CHP Officer Blasts Racial Profiling at DWB Forum in Southern California

April 5, 2000 12:00 am

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NORTHRIDGE-The Los Angeles Times reported today that a forum on Tuesday at Cal State Northridge featured several speakers, including a California Highway Patrol Officer, relating their experiences with racial profiling.

“I’ve worked with them. I’ve trained with them,” CHP Officer Robert Burks said. “They simply believe we are the criminals.”

Burks, who said he was participating in the forum as a private citizen and not as a representative of his agency, said racial bias can be blatant.

The Times reported that a fellow officer once told Burks that if he saw a white man with a gun he would assume he was with law enforcement. Yet the same officer said if he saw a black man dressed in the same clothes with a gun, he’d assume he was a criminal.

The Racial Justice Project of the ACLU of Northern California has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the California members of the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) aimed at ending racial profiling by the CHP. (More information is available at: http://archive.aclu.org/news/1999/n113099c.html and http://archive.aclu.org/news/1999/n060399a.html .)

In Jason Frierson’s experience, the California license plates didn’t help nor did the new car. He said there was a more troubling reason why Las Vegas police pulled him over on traffic stops: skin color.

As a young, black male growing up in Compton, Frierson said being arbitrarily questioned by police was an accepted, annoying fact of life.

But at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, when he drove around town with his law school buddies and the police stopped him, Frierson said something new gnawed at his gut.

“I felt the humiliation of it,” said Frierson, the outgoing student body president of the UNLV Boyd School of Law.

Several other speakers at the forum had similar tales.

Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, urged people to support a Senate Bill 1389, which would require police agencies to record the race or ethnicity of motorists they stop. (More information on the bill and attempts to enact it this year is available at: http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w040300a.html , http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w012700a.html , http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/n031300a.html , and http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w032200b.html .)

The bill sponsored by state Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City) faces a tough critic in Gov. Gray Davis, Ripston said.

Last year, Davis vetoed another Murray bill that pushed for the same kind of record keeping. Davis’ predecessor, Gov. Pete Wilson, rejected similar legislation. (More information on Governor Davis’ veto is available at: http://www.aclunc.org/pressrel/991209-dwb.html and http://archive.aclu.org/news/1999/n092899a.html .)

Some police departments–Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose, Oakland–and the CHP voluntarily keep track of traffic stops and racial data. (More information about selected California agencies’ voluntary data programs is available at: http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w022300a.html – Sacramento, http://archive.aclu.org/news/1999/w032599a.html -San Jose, http://archive.aclu.org/news/1999/w020599d.html – San Diego, http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w021200b.html – Palo Alto, and http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w032300a.html – Stockton.)

However, the Times reported in this county, both the Los Angeles Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department have declined to take part in such a survey. (More information about the controversy over racial profiling and data collection in Los Angeles is available at: http://www.aclu-sc.org/newsreleases/000209DWB.htm , http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w012500a.html , http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w012100b.html , http://archive.aclu.org/news/1999/n110299c.html and http://archive.aclu.org/news/1999/n102099e.html .)

But the issue is not going away, speakers said, as Latinos and Asians also call for change.

In Orange County, hundreds of young teens were photographed by police to add to a gang database. The assumption, explained Daniel Tsang, was that young Asians in certain cars and certain baggy clothes were gang members.

To fight back, Tsang’s group, Alliance Working for Asian Rights and Empowerment, or AWARE, began passing out small bright yellow, “Know Your Rights” cards. In simple terms, the cards spell out what to do if someone is asked to be photographed or searched. It also tells cardholders to report such incidents to AWARE.

The ACLU and the NAACP’s San Fernando Valley branch urged supporters of Murray’s bill to board chartered buses April 27 for a Sacramento rally at the Capitol. A town hall meeting on racial profiling is planned for April 17 at the First AME Church in Los Angeles. (More information about the demonstration and town hall forums throughout California is available at: http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/n031300a.html , http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w032200b.html , http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w032700b.html , and http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w033100a.html .)

Painful stories abound.

The newspaper reported that T Fox, a CSUN graduate student, told the forum audience that he still suffers back pain after being stopped by police on the Simi Valley Freeway in 1993.

He said he didn’t understand why officers followed his car on city streets, then the freeway. He was told to get out of his car and lay down on the pavement. Then an officer stepped on his back, which had already been injured.

“I wanted to file a police report,” he said. “And they wouldn’t take it. They said that [stop] was police procedure.”

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