Say NO to racial profiling!

May 7, 2004, protest against racial profiling in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Sarah Friedman

“No, let the people see what I’ve seen.”

That was Mamie Till Mobley’s reply to the undertaker who asked if she wanted her son’s body to be touched up prior to his funeral. She later commented, “I think everybody needed to know what had happened to Emmett Till.”

In 1955, two white men brutally murdered her son, 14-year-old African American Emmett Till. He was dragged from his uncle’s house in the middle of the night, beaten and shot to death. Then his body was thrown into the Mississippi River.

Just one year prior, the Supreme Court had ruled in its Brown vs. Board of Education decision that segregation in education was illegal. When Emmett Till’s killers were acquitted of murder the next year, it proved that even if a step had been taken against legal segregation by outlawing it in schools, racism and hate crimes would be tolerated and accepted. Emmett Till’s death became a spark to the flame of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Almost 50 years later, racism is still pervasive inside the United States. Racial profiling of Black, Latino, Arab, Asian and Native communities, and religious profiling of Muslim and Sikh communities, is an everyday occurrence. The 15th and 16th Amendments, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and a plethora of other laws make racial discrimination illegal, but people of color and other oppressed people continually face both overt and insidious covert racism and discrimination in their schools, workplaces and communities.

Across the United States, people are taking a stand and organizing against racial profiling.

Protest at State Capitol in Sacramento, California against racism in school funding.

Photo: Bill Hackwell

In the Spring of 2004, several Washington, DC high school students reported that they continually experienced racial profiling at a Best Buy store just a few blocks from their school. On one particular occasion, two groups of students—one Black and one white—attempted to enter the Best Buy minutes after each other. The white students were allowed to enter the store, but the Black students were not. 

This and other incidents at Best Buy brought to light the racial profiling that is especially prevalent among African American high school students in DC. In response to the accounts of racial profiling reported in the Washington Post, members of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition held protests in front of Best Buy against racial profiling and all forms of racism.

San Francisco

Unfortunately, racial profiling—like racism in general—pervades communities that have experienced discrimination first hand. In response to the many accounts of discrimination at Badlands, a gay bar in the Castro district of San Francisco, local organizations have begun an education campaign. 

On June 22, 2004, organizers held a press conference at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center at which an African American woman named Gertrude East spoke about her personal experience with racial profiling at Badlands. East had been inside the bar for a couple of minutes when one of the employees asked to speak with her and she was escorted out of the bar. When her friends asked why she was forced to leave the manager said, “That’s not welcome here.” The bar’s owner prevents people of color from entering Badlands and his other bar by requiring them to show multiple pieces of photo identification or the contents of their wallets.

North Carolina

Racial profiling is not—and has never been—a phenomenon isolated to metropolitan cities. For example, in rural Burke County, North Carolina, the Board of Education unanimously decided to implement “random” drug testing of high school athletes and students with driver’s licenses. 

But the true thinking behind this policy is very clear to students of color. One African American high school student told his local newspaper, “Random drug tests are never really random, because the ones selected … are usually African American males.” (Morganton News Herald, July 1, 2004)

Photo: Bill Hackwell

Across the U.S.

Race is also a major factor in arrests made by the police. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, Black youth are four times more likely to be arrested than white youth in the United States. The disproportionate arrest of African Americans fuels the racist myth that most Black youth are criminals and should be treated as such.

Since 2001, there has been a dramatic escalation in racial and religious profiling against the Arab, Muslim and Sikh communities. The FBI and INS have requested that colleges and universities hand over the names and information of all of their Middle Eastern students. The government is using legislation, including the Patriot Act, to aggressively attack these entire communities. Thousands of people have been investigated, arrested, interrogated, detained and deported based solely on their race and/or religion.

Forty years since the Civil Rights Act was passed, racism and discrimination, far from being incidental or occasional occurrences, are constant demonstrations that U.S. capitalist society is inherently racist. It proves that even the reforms, which all progressive people have fought and should fight for to mitigate the oppression of people of color, cannot solve the problems of a racist capitalist society. The only way to really end the oppression of people of color and all oppression is to transform society. We must create a society where racism and all forms of discrimination are not common, continual or even remotely accepted, where racism is forbidden in law and in life.

Caneisha Mills, a Howard University student, was an organizer of the protests against Best Buy racial profiling in Washington, DC.


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