Forum debates racial profiling: Eliminate it? Or learn to deal with it?

It’s a given that racial profiling — when law enforcement authorities engage or enforce with an individual because of the person’s race or ethnicity –happens. But what to do about the practice was the focus of a forum this week at Normandale Community College in Bloominhton. Hosted by the college’s Black Student Alliance and moderated by former Minneapolis mayoral candidate James Everett, the panel featured a couple of young speakers as well as an African-American police officer who has served on the Minneapolis police force for 12 years.

The discussion drew community members and a couple dozen students — some of whom were enrolled in Normandale’s Criminal Justice program — grew heated over who bears responsibility for racial profiling: The cops? Or those who are being profiled?

Officer Anthijuan Beeks Sr., received the bulk of the criticism as the lone representative of law enforcement on the panel, for suggesting that racial profiling isn’t going to go away and for giving advice about how to deal with getting pulled over or questioned by police.

Beeks was born and raised in Minnesota and has been with the Minneapolis Police Department for more than a decade. According to Beeks, racial profiling does exist, but cops “weren’t necessarily trained (to do) racial profiling,” he said. “We’re trained to look for things out of the ordinary.”

Beeks told the audience that he too has experienced racial profiling. “I will be the first one to tell you I, too, am a black man,” he said. “I, too, am from Minneapolis. I, too, have family, friends raised in Minneapolis… been on the North Side, the South Side, all my life. I, too, have been stopped a lot. I, too, continue to get stopped quite often. I was just at the hearing office this morning contesting a citation I got about 6 weeks ago from a state trooper. So does it happen? Yes, it happens: I’m a victim of it.”

Beeks said that he didn’t think that racial profiling would stop, and that the community needs to figure out how to deal with it. When Beeks offered advice for young people about how to interact with police, he faced some resistance both from the students as well as some of the older people in the audience who wanted to put the focus more on law enforcement and police officers.

A number of students who came to the forum recounted personal experiences with profiling. Student Corey Harris, president of Kappa Beta Delta fraternity, said that though he has a nice car, he is “constantly” pulled over when he travels to the North Side to visit family members.

Another student, Brittany Harges, said she is in training to be a police officer in part because she feels that police departments need more people of color. “When police pull African-Americans over, they don’t respect us,” Harhes said. “They treat us like the bottom of a shoe. Why should we respect them if they’re not showing us respect back, if they’re giving us a ticket, regardless? One person deserves just as much respect as another. Just because they have a badge — that makes them no different from us.”

Everett, a North Side community activist who was one of the unsuccessful candidates for Minneapolis mayor last year, said he’s been intricately involved with the police department both in shaping policy under a civilian redesign committee as well as working with youth downtown to reduce crime. In February, Everett and his team won a Merit Award of Honor from Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau. Since then, he said, police-community relations have been rocky. “Ever since we won the award, everybody’s been to jail,” Everett said, adding that he believes the arrests have been “political.”

Jonathan Lee, a panelist, was born and raised in North Minneapolis. Though he was admittedly a “troubled teen,” he has turned his life around. According to Lee, the Patriot Act, which was passed in the aftermath of 9-11, has been used domestically and locally, often as a way to “enforce racial profiling,” he said, especially when gangs get classified as terrorist groups.

According to Lee, some neighborhoods have undergone increased surveillance, and racial profiling happens more often. Lee said that police tactics of humiliation and overuse of physical force were problematic.

The meeting grew heated when several in the audience wanted the focus of the discussion to stay with what police can change, rather than what people of color need to do to protect themselves from being profiled (being excessively polite). Still, Everett said it was one of the better forums he’s been to:

“I’ve never been to a police meeting that ended the way it was supposed to,” he said. Acknowledging that the presence of The Uptake may have limited the discussion, he encouraged people to continue conversations when the cameras were off. He ended his remarks by mentioning changes coming down the pike, such as cameras on lapels of police officers.

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    Sheila Regan's picture
    Sheila Regan

    Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.

    Bill Sorem's picture
    Bill Sorem