To many Latinos, there’s no worse politician in America than Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the octogenarian lawman who was sued by the Justice Department this past spring for committing what DOJ officials called the worst pattern of racial profiling by a law enforcement agency in U.S. history.
But Sheriff Arpaio isn’t the only cop accused of aggressively and inappropriately pursuing Latinos.
Over the past few years, news outlets all across the country have reported on racial profiling in their communities. Seattle Weekly ran an extensive piece, “Nowhere-Near-the-Border Patrol in Forks,” in 2011 about small-town police departments in Washington teaming up with the federal government to track down immigrants.
The Iowa Civil Rights Commission in 2011 settled a case against an unnamed small town police force, which had been accused of profiling against Latinos.
Search for each state, and you’re likely to find these problems, from Louisiana to Rhode Island. The Chicago Reporter did a lengthy story in 2009 called “Driving While Latino,” that chronicled the problem in many of Illinois’ suburban communities.
(A quick note: We know Latinos aren’t a “race.” But “racial profiling” is the term in circulation for this type of discrimination.)
The traffic stop problems are not limited to Chicago suburbs.
Hoy investigative editor Jeff Kelly Lowenstein analyzed traffic stop data from the Illinois Department of Transportation from 2007 to 2011.
In each of those years, Latinos had the highest percentage of stops that led to citations out of the state’s four major racial or ethnic groups.
This happened at the same time that the total number and percentage of stops that resulted in citations dropped each year from 2008 to 2011, Hoy’s analysis found.
But the gap between the percentage of Latino and white drivers who received citations increased from 5 percentage points in 2007 to 8 percentage points in 2011.
Now comes a new and detailed report of racial profiling in a small Minnesota town, Gaylord, as chronicled by the ACLU of Minnesota.
ACLU attorney Ian Bratlie reviewed dashcam tapes, dispatch records, citations and other public records to find out whether a Gaylord police officer named Eric Boon was disproportionately stopping (and harassing) Latinos.
Gaylord is home to a surprisingly large Latino presence due to the presence of an egg processing plant near the town.
Bratlie outlined his findings in a letter to Gaylord Police Chief Kenn Meuller, which you can read, in full, here.
Officer Boon was more likely to stop minorities (54% of his stops were minorities) than white people, and much more likely to give minorities a citation (59% of his tickets).
“Both of these numbers are much greater than the minority population in Gaylord,” Bratlie wrote.
The report notes numerous instances where Boon “appeared to seek out minorities,” including an instance where he drove up to a child to tell them that their parents were in violation of the law.
At other times, “he would drive onto someone’s property to look at cars in their driver,” which “only seemed to happen to minorities in Gaylord.”
In one incident, on May 26th, 2012, a young white woman was pulled over for driving without the lights on. Boon asked for her insurance. The document was expired as of April 17.
Without prompting, Boon said it was “likely coming in the mail” and didn’t give her a ticket.
Later that night, he pulled over a Latino named Antonio Huerta, “ostensibly for failing to stop at a stop sign although Antonio vigorously denied that.”
Boon asked for insurance. When Antonio gave him the document, it was expired as of May 23. Boon gave him a citation and sent him to court.
A judge dismissed the charge, but the incident suggests that Boon wasn’t willing to give Latinos the same benefit of the doubt he gives white people.
Here’s another incident: Last August, Boon stopped a car driven by Ruby Ortiz. He came to the window but didn’t speak until she did.
Boon cut her off when she asked why she was stopped and he asked for her license. He said he “knew” that she didn’t have a license. Ortiz produced a permit.
He assumed that the passenger wasn’t licensed, though she was.
Eventually, he demanded to know whose car they were driving, leading Ortiz’ father, Juan, to show up and receive a ticket for not transferring the title to his name. (It was in the wife’s name.)
The court dismissed those charges, too, but the conduct “was purposefully insulting, and was not an isolated instance,” according to the ACLU.
In a letter to Gaylord’s police chief, Bratlie revealed that the city’s top lawman was aware of the problem before the ACLU got involved. Here it is, unedited:
“You and I spoke in January about Officer Boon where you stated that Officer Boon does have a “racial” problem. You mentioned that, as Chief, you had asked him to stop giving “110%.” You agreed that he was likely to follow cars driven by Hispanics to run their license plates. You said you knew of the reputation he had and that you were trying to work with Latinos in Gaylord to fix the damage. You spoke of the problems you have when a large minority of the city wouldn’t call the police for help if they thought that Officer Boon would be the one to answer the call. You mentioned your history of going to Mexico and working with Latinos as a positive that would help you with the minority community in Gaylord.”
Chief Meuller responded to the ACLU’s findings by thanking them for some of their recommendations but disputing some of the facts (without identifying any of the “inaccuracies” he mentioned). You can see that letter here.
Allegations of racial profiling in Gaylord have been made before, according to Star Tribune columnist Jon Tevlin.
“A previous chief disagreed with similar criticisms from another agency, and declined to do anything,” Tevlin wrote. He quoted the Gaylord city attorney saying he doesn’t know why people keep living in the past.
“Those issues have been addressed,” Donald Lannoye said. He disputed the ACLU’s “characterization” of events.
President Obama has made progress in fighting racial profiling during his first term, with the aforementioned lawsuit against Arpaio standing out.
But it’s clear that the problem remains.
And as President Obama prepares again to assume the nation’s highest elected office, we hope his Department of Justice and law enforcement agencies across the country will take an aggressive stance against racial profiling wherever it occurs.
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