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End Racial Profiling Act Lobby Day: Bringing Real Stories to Washington

Jennifer Bellamy,
Senior Legislative Counsel
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April 24, 2012

ACLU of Michigan Client Tiburcio Briceno (right) with Rep. Luis Gutierrez outside of hearing room. Briceno spoke at the press conference following the hearing and told the story of how he was racially profiled by local law enforcement and held for deportation.

In our Washington fishbowl, it is easy to forget the real life impact that policy choices have on people.

But last week, the ACLU and our coalition partners reminded folks in Washington of life outside the Beltway by bringing everyday people from 13 states to Capitol Hill to share their stories with members of Congress and their staffers.
I accompanied a lovely mother and grandmother, Boni Rhodes-Berg, to meetings with her members of Congress. When she was 56 years old, she was followed into an elevator, searched, humiliated, disparaged and disrespected by Drug Enforcement Administration agents who assumed she was a drug dealer because of her African-American heritage. The DEA's search of her luggage revealed pajamas, a Bible and devotional book.

ACLU's Jennifer Bellamy (center) with ACLU of Minnesota client Boni Rhodes-Berg (left) and a retired police officer and criminal justice professor Kevin Lavine. Lavine and Rhodes-Berg spoke at the press conference following last week's Senate hearing on racial profiling.

As Boni shared her story, a congressional staffer interrupted us to say that he could not believe that this happened in America.

After last week, I hope that our lawmakers recognize that these terrible instances of racial profiling do happen in our country, more so than we'd like to believe. A 2004 report by Amnesty International estimates that one in nine Americans has been victimized by racial profiling—a total of 32 million people nationwide. During our lobby visits, we put real-life faces on these numbers.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero testifying at Senate hearing.

Our policymakers' choices have a direct impact on the way every day people are treated, and ending racial profiling should be a high priority for members of Congress as they bridge the gap between our country's values and our everyday reality.

Take action. Urge your member of Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act, legislation sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. John Conyers, (D-Mich.) which would, among other things, provide training to help police avoid responses based on stereotypes and unreliable assumptions about minorities.

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