Cops Are Missing the Bad Guys While Profiling the Black Guys

driving while blackThe history of African-Americans is one of great accomplishments amidst the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. That legacy follows black people, and particularly black men, to this day. And it is enough to make you red hot burning mad. Although some are ready to usher in a new post-racial era of colorblindness, it is clear that their efforts are grossly premature.

In America, race is a proxy for violence. Black men are regarded as a criminal element, and racial profiling is a practice that goes far beyond the justice system. It is culturally ingrained and normalized. In the days of old, when black people were not allowed to roam about unattended or without permission, slave patrols policed the plantations and hunted down fugitives.

Similarly, today, police sweep through communities of color, searching for criminals. Any black man will do. And cops are searching for drugs, not because black or Latino people use the most drugs, but because of preference, of policy. Drug use among white youth is greater than among youth of color, but you will never find the police descend upon the nation’s college campuses, round up those who “fit the description” and force them to endure a demeaning arrest. After all, society views them as the victims. Society has already decided who should be designated as its criminals, even if the “suspects” are as innocuous and upstanding as Henry Louis Gates – a Harvard professor who was arrested for standing on his front porch and attempting to enter his own home. But status is not what counts, it’s all about race.

12 Angry Men: True Stories of Being a Black Man in America Today is a new book which tells the first-person accounts of black men who, like Professor Gates, have been there. These twelve men were victims of racial profiling, at the wrong place at the wrong time – which for a black man could mean anywhere. Edited by Gregory S. Parks and Matthew W. Hughley, 12 Angry Men contains a powerful introduction by Harvard law professor Lani Guinier.

Joe Morgan

Joe Morgan

A diverse group of people shares their encounters with the police, including a New York Times reporter who was detained while on assignment; Joe Morgan, a baseball legend who was racially profiled at LAX; Joshua T. Wiley, a hip hop artist who is constantly harassed by police, and Paul Butler, a law professor and former federal prosecutor who was stopped by the cops for living in a nice neighborhood. Meanwhile, Byron Bain, a Harvard Law student was told by his arresting officer that he must attend the school on a “ball scholarship.” Bain compiled a tragically comical “Bill of Rights for Black Men,” which includes as its first and second amendments, “Congress can make no law altering the established fact that a black man is a n****r,” and “The right of any white person to apprehend a n****r will not be infringed.” Newly arrived, foreign-born black men with British accents are not immune from profiling and arrest. Even lawmakers are not exempt, as Congressman Danny Davis recounts his experience of racial profiling by the Chicago police while driving home from his weekly radio show.

Throughout the book, which is factual yet reads like a novel, these twelve men share the humiliation of being told that you are not allowed in a certain neighborhood, and the terror that comes with having a gun pointed to your head. Told where they can and cannot go and forced to produce their identification, they compare their experiences to antebellum slaves, black South Africans under apartheid, and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. One man, who was stopped at least once a month and as many as three, had to leave home early enough in order to account for the possibility of being stopped. Perhaps one of the more appalling cases was of a boy in Prince George’s County, Maryland, who was accused of shoplifting by a police officer moonlighting as a department store security guard. The guard made the youth take off his shirt, go home and return with his sales receipt to prove that he purchased it. The young man was awarded $850,000 in damages by a federal jury.

Although much of 12 Angry Men deals with the anecdotal and the personal, the book also delves into the statistical, including a report on racial profiling as practiced by the New York Police Department (NYPD). According to the report, which was released by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), race, not crime, drives police stops and frisks. This is what blacks and Latinos have been saying for years. And no matter what the neighborhood – low crime or high crime, black, Latino, white or mixed, the results are always the same.

For example, 80 percent of the stops made by the NYPD between 2005 and 2008 were of African-Americans, who are only 25 percent of the city’s population. Whites, who make up 44 percent of the city’s population, were stopped only 10 percent of the time. Over the past six years, nearly half of all stops were made on the basis of a vague category called “furtive movements,” while only 15 percent cited “fits relevant description.” In over half of the stops, the officers noted “high crime area” as an “additional circumstance,” even in low crime areas.

Paul Butler

Paul Butler

“CCR has been litigating against the NYPD’s racial profiling and suspicionless stops-and-frisks since 1999. For its part, during all this time, the police have claimed that they stop people based upon reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, based upon a description of a perpetrator, and as an effective tool to get guns off the street,” Vincent Warren, CCR’s executive director, recently told me. “The significance of this report is that New York City must finally come to grips with its racial profiling problem. There are hundreds of thousands of innocent Black and Brown New Yorkers who daily suffer the indignities of these illegal police tactics. And the police department should be protecting them and not harassing them.”

