Rev. James Meeks was not the first African-American, law-abiding citizen to have a gun pulled on him for no probable cause by a Chicago policeman. And under the present city hall structure, he will not be the last.
“Driving while black” is nothing new. Racial profiling has nothing to do with crime or terrorism. Stopping people of color for no probable cause is just plain racial discrimination. Can we fix the problem in Chicago?
This type of “profiling” became the new flashpoint of police/community relations during the 1990s. African Americans from many walks of life testified to their experiences of having been stopped and questioned by police seemingly for no reason other than their race.
By the end of the decade (2002), the leading law enforcement groups were joining civil rights and civil liberties groups in saying that race alone should never be the basis for a traffic stop or any other police investigation. But police were also continuing to defend the use of race as one factor in criminal profiling, particularly in anti-drug enforcement.
The police rationalized their use of race in deciding what drivers or pedestrians to stop for investigation by pointing to the statistics showing that blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested or convicted of many of the most common crimes, especially drug offenses and street crimes. Courts up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned the practice.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1996 gave police a blank check to use traffic violations as a pretext for stopping motorists for suspected drug violations. The ruling in Whren v. United States turned aside the plea by two black defendants who said they had been stopped because of their race.
By the 1990s, though, racial profiling was being challenged not only by convicted defendants but also by the innocent victims of the practice, thousands of people who were stopped, questioned, perhaps searched and then allowed to go their way when police found “zero” evidence of crime.
The first major victory for the “law-abiding citizens” being profiled came in a case brought by Robert Wilkins, a public defender in Washington, D.C., who was stopped by Maryland State Police in May 1992 while driving with his family back to Washington (similar to Rev. Meeks driving with his family returning from church). Wilkins filed a federal civil rights damage suit in May 1993, contending that the use of a racial profile violated his constitutional rights. The state settled the suit in Jan. 1995 and also adopted an official policy to maintain detailed records of motorist stops to be provided to the ACLU to monitor any patterns of discrimination.
Back to Chicago: Alderman Ike Carothers (29th Ward), chairman of the Police and Fire Commission, called for a hearing on this topic Aug. 3 at 10 a.m. to collect data on racial profiling from victims. Mr. Chairman, there are enough data and studies already known to substantiate what blacks and others have been saying for a long time?”that racial profiling is practiced in Chicago. The time for talking is over. People are tired of “talking.” Talking don’t ease pains or pay doctor bills.
We need to be “renewable” and take action on two primary evils of profiling: institutional racism and racist individuals from white hate groups who wear police uniforms.
Eliminating the first evil is an enormous task for the city because what made racism almost impossible to eradicate is that institutionalized racism is largely unseen, for it’s an accepted everyday way of life within the police department. Code of conduct is a waste of time for “race-hate” individuals in police uniforms. Whether you remain in or out of your car at traffic stops, if you are black, you are in danger of being shot for no probable cause by some policeman. To racist or hateful policemen, “procedures” don’t mean anything. As I stated before, a racist heart is in his pockets.
Here are some remedies or recommendations:
Eliminate OPS. It’s a joke. It only protects wrongdoing policemen. A civilian review board is needed. These boards have been successful in L.A., Cincinnati, and other cities that have large urban centers.
Terminate race-hating, abusive policemen and have the city council return taxpayers’ money for training them at the academy.
Track wrongdoing officers.
Self-policing?”most policemen reject the so-called code of silence on abuse by colleagues, according to a federally financed survey (1997-98).
Police misconduct comes at a time of declining crime rates and generally increasing police professionalism like the good-hearted people in uniform such as my friend Henry Peeler who was killed. Can a hungry fox guard a henhouse overnight? Can good cops stop their co-workers from “abusive actions?” That’s the unanswered question.
Policing the police either through internal management or external review remains a difficult job. But the city council holds the key with Daley’s control. They make the laws and approve police contracts. We, the people, are the boss of the entire city hall “merry-go-round group.” By our actions the people hold the “key.” We need action now.
Dr. King in his 1963 book Why We Can’t Wait said, “When you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness,’ then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.”