Sunday, May 14, 2000

Racial profiling perceived

Panel hears complaints

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Between 1993 and 1997, Kimberly Reese's husband, Sanford, was stopped by Cincinnati Police 15 times.

        “They gave him reasons like: "We think you ran that light. ... We thought your headlight was out. ... There's a crack in your taillight. ... You were driving too slow,'” the Silverton minister said Saturday.

        She added that in 1994, her husband, who is also a minister, was stopped by a Cincinnati police officer who told him he fit the description of someone suspected of trafficking drugs. Mr. Reese was then handcuffed and his car searched, and he was forced to lie face down on the ground, she said.

        Testifying before Cincinnati City Council's Human Relations Committee (HRC), Mrs. Reese urged members to find solutions to racial profiling in this area.

        “My husband does not deal drugs, sling drugs, or have anything to do with drugs,” she said, adding that the only conclusion they could come to was that Mr. Reese's race — African-American — was the reason police stopped him.

        Another hearing on the same topic was held in February in Mount Auburn.

        Officers should undergo sensitivity and cross-cultural training, Mrs. Reese said. “We need to come up with some solutions ... This has been going on for a long time, and it has got to change.”

        Cincinnati Police Capt. Thomas Johns, an HRC member, said the department is proactive in investigating complaints against its police officers.

        If someone thinks his rights have been violated, he can contact that officer's supervisor and file a complaint or go through the city's Office of Municipal Investiga tions (OMI).

        Ovie Mitchell III, a youth counselor who works with at-risk teens, said he has been roused from his Avondale apartment twice this month by police officers.

        The first time was shortly before 5:30 a.m. May 5, when an officer responded to an anonymous report that a woman's screams were heard coming from Mr. Mitchell's apartment. Mr. Mitchell told the officer he was alone and no one had been screaming. He complied when the officer told him to stand outside while his apartment was searched.

        At about 3:30 p.m. a day later, two more officers came to his door saying there had been a report of a woman being raped in his home. Mr. Mitchell said he asked who made the report and was told it was a personal acquaintance of one of the officers.

        He said he again was asked to step outside his apartment and to wait while officers searched his home.

        “The only thing I can think of is that I'm guilty of living while black,” he told committee mem bers. “No warrants were shown either time,” he said.

        Both Mr. Mitchell and Mrs. Reese said they have filed complaints with OMI against the officers involved.

        Ayana Sloan, a member of the HRC, and a representative with the Black Lawyers Association of Greater Cincinnati, warned minority residents to act responsibly when stopped by police.

        “A lot of people struggle with (knowing) what their rights are,” she said. “The Fourth Amendment is the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures ... there are some protections under this law — search warrants. These are different from human rights.

        “The lines are blurring right now on the Fourth Amendment specifically because of the prob lems in this country with drug trafficking and the practice known as probable cause,” she said.

        Police officers need a reason to investigate a person; that reason is called probable cause.

        She said she understands the outrage and humiliation attached to the issue of racial profiling. However, she said, don't make a bad situation worse.

        “Do not argue your Fourth Amendment rights on the streets. That is not the place to argue your case. Remain calm. It is natural that you would want to defend yourself. But you run the risk of defying authority, and you don't want that officer to become your judge, your jury and your executioner,” she said.

        Sylvonna Bedford of Northside is circulating a petition for the passage of state House Bill 363, which would require police departments to track the race, vehicle make and license plate of a motorist stopped for a traffic violation. In addition, the law would make departments list why a vehicle was stopped, whether it was searched, whether an arrest was made, and if illicit items were found. The data would be analyzed by the state legislature.

        Mrs. Bedford, who is African-American, said she does not like having to worry about her adult son being stopped because he is driving her Mercedes. She also does not want him or anyone else to be stopped because of generalized descriptions of criminals.

        “Probable cause is a subjective term,” she said. “Training is needed.”


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