David A. LoveReading 12 Angry Men: True Stories of Being a Black Man in America Today made me angry, not because the subject matter was brand new to me, but because it was far too familiar – not only as a black man, but also as a human rights advocate who worked with police brutality victims and their families back in the 1990s, and decided to go to law school as a result. Whether or not racial profiling is a new subject for you, this book should spark some discussions. And bringing this problem into the light is the only way we can begin to fight it. Black folks are not the only victims of racial profiling, to be sure. But examining America’s badge of slavery is a good place to start.

David A. Love

Republished with permission from The BlackCommentator.


  1. Nate says

    A good article however , as one who lives in South Central Los Angeles I’d like to add that Black Men , by affecting criminal ” thug ” behaviour and dress etc. by choice , automatically loose the right to complain .

    When I was a lad in the 1960’s I clearly recall Black Folks , regardless of gender , dress or attitude , being roughed up by the police ‘ just because ‘ ~ this is un American at it’s core and surely pisses me off .

    If BET Et Al would stop promoting the image of being ‘ Black & Proud ‘ only achievable by being rude , dirty , a Baller , drug dealer and of course , by disrespecting Women constantly , then maybe we could make some headway against the common view of _everybody_ , not just Whites , that DWB is a crime when it isn’t .

    The onus is on BLACK PEOPLE to act right and force the rest of the world (esp. White America) to see that Black isn’t good nor bad , it just _is_ and Black People in the main , just like to go to work and raise families like everyone else .

    I am pleased to see that in my lifetime , interracial dating has become the norm , my son never considered race a factor through his young life .

    Keep up the good work but remember this : change begins with _YOU_ .

    I live in The Ghetto in a regular American Blue Collar neighborhood and I like it quite a bit thankyouverymuch .

    It’s nice and clean here , quiet too ,kids playing basketball in the street , going to High School & planning for College .

    Only the stupid ones who insist on wearing their pants below their behinds and carrying guns , get hassled here , they deserve it and I support the Police who stop anyone who looks or acts like a gang banger ~ that is nothing to be proud of .

    “DWB ” is also Un – American and any Officer who uses it to hassle Black Folks , should be immediately busted down to Beat Patrol so they’ll learn how this community really is .

  2. Chris Peeples says

    The Federal Courts don’t believe you. From the concuring openion in _Darensburg v. MTC_ (No. 09-15878) issued 16 Feb 2011″

    “The court is asked to
    assume the identity and interests of various parts of the population
    characterized by the litigants in terms of categories created
    by the racial origins of the persons living here today.
    Using these categories — hopelessly outdated in the Bay Area
    — this litigation presents a controversy in which the court is
    asked to determine the fairness of future plans dependent on
    at least seven factors which the court would have to measure,
    combine, and evaluate as a balanced or unbalanced combination.
    The twentieth century racial categories so confidently
    deployed no longer correspond to American life among the
    young. See Susan Saulny, “Black? White? Asian? More
    Americans Chose All of the Above,” The New York Times,
    January 30, 2011, page 1 and page 20. What is true of the
    young is already characteristic of the Bay Area where social
    change has been fostered by liberal political attitudes, and a
    culture of tolerance. An individual bigot may be found, perhaps
    even a pocket of racists. The notion of a Bay Area board
    bent on racist goals is a specter that only desperate litigation
    could entertain.”

  3. says

    This type of hassle is nothing new to me, I got it even when I would go for a cruise out near Hawken, a private prep school on the far East Side of Cleveland, Gates Mills/Chester Twp.

    What are you doing out here?

    I’m out here where I went to school for a drive.


    Because I want to.

    That’s one of only many unfair exchanges I have seen in my 45 years, and some of them involved the police putting their hands on me. At the time I was 29 and in Case Western Law School. I would go on to have two white LE in Hamilton Ohio found liable for making my client a victim of violent crime, Isreal v. Hensley and Rhodes, V96-61481 watch this movie to “The Fighter” producer Dorothy Aufiero about the movie she is working right now, involving an abusive cop in New Hampshire. Focus on the first two minutes.

    Heck Senator Kelly Ayotte’s crew threatens to arrest me every time I see her, she can’t stand me ever since I was NAACP Legal Chair for Southern NH and she brought up bogus charges on me. Watch the three times she and her campaign folks, including former NH U.S. Marshal and current Ayotte Senate staffer Stephen Monier threaten to arrest me and drive me right out of the entire Crowne Plaza Nashua for no reason, prompting my lawsuit, KingCast v. Ayotte, NH Dist. 2010-CV-501.

    Focus at 2:00-6:00

    And so it goes in America, neighbors of Scott Hyman are liable to him for $1.8M for anti-semitic activity, here’s some video on that. Urine, feces, a house burned down….. what the heck is wrong with people?

    Know Justice, Know Peace.
    Christopher King, J.D. — Reel News for Real People

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