Today, police chiefs representing twenty-seven major cities will gather in New York for an unprecedented discussion of law enforcement responses to racial profiling, immigration policy and in approaches to countering intra-departmental racism convened by the Consortium for Police Leadership in Equity (CPLE). Planning for this conference began shortly after Utah’s passage of SB81 in February 2008. SB81 prohibits harboring and transporting undocumented residents, makes it illegal for these residents to receive public benefits, and permits Utah police officers to check on the immigration status of anyone in their custody.
CPLE co-executive director Phillip Atiba Goff views SB81 as a precursor to Arizona’s controversial SB1070 legislation, the amendment that has further stoked the flames of this nation’s combustible immigration policy debate since its passage in April. SB 1070—a bill that the New York Times has called “nation’s toughest bill on illegal immigration,” because it gives Arizona police unprecedented power to detain anyone suspected of being in the United States illegally. Whereas SB81 was arguably a measure calling for more stringent enforcement of already existing immigration protocols, Arizona’s SB1070 arguably veers into the realm of racial profiling. In a June 2010 Huffington Post op-ed co-written by Goff along with CPLE co-founder Tracie L. Keesee, and Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, the trio declared:
[Measures like SB1070] place law enforcement in a precarious—and all too familiar situation. [While] officers should enforce and uphold the law regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion… However, law enforcement is formally tasked with enforcing the laws that legislators sign. Consequently, if the law of the land is racist, it becomes the job of law enforcement to enforce racism.
Since its passage, Arizona governor Jan Brewer has been inundated with calls to repeal this law, with some even calling for an Arizona boycott if SB1070 is not overturned. However, Arizona is not alone when it comes to alarming racial inequities in law enforcement protocol.
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union 575,000 people were detained in the New York Police Department’s “Stop and Frisk” program in 2009, 85% percent of whom were either African American or Latino. New York Governor David Paterson recently approved legislation that will limit the amount of information stored on New Yorkers who were not arrested after being detained by police, a move that has not quelled the program’s critics, which in addition to the NYCLU also includes the Center for Constitutional Rights which filed a lawsuit in January 2008 against New York City “behalf of plaintiffs who allege they were illegally stopped and frisked on one or more occasions by NYPD officers without reasonable suspicion and because of their race.” Carla Shedd, an assistant professor of sociology and African American studies at Columbia believes that NYPD should take a cue from a recent European Court of Human Rights decision calling for an end to “stop and search” anti-terrorism practices in England. As Shedd points out: “The court declared Britain’s ‘stop and search’ laws illegal because there were ‘not adequate legal safeguards against abuse’ and implementation of the law could lead to racial profiling.”
To give a sense of how befuddling these issues have become for law enforcement officials seeking to enact local measures that will align well with a national agenda, while New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has identified immigration reform as one of his chief policy items—seeking to do for this issue what he’s done for gun-reform—and has emerged as one of the staunchest critics of Arizona’s SB-1070, Bloomberg still continues supporting the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” program. And although this conference is not only about racial equity in law enforcement in Arizona and New York City, these two locales have garnered considerable attention leading up to it; and will likely do so during the two-day function. Moreover, while the police chiefs of Phoenix and Tuscon will be attendance this week, New York officials have chosen to bypass this gathering in spite of the fact it’s in their hometown.
With police executives from Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and Vancouver slated to be in attendance, it’s unlikely that New York will be missed. As one conference organizer has stated, this conference represents an unprecedented opportunity while simultaneously shedding light on an unprecedented obstacle: getting police executives, researchers, community activists and federal officials to come to a consensus on how to best address and implement just immigration policy and end racial profiling. Although as CPLE co-founder Goff has indicated, simply getting these different constituencies to agree on a definition of racial profiling will itself have made this convening a success.
The Consortium for Police Leadership in Equity conference will take place at New York University and John Jay College on August 25th & 26th. More information is available at www.policingequity.org