One day back when I was working retail security I was watching by CCTV when I observed a black male adult approach the pneumatic tools, select one and conceal it in his pants. Then he selected a second one and concealed in his pants with the first. Then he headed for the exit.
I un-assed the office and ran after him, catching up with him outside in the parking lot. I identified myself and placed him under arrest. As I was handcuffing him he said “It’s cuz I’m black, right?” I had to bite my tongue to keep from replying “Yeah, we let white people steal whatever they want.”
The first time I heard the term “racial profiling” was in a 60 Minutes story about drug couriers (aka “mules”) transporting cocaine and other drugs from entry ports in Florida and along the US-Mexico border via the interstate highways to cities in the northeast. This led to the creation of “Operation Pipeline“:
The term “profiling” first became associated with a method of interdicting drug traffickers during the late 1970s. In 1985, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) instituted Operation Pipeline, an intelligence-based assessment of the method by which drug networks transported bulk drugs to drug markets, and began training local and state police in applying a drug courier profile as part of highway drug interdiction techniques. Under Operation Pipeline, police were trained to apply a profile that included evidence of concealment in the vehicle, indications of fast, point-to-point driving, as well as the age- and race characteristics of the probable drivers. In some cases, the profiling technique was distorted, so that officers began targeting black and Hispanic male drivers by stopping them for technical traffic violations as a pretext for ascertaining whether the drivers were carrying drugs.
This is also about the time that drug forfeiture became trendy in law enforcement. State and local cops in rural Texas, Tennessee and Georgia staked out the interstates, stopping black and Hispanic drivers on any pretext hoping to find drug couriers.
A term used synonymous with racial profiling is “driving while black (or brown).” This is the idea that the cops stop people because of their race. I have no doubt that it occurs, but how common is it?
In some cities and neighborhoods nearly everyone is a member of a racial minority. If the police pulled over every black and brown driver in South-Central LA there wouldn’t be any cars left on the road. But if they pulled cars over at random they would still be stopping more black and brown drivers.
Poor neighborhoods are the ones most likely to be high-crime neighborhoods with heavier police patrols. More cops means more traffic stops. Poor people are also more likely to be driving older vehicles in need of repair or to have expired registrations, which are the kind of things cops look for. And blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be poor.
Cops are supposed to enforce traffic laws. So how do we determine which traffic stops are legit and which ones are based on racial profiling?
The answer is a pet cause of mine – cameras in police cars.
I think every patrol car in the country should be equipped with a dash cam that includes a microphone worn by the cops. With today’s digital recording capabilities entire shifts could easily and cheaply be recorded and stored. Then we would have a record of everything that took place from the beginning of a traffic stop until the end. We can also compare how the officers treat drivers of different races.
It’s not a perfect solution but it would answer a lot of questions.