled me. At the moment, I didn't know what was going on, but sensed, it was not good. They immediately accused me of "hopping the train." I pleaded my case to no avail. They told me to shut up and that I'm lucky I'm only getting a ticket. I was nervous, tense and extremely angry. Luckily, an older white gentlemen, who was observing the situation from afar, came over and told the officers he saw me pay my token. After that, the officers closed their pads, put away their pens, gave me a cold gaze and told me to scram.

A moment later, as I'm waiting for the train to arrive, the old man came up to me and told me, the token booth clerk told the cops that a teenage Hispanic male had just hopped the train. He said it happened maybe two minutes before I got there. At the moment all I said was, "Oh I see, they assumed it was me."

The next day, I told the story to my high school English teacher and he told me I was the victim of racial profiling. I had never heard the term before and asked him to explain. As he was explaining it to me, I remember thinking to myself, "Ok, so that's how things roll."

That was 1985. Here we are 24 years later and racial profiling is still a hot-button issue. Just last week in Cambridge, Massachusetts, police responding to a break-in, arrested an African-American professor in his own home. In his news conference, President Obama said, "the police acted stupidly", when they arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates for disorderly conduct. Charges which were later dropped.

Today, the Cambridge Police Department held a news conference, clearing Officer James Crowley of any wrongdoing. Based on their investigation they concluded, Officer Crowley acted appropriately and within the guidelines. Commissioner Robert Haas said, "I don't believe that Sergeant [James M.] Crowley acted with any racial motivation at all." Nonetheless the case has clearly brought the issue of racial profiling back in the forefront.

As I stated earlier, I first learned about racial profiling, first hand, 24 years ago and here we are today still talking about it. So I ask myself, why doesn't this issue seize to exist?

I never saw the kid who allegedly hopped the train two minutes before I arrived at the station, but unfortunately, to some extent, he is the answer to my question. As long as one race or group disproportionately commits more crimes than other groups, racial profiling will keep manifesting itself. Does this make it right? No. But it's a fact.

According to a 2005 study, The Color of Crime by The New Century Foundation, which is based on federal crime reports, blacks are 4 to 8 times more likely to commit crimes than whites. Hispanics are 4 times more likely than whites. With those kinds of numbers, of course, there's going to be an element of racial profiling. Again, does this make it right? Of course not. But it's an element that allows it to keep existing. If every time we watch the local news and a crime is being reported and all we see are black and Hispanic males walking out of police precincts in handcuffs, of coarse, those images are going to absorb themselves in society's sub-conscience.

I'll repeat, it doesn't make it right, but it does feed into its existence. Surely there are many instances where racism is the only factor. But the disproportion in crime commitments only enhances the problem.

If we ever get to a time when crimes are committed at an equal rate by all groups, I'm sure we'll see a reduction in racial profiling. But as long as one or two groups hold the lead, unfortunately every member of those groups is open to racial profiling.

Of coarse, we should get to a time when no crimes are committed. Period!

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