Wednesday, March 07, 2001

Racial profiling


Home is where the bias starts

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        A bunch of City Council members and local lawyers believe passing laws and filing suits can help put an end to racial profiling in Cincinnati.

        They mean well.

        But they're not getting to the heart of the problem.

        Racial profiling starts where laws and lawsuits can't reach. Racial profiling begins at home.

        The issue of police stopping, searching and hassling people because of their skin color — politely labeled racial profiling as well as being nicknamed “driving while black” — has three local civil rights lawyers preparing suits.

        Racial profiling has sent City Council into its crisis-solving mode. Work continues on an anti-racial profiling ordinance. Such activity upholds a fine old City Hall tradition: Pass a law. Hope the problem goes away.

        I guess there aren't enough laws already on the books dealing with making illegal arrests and denying citizens their civil rights.
       

From the heart
        As the proposed ordinance worms its way through City Hall, marathon hearings are on tap. Councilman John Cranley ran such a session on Monday. Speakers droned on and on under council chambers' gleaming brass chandelier. Shadows slowly lengthened as afternoon turned into evening.

        Speaking during the long-winded, four-hour session, Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher literally got to the heart of the matter.

        Passing laws, he said, are not enough. Simply analyzing data on race collected from citizens' contacts with police — a legalized form of racial profiling — won't do.

        To solve the problem of racial profiling, he said, a plan must be developed to “get at what's in the officer's heart.”

        And, as everyone knows, home is where the heart is.
       

Going home
        Racial profiling can be addressed in council and in the courts.

        But it must be stopped where it starts: at home.

        Racial profiling begins with the seemingly innocent practice of stereotyping. And it starts a lot earlier than when a cop pulls a driver over because of the color of his skin.

        Before a child is old enough to drive, he can come home from school or from playing outside and complain to a parent or an older brother or sister about a disagreement with “the white boy” or “that black girl” or “the fat kid” or “that ugly guy.”

        When no one makes the child give a name to the other person — the first step toward humanizing someone who's different — stereotyping starts to set in. The next thing you know the child becomes of a mind where all white boys are this way, all black girls are that way, all fat kids act like this, all ugly guys behave this way.

        Left unchecked, stereotyping can grow into racial profiling. And society can have a mess on its hands.

        In Cincinnati, City Council and civil rights lawyers are trying to clean up this mess. They can't do it alone.

        Nor should they.

        Instead of more laws, and lawsuits, more people need to lay down the law at home.

        Kids and adults alike should be encouraged to take each other to task at the first sign of racial stereotyping. Kill this weed before it takes root.

        Stop defining people by their differences. Start seeing what makes us alike.

        Only by nourishing racial harmony at home will Cincinnati be able to raise its profile.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.
       



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