Black UTM students support legislative push to ban racial profiling
By Jason Thomason
MARTIN, Tenn. -
Racial profiling can be difficult to discuss. If it hasn't happened to you, you can probably still identify with being judged based on how you look.
Recent reports accusing police of racial profiling in communities of color have had deadly consequences. Tony Robinson in Madison, Eric Garner in New York, and Michael Brown in Ferguson were all unarmed black men killed by police.
Wednesday, the police chief in Ferguson resigned after a report from the justice department revealed racially-based practices within his department. These instances are the inspiration for a proposed law in Tennessee that takes a hard line on racial profiling.
At The University Of Tennessee at Martin diversity is celebrated. "I feel like everybody on campus is treated equally," said senior Leslie Howard, although he has been profiled in the past. He said, "It makes you feel bad and disgusting. Well, it makes me feel bad and disgusting."
Racial profiling is also a practice that Tennessee lawmakers are trying to prevent by requiring every law enforcement agency in the state to have a policy against it. "It makes me feel like somebody understands that it happens and it's real," said Kache Brooks.
Brooks is a junior and the president of the Black Student Alliance. She said the law would make people feel more comfortable on campus. "I'm hopeful that it will get done."
University of Tennessee Martin Police denied our request for an interview, but a spokesperson said they do not have a policy on racial profiling yet. Howard said, "I don't see a problem with us not having it, but it would be good to have it since everyone else is feeling the affects of it." He said he hoped the consequences of racial profiling would not continue. "I would never want that to happen to my kids, because it really does psychologically make you feel some kind of way."
Brooks said it will take more than policy to create real change. "Polices can't change people's mindset or how they feel toward people of color," she said.
The Martin Police Department does have a written policy on racial profiling. It defines what it is, lays out training guidelines, and has instructions for disciplinary action. Right now, that is not required.
The bill passed the Tennessee Senate unanimously earlier this week and right now it's in the house awaiting action. The legislature passed a "Racial Profiling Prevention Act" in 2008, but it has expired. That law only "strongly encouraged" law enforcement agencies to have a written policy on racial profiling.