When I was in my mid-20s, I decided to spend a spring weekend in the Big Apple.
I was a young Latino man with shoulder length hair. I wore my hair in a bright red bandana (which I still own). At the time, my only earthly possession was a fairly new red sports car with awesome speakers. I would drive with all the windows down listening, at full blast, to the Miami Sound Machine. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
As I was driving through the great state of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />New Jersey, the highway patrol pulled me over. I asked the officer what was wrong. He answered that I was traveling five miles above the speed limit. After checking my driver’s license, registration form and insurance card, he asked if he could also search my car and my person.
Common procedure for speeders? I think not. So I asked why. His response: sports cars driven by Latinos with Dade County license plates were suspected of importing cocaine to New York City. After searching the car and finding nothing, he gave me a ticket.
Before racial profiling ever made the headlines, I knew what it meant to be a suspect, because I committed the crime of driving while under the influence of being Hispanic.
Some police departments participate in a practice known as RANCHING, which usually occurs over Christmas. RANCH stands for “Ruining Another N*****’s Christmas Holiday.”
During the season, some police officers target people of color to give the special gift of a ticket, a gift which “keeps on giving” in the form of higher insurance rates. A person of color is 75 times more likely to be pulled over by a police officer than a white person.
For example, in the state of Florida, 80 percent of all vehicles that were stopped and searched belong to people of color, even though we represent 5 percent of the state’s drivers! The disproportionate number of moving violations given to people of color is a clear indication of the level of racism which continues to persist.
An African-American scholar was visiting an educational institution where I taught, in consideration of moving into the area. She was pulled over two times by our city’s finest in her 50-minute drive from the airport to the campus. Was she angry or upset? Not really, one gets used to the harassment after a while.
Unfortunately, racial profiling is not limited to moving violations. For example, people of color convicted for drug or weapons violations serve 50 percent longer prison terms than whites convicted of the same crime.
Throughout the history of this country, one of the major goals of the police department has been to serve and protect the white population against the perceived danger of people of color.
Although major changes at the national level are being made to transform police departments into responding equally and with fairness to the needs of all citizens, regardless of color (and such efforts deserve our support and applause), the fact remains that much more needs to be done.
For example, in Cincinnati, a 19-year-old, unarmed black man was shot by the police for a traffic violation. In New York an unarmed African was shot over 40 times by police. In Philadelphia a Latino man’s head was crushed while under police custody. An African-American in New York had a plunger inserted in his rectum while under arrest at a police station. The list goes on.
For this reason, we who are judged to be criminals because of the color of our skin or our ethnicity can rejoice that our God does not see us as our fellow humans do (by our outward appearance) but rather, judges us by the contents of our hearts.
The Good Book reminds us that the Lord sees not as humans see; humans look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Sam 16:7).
Let us rejoice that our God does not participate in racial profiling!
So what are we to do? Hold those who are paid to serve the public accountable to serve the entire public. When politicians or police officers participate in racial-profiling activities, get involved in exposing this sin against humanity.
This is not a Latino thing or a black thing, it’s a democracy thing! If one’s person liberty is trampled upon, everyone’s liberty is in danger.
It is the responsibility of the media to report such abuses, it is our responsibilities as citizens, white citizens included, to protest loudly such abuses, and it’s our responsibility as Christians to name and resist such abuses, even when they occur to someone who does not belong to “our” race or ethnicity!
Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Order Miguel De La Torre’s book Reading the Bible from the Margins now from Amazon.com