Police Racial Profiling Criticized

April 16, 1999 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Accused of running a stop sign by white policemen, Milton Reynolds, a black schoolteacher, told the Associated Press that he was ordered out of his car by an officer “staring me down through his shades like some kind of B-grade movie while stroking the barrel of a shotgun.”

The ticket was later dropped, but Reynolds isn’t letting go of what he told the AP he calls the larger issue — the harassment of minorities by police forces wedded to race-based “profiles” of likely bad guys.

“That was essentially what put me over the edge,” Reynolds said. “I said, ‘This is not going to happen to me anymore.'”

Reynolds joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California on Wednesday in announcing a new campaign in California aimed at exposing the “crime” of DWBB — “driving while black or brown” — the routine stopping of minorities for no reason other than their skin color.

“Being targeted by police and treated like criminals is humiliating and demeaning,” Michelle Alexander, director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Project told AP. “Having your car searched, being frisked, being asked about who you are and what you’re doing in a particular neighborhood — all of these things remind us that we’re second-class citizens.”

The issue has bred mistrust across the country and led to several Justice Department investigations, AP reported. Last week, Attorney General Janet Reno called on police departments to begin collecting data to assess the situation while yesterday, according to USA Today, she outlined steps to restore trust between the police and minority communities.

Reno said that the lack of trust has “escalated” following the death of African immigrant Amadou Diallo, who was shot 19 times by New York City police in February.

“No matter what the data show, the perception of too many Americans is that police officers cannot be trusted,” Reno told USA Today.

Reno then cited “anecdotal” evidence showing blacks are disproportionately targeted by police for traffic stops.

Racial profiling may not convey the horror of overt brutality, but civil rights groups say it is no less insidious — and far more common.

The ACLU’s campaign in California includes billboards in the San Francisco Bay area that show three young black men with the caption, “If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been pulled over.”

Billboards designed for Hispanics also are planned, along with radio spots throughout the state. Since it began a toll-free “driving while black or brown” hot line last year, the ACLU said it has logged complaints from thousands of Californians who have been stopped by police.

Alexander told the AP that the stops contribute to the often adversarial relationship between police and minorities. Visit the ACLU’s “DWB Clearinghouse” at /features/dwb.html to read more on the subject.

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