LSA freshman Ravi Perry was 18-years-old when he was stopped by the police in his own neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio a neighborhood that is three-quarters white.
Driving a Lexus RS 300 and talking on his cellular phone, Perry, a black male, said he was stopped at an intersection by three police officers just after midnight.
“It was late at night and I was basically harassed by three officers who said they were looking for someone with drugs who was black,” Perry said.
Perry and about 60 University community members participated in a symposium on racial profiling last night sponsored by the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
LSA junior Michael Simon, co-chair of the campus ACLU, said while discussion centered around the rights of Arab Americans in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, the planning for this project began earlier than that.
Ann Arbor Police Chief Daniel Oates, Delphia Simpson of the Michigan ACLU and Prof. Robert Perry, the chair of African-American studies at Eastern Michigan University, joined in addressing student”s questions about the need for and legality of racial profiling.
“The issue is so important that it is only a matter of time until we have national legislation,” said Oates, who added that the Ann Arbor Police Department has been collecting data on traffic stops for the last 18 months and will be releasing a report on their findings.
Maintaining that racial profiling contradicts the constitutional freedoms given to all Americans, Prof. Perry Ravi Perry”s father said, “We need to begin to understand that this is a diverse country, and that we”re not all white. It contradicts the values that we stand for in this country.”
Citing records kept by police departments in Maryland and New Jersey that used racial profiling in traffic stops and airport security checks, Simpson said these checks did not help to catch more criminals.
“It”s ineffective and it does not keep us safer,” she added.
While Oates maintained he is against the concept of racial profiling, he said there are circumstances when race may be used as one factor among many to locate and target possible suspects. One such instance involved the questioning of some of the 80 Arab Americans living in Ann Arbor on temporary visas last year. The voluntary interviews were sought by the FBI and the Justice Department.
Oates met with leaders of the Ann Arbor Muslim community in an effort to make the interviews run smoothly and alleviate the fears of those sought for questioning. He said he became involved with the interviews at the request of both the FBI and the Muslim community.
“These people are guests of the American government. The government has a right to question these people,” he said. “In this particular instance, the choice to talk to these people did not amount to racial profiling.”
But Prof. Perry said he did not agree that these interviews were as amiable and freely given as Oates saw them to be.
“People we are here on temporary, non-immigrant visas, who are asked by the government to make a choice, I don”t know how much choice they have, particularly when the choice is coming from high levels of government,” Prof. Perry said.
Several students attended the symposium to voice their opinion that racial profiling is a necessary procedure in ensuring public safety.
Rakham graduate student Justin Shubow said he believes politicians and law enforcement officers realize the necessity and unpopularity of enforcing racial profiling to catch criminals.
“They have to use it, but they can”t admit it,” he said.