Violent crime rates around the country are the lowest they’ve been since President Eisenhower was in office in the late 50s. Despite this decrease in crime, the number of minorities being stopped by police due to racial profiling is on the rise.
This issue of racial profiling was the crux of NAACP President Benjamin Jealous’ presentation June 7, when he visited the University of Pittsburgh to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Center on Race and Social Problems.
|BENJAMIN JEALOUS (Photo by J.L. Martello)
“What do you replace racial profiling with—non-discrimination,” Jealous said to a packed house in Pitt’s Alumni Hall auditorium. “The problem of racism in our country is complex; you could fill libraries with books on it. The problems with law enforcement are complex; you could fill libraries with books on it. We have to have a conversation with our public officials and tell them if they continue to tolerate a system of racial profiling, we will not continue to tolerate them.”
Racial profiling is one of the many issues examined by the Center on Race and Social Problems, which focuses on race-related social problems in economic disparities, educational disparities, health, interracial group relation, mental health, criminal justice, and youth, families and the elderly. As the first race-related research center to be housed in a school of social work in the country, the center gained national attention when it hosted the Race in America conference in June 2010.
“Working together, we produced the largest conference on race ever held in America,” said Larry Davis, dean of the School of Social Work and director of CRSP. “As Americans become more diverse, I whole heartedly believe we can become a stronger nation, but only if we address the racial inequity that pervades our society.”
Racial profiling is a practice used by law enforcement where an individual’s race or ethnicity is used as a key factor in deciding whether to engage in enforcement. Though the U.S. Constitution challenges the practice, Jealous illustrated several examples of racial profiling throughout history and the negative consequences that followed.
“Racial profiling is a perverse form of public relations,” Jealous said. “You make one group feel safer by victimizing another group.”
In New York City in 1999, 80,000 people were stopped and frisked by police officers. Last year, approximately 685,000 people were stopped and frisked. Of those stopped, 87 percent were minority citizens and 99 percent were not carrying a gun.
Despite the fact that violent crime in New York City has gone down 29 percent, Jealous said racial profiling is not the answer to reducing violent crime. Instead he points to Los Angles, where racial profiling by police officers has been reduced and violent crime has also been reduced by 59 percent.
Statistics show African-American men are disproportionately impacted by racial profiling, and in New York City in particular, by the NYPD’s “stop and frisk policy,” which has not been proven to decrease crime. On Father’s Day June 16, the NAACP will be hosting a silent march to protest racial profiling.
“We are in the midst of really pushing a national conversation about racial profiling,” Jealous said. “We do our community a disservice in this country because we don’t set these standards and the standards we do have, aren’t enforced.”
Prior to the event, Jealous joined local NAACP President M. Gayle Moss at a press conference denouncing District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s decision not to prosecute three Pittsburgh police offers involved in the alleged beating of former CAPA High School student Jordan Miles. This incident fit in with Jealous’ larger comments on the social consequences of racial profiling.
“The case is disturbing. The length of the investigation was disturbing,” Jealous said. “It certainly raises suspicions when it takes someone a year and a half to say no.”