Federal Judge Exhorts Communities to Attack the "Cancer" of Racial Profiling

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
April 6, 2000 12:00 am

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CHICAGO – According to a story in today’s Chicago Sun-Times, U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo lashed out Wednesday against racial prejudice but praised steps the Mount Prospect police have taken since allegations of racial profiling surfaced in the northwest suburb.

In an unusually detailed and strong opinion approving a settlement agreement, Castillo wrote, “Racially stereotypic perceptions operate like a cancer on our justice system.

“Racial profiling of any kind is anathema to our criminal justice system because it eviscerates the core integrity that is necessary to operate that system effectively in our diverse democracy.”

The Sun-Times reported that the ruling was the final order accepting a settlement of three cases in which Mount Prospect police officers accused their department of encouraging racial profiling. Last month, the village agreed to pay three officers–Javier Martinez, Harry Moser and Gustavo Medrano–a total of $900,000.

Judge Castillo said he initially was disappointed with the settlement. But he said he was pleased that Mount Prospect took steps to prevent racial profiling, among them requiring police to record a driver’s race during all traffic stops and publicly condemning the practice.

“The court is satisfied the village of Mount Prospect is moving in a positive direction to alleviate even the appearance of racial profiling by its police force,” Castillo wrote.

“The Court hopes that other communities will follow Mount Prospect’s courageous lead without the need for protracted and expensive litigation.”

Terry Ekl, attorney for village Police Chief Ronald Pavlock, said that although it was unusual to see such a lengthy opinion accepting a settlement, he was happy that Castillo sees Mount Prospect as being at the forefront of change.

Keith Hunt, the attorney for the three officers, said Castillo’s opinion underscored the need for communities to implement “real change.”

According to the newspaper, legal experts said it was unusual for a judge to go out of his way to discuss an issue at such length.

“When you see a judge standing up and saying, `Look, this is wrong,’ in a situation where, frankly, he didn’t have to, it’s a sign that we are beginning to come to grips with the fact that this is a problem for all of us, and we all have a stake in addressing it,” said David Harris, a University of Toledo Law School professor who has studied racial profiling.

Following the January trial in which Martinez initially was awarded $1.2 million, Castillo called on the Justice Department to investigate the “compelling” evidence presented at trial of racial profiling by the Mount Prospect Police Department. (For more information, see http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w011900a.html .)

Though Martinez won at trial, he agreed to end the case with a settlement.

Justice Department officials did not respond to requests Wednesday for comment. But Hunt said he spoke with department investigators and turned over thousands of pages of court documents in the last few weeks.

According to the Chicago Tribune today, Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois, said Castillo’s opinion was welcome.

“Here you have a federal district court judge essentially validating the experience of many people who’ve been the victims of this,” he said. “The power of that really can’t be overstated.”

Judge Castillo wrote, “If we cannot believe that our nation’s law enforcement officers will enforce the law in a racially neutral manner, then we will be left with a society where members of the minority community always view the actions of any police officer with great suspicion.

“The reverse will also be true because racial profiling is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Officers that engage in profiling will necessarily come into contact with law-breaking members of minority communities far more frequently than with law-breaking whites and thus will view the actions of minority civilians with a presumption of guilt.”

Castillo praised the reforms being introduced in Mount Prospect and called proactive monitoring of these reforms and the collection and analysis of police stop data on the basis of race, “key component(s) of a true effort to combat racial profiling.”

Judge Castillo cited Georgetown law professor David Cole’s book, “No Equal Justice” in concluding that proactive steps are needed to address what he called “the inequalties in today’s criminal justice system.”

According to Judge Castillo, “First, we must acknowledge the problem; and second, we must restore legitimacy to the system by adopting measures to eliminate the double standards applied to the system.”

(Information about Professor Cole’s book, “No Equal Justice” is available at: http://archive.aclu.org/store/amazon/criminal.html#1565844734 .)

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