ACLU Condemns CA Governor's Stunning Veto of Racial Profiling Bill

September 28, 1999 12:00 am

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SACRAMENTO — The ACLU affiliates in California today condemned Governor Gray Davis’s veto of a bill requiring law enforcement to collect data regarding the race and ethnicity of all drivers stopped by the police.

The “California Traffic Stops Statistics Act,” authored by Senator Kevin Murray, passed overwhelmingly in the state legislature earlier this month, with the support of a wide coalition of civil rights groups, the American Bar Association, the California Attorney General and numerous minority law enforcement organizations.

“By vetoing this historic bill, Governor Davis is turning his back on California’s communities of color,” said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. “For decades, motorists have been stopped by police simply because of the color of their skin. This bill would have been a small, but important step, in putting an end to racist police practices throughout the state.”

In his veto message, Governor Davis tried to take credit for “ordering” the California Highway Patrol to collect similar data. But in fact, the Highway Patrol had already publicly volunteered to collect this data, following similar moves by state police agencies in Florida, New Jersey, Michigan, Oregon and elsewhere.

Governor Davis’ belated statement encouraging voluntary data collection by law enforcement agencies comes almost four full months after President Clinton issued the same challenge, the ACLU said.

Thirty-four California agencies have already answered the President’s challenge with voluntary data collection programs, but hundreds of other California agencies — including those with some of the most severe police-community relations problems in the state have stubbornly refused.

“Any agencies still in denial on this issue are simply not going to respond to the Governor’s timid encouragement,” said John Crew, Director of the ACLU of Northern California’s Police Practices Project. “That is why a comprehensive statewide bill was crucial. His veto amounts to a `wink and a nod’ to law enforcement that they don’t have to take this issue seriously.”

Crew said it was “disingenuous” for Governor Davis to claim that requiring statewide data collection on traffic stops would set a “bad precedent” of the state placing mandates on local agencies.

For decades, he said, the state penal code has required local law enforcement agencies to collect and report a dizzying array of statistics on various activities. This bill would have simply added four new categories of data on traffic enforcement practices for just two years to a detailed statistical report long-published by the state on an annual basis.

“Decades ago, southern sheriffs like Bull Connor argued that local officials should be left to voluntarily address any local civil rights problems on their own,” Crew said. “We are stunned that Governor Davis would be claiming — in 1999 — that it sets a `bad precedent’ for the state to require local agencies to even study a crucial and widespread civil rights problem.”

The ACLU’s California affiliates said that they would continue to take calls on their statewide hotline 1-877-DWB- STOP. (The Spanish language hotline is 1-877-PARALOS, 1-877-727-2567). Since October 1998, more than 2,000 people have called to report their stories of race-based police traffic stops.

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