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Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Racial profiling debate

By RON FANFAIR

Police departments that are serious about tackling racial profiling will take proactive measures to compile statistics to get a grasp of the problem, suggests a respected National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) administrator.

"We believe that one of the best management tools that any police department can have is the collection of data," Hillary Shelton told Black officers at the closing ceremony of the National Black Police Association's (NBPA) international convention at the Delta Toronto East Hotel in Scarborough.

"If we just keep an account of who are being stopped and why, it will help manage the problem we know has gotten out of hand. Even if you don't want to accept the fact that this is an issue in our communities, the perception among all Americans, and not just Black Americans, is that racial profiling occurs and it has to stop.

"We know we have a problem with racial profiling in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The more I listen to you, the more I hear you say the same thing."

In February 2004, the NAACP supported the introduction of the "End the Racial Profiling Act of 2004" in the House and Senate by Senators Jon Corzine and Russ Feingold and Congressman John Conyers.

Last May, Kingston, Ontario Police Service Chief William Closs admitted that some members of his force engaged in the practice following a one-year study designed to collect data on the race and ethnicity of everyone the police stopped.

The Kingston Police Service is the first Canadian Police Service to develop policies to address racial profiling and implement the collection of racial data in response to accusations that some of its members unfairly target Blacks and other minorities.

Shelton, the Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau, paid tribute to Black law enforcement officers in North America and England for meeting once a year to discuss the issues that affect them and the communities they serve.

"I know who you are and what you are in Canada, the U.S. and England and I know that you are the ones on the frontline all day and every day, fighting to make sure that our communities are safe and secure," he said. "You are also fighting to make sure that Blacks have a full opportunity to participate in the process…I also know that many of you have come a long way to be where you are today in your communities.

"We know that you understand that racism is something that you will have to contend with. It means that you will have to work three times as hard to get half as much…

"Whether you are in Canada, the U.S. or England, you can count on the NAACP to stand side by side with you. We are going to win this fight."

Shelton, who is responsible for providing legislative advocacy to the issue agenda of the NAACP which is the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the U.S., singled out NBPA executive director Ron Hampton for special praise.

A retired Washington Police Department officer, Hampton has been with the NBPA from its inception and has attended almost every national and international convention in the organization's 33-year history.

"You have produced among you an executive director that has been a real gem to the NAACP," Shelton pointed out. "He's someone that recognizes how challenging the issues are and how controversial the concerns are to have police officers stand side by side with the NAACP.

"He does not hesitate for a moment if I phone him and say we have to go to Capitol Hill to talk to some folks and make sure they understand how issues of racial profiling and other concerns affect all of us as citizens and police officers."

The NBPA announced the establishment of two scholarships to honour the memory of famed attorney and civil rights advocate Johnnie Cochran who died last March of an inoperable brain tumour.

Cochran was the keynote speaker here in Toronto five years ago at the awards banquet of the first NBPA convention to be held outside of the United States.