- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Racial profiling in law enforcement hurts all Americans, not just blacks, the president of the NAACP said Saturday in Waldorf.
In 2002, cops hunting the “D.C. Sniper” overlooked the perpetrators several times because a profile said the shooter would be “probably white,” recalled Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and chief executive of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was addressing local politicians and others at the Maryland’s 5th Congressional District 32nd annual Black History Month celebration at the Greater Waldorf Jaycees.
“There was a point, so many people had been killed, the police felt obligated to put up a profile of the killer,” Jealous said. The “educated guess” was correct in many respects, predicting an “anti-social” male with military training who was working alone or with few companions. But because the police were seeking a white man, they at first ignored John Allen Muhammad and his accomplice.
“The blinders go up. The focus goes off of behavior and onto appearance. And people died,” Jealous said.
The search for a white murderer also caused police to subject white men to indignities usually reserved for African-Americans, Jealous said, like being stopped and scrutinized at roadblocks because of how they look.
“A white boy would show up to work having been racially profiled, which they didn’t think was possible. They’re late, they’re angry and they’re not sure what just happened to them,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
In the other direction, Transportation Security Administration workers scrutinizing minority men at airports missed Nathaniel Heatwole, a Maryland student who brought boxcutters and mock explosives onto airplanes in 2003 just to show that he could. Although he did this several times, it was not until he stashed several threatening items in an airplane bathroom, along with a note, that the young white man was arrested, Jealous said.
More tragically, a mixed-race man was targeted by security agents just before a white man fatally shot President William McKinley in 1901 because agents were on the lookout for “swarthy” men as likely assassins, Jealous said. Finally, the U.S. Secret Service generally ignored women until Squeaky Fromme, a member of the notorious Charles Manson Family, pointed a gun at President Gerald Ford in 1975.
“Now they search the women, too,” Jealous said.
“For 100 years before the D.C. sniper, we know if you focus on what people look like instead of what they do, people die. The president died,” Jealous said. But racial profiling continues in programs like “stop and frisk” in New York City, where police “put honor students against the wall … to ‘keep us safe,’” Jealous said.
Besides calling for the abolition of racial profiling, Jealous lauded efforts to end the death penalty in Maryland. He also praised the passage of a referendum giving gays and lesbians the right to marry, whose situation he compared to that of his white father and black mother, who married in 1966, an act then “controversial [among blacks] as well, not just with whites,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) took political stands as well, including praising the national DREAM Act, which allows illegal immigrant students to receive in-state rates for public college tuition under certain circumstances. The law will help to elevate “people based on the content of their character and their willingness to work,” Hoyer said. The Maryland General Assembly passed a state DREAM Act last year, and it passed in a voter referendum in November.
The legislator also had kind words for Jealous, calling him “a great leader of our country. Not a great African-American leader. He is that, but [he is also] a great leader in our country.” Hoyer drew parallels between Jealous’ career and his own because they both attained high positions at the age of 35.
Dorothea Smith of Malcolm has attended the Black History Month celebrations for the past 20 to 25 years in order to support Hoyer, hear presentations and meet influential people, the former schoolteacher said.
“Celebrating black history is also celebrating life,” Smith said.