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George Floyd Protests: The Role Of Community And Women Amid Racial Profiling

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Racial profiling exists in many shapes and forms and we must shun each across different sections of the society to bring an end to the practices of intolerance and police brutality, writes Sheher Bano.

Racial profiling is a violation of human rights; it is unconstitutional, socially corrupting and counter-productive. However, in the 21st century, despite the United States’ obligation to comply with the human rights standards and protections embodied in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), people of colour face problems due to racial profiling by the members of law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels. This has impacted millions of people in African American, Asian, Latino, South Asian, Arab and Muslim communities. After 9/11, among other biases, Muslim communities, in particular, had to face problems in crossing US borders as they were making false data matches with the extremists with whom they had no connections, yet they were sometimes disembarked from aircraft, deported or were subjected to long police inquiries, detention or torture. Muslims, especially from Pakistan, living in the US were given names like “paki” and their children studying in the US schools faced biases and discrimination at the hands of the white population.

Data and anecdotal information from across the country reveal that racial minorities continue to be unfairly treated when authorities investigate, stop, frisk, or search individuals based upon subjective identity-based characteristics rather than identifiable evidence of illegal activity. Victims continue to be racially or ethnically profiled while they work, drive, shop, pray, travel, and stand on the street. Black people are being murdered and brutalized by police with near impunity.

The recent protests under the banner of Black Lives Matter (BLM) made national headlines and gained further international attention during the global George Floyd protests in 2020 following Floyd’s death by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder after a video circulated showing Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd pleaded for his life, repeating, “I can’t breathe”.  Three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting the second-degree murder.

The movement which began in 2013, with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin in February 2012, became nationally recognised for street demonstrations. It happened after the deaths of numerous African Americans by police actions, including those of Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Laquan McDonald, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Antonio Martin, and Jerame Reid, among others. Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy, was killed by a Cleveland police officer. Eric Garner died in New York City, after a New York City Police Department officer put him in a banned choke-hold while arresting him.

Slogans and signs like, “Tell your brother in blue, don’t shoot”—”Who do you call when the murderer wears a badge?” and “Justice for George Floyd”, as well as loud voices to “Defund the Police”, a slogan with varying interpretations from police abolition to divestment from police and prisons to reinvestment in social services in communities of colour.

Both Democratic and Republican administrations have acknowledged that racial profiling is unconstitutional, socially corrupting and counter-productive, yet the practice continues unabated.

After 9/11 Anila Ali, a Pakistani educator living and teaching in the United States, and President of American Muslim Multi-faith Empowerment Council (Amwec), faced racial profiling when she along with her family was disembarked from the aircraft due to her being a Muslim and a Pakistani. Instead of taking negative action, she rose to the occasion and found creative and positive solutions to these problems faced by thousands of people coming from different countries. She contacted the Asian American Law Caucus who put her in touch with the New York University School of Law. She partnered with a Jordanian-American to make a documentary on their personal profiling encounters. The film and the activism around it pushed the Dept of Homeland Security to develop the Trip Program which allowed frequent travelers to get a redress number attached to their flight reservations to avoid false match screenings.  Later, millions benefited from that program.

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To her, racism, bigotry or hatred can be addressed through dialogues across racial, religious, political and cultural differences and forging a greater sense of solidarity and social cohesion and bridging the divide. “These differences are not natural or static but they are socially constructed and we, as a society, have to determine which differences are apparently important.”

Anila’s story and her activism bring home the point that women, being peacemakers, can play a key role in ending racial profiling. The idea is gaining fast momentum in American society and politics. Recently, talking to a webinar, a member of Congressional Caucus and a pro-Pakistani and pro-Muslims Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said women are the healers of the nation and more than ever the USA needs the leadership and power of women from all backgrounds to promote peace and end racial profiling. “It was after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis that systematic racism has reared its ugly head, but with the Muslims’ ban and stigma on Muslims, attack on immigrants, stereotyping of the Muslim community, we are facing this with all perspectives.”

Sheila called on all women, irrespective of their faith or background, to join together to change law enforcement from warrior (against any community) to guardians. Only this way one can think of transformational changes. “In order to end systematic racism, we collectively must stand against Muslim ban, discrimination against immigrants, permanent status of DACA students and giving them access to citizenship (Supreme Court has given a delay).”

The healing of nation can take a lot of time, but it can be started by the law enforcement agencies visiting and by the first responders going to the families of the victims including those in African-American, Muslim, Latin or impoverished community neighbourhoods to show their solidarity. Sheila also appealed to people from all background to strongly support and advocate for HR 7120-the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act. While feeling privileged to name the first bill after George Floyd and getting this amendment done, Sheila requested women:

“You are not only women, [but] you are [also] mothers, sisters, wives, and custodians and caretakers. Show this to this nation and to communities. Meet with your law enforcement to make them understand that it is not just federal laws that are trying to change their behavior but you want to change their hearts as well.” 

Sheila’s views were endorsed by former Deputy Chief of LAPD Mike Downing who thinks that the successful character of any country reflects the way they treat their women. He also called for empowering people, leveraging community resources, and solving problems to help build trust between communities and law enforcement. “The authority for law enforcement to police comes from the people. If a fraction of people doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of law enforcement, there is a problem. There is need for a national effort to develop performance objectives and certification and deselection.”

Downing termed racism, discrimination, bigotry as an Achilles’ heel in the country, society and law enforcement. The society has both explicit and implicit biases.  Ideally, the members of law enforcement should be public servants who mobilise, organise, inspire and protect the values and maintain order in the community. However, despite many reforms, the DNA and character of law enforcement and society hasn’t changed. Continuous training and strong political leadership at national, regional or local level will have an impact on how the idea of explicit and implicit bias is expressed. Explicit biases can be stopped but implicit biases and decision making should never intersect. He suggested that any case of racism, hate crime, bigotry should be treated like homicide cases, while finding its roots, solutions and then educating and preventing it to move forward towards a better future.

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As demanded by the African-American community, Downing too was against the use of weapons on a protest or demonstration or parade. Rather, he emphasised these should only be used to protect communities.

Chief of San Diego Harbour Police, Mark Stain Brook accepted the bitter fact that most of the hate and violent crimes are committed by males. Sometimes, young males have wrong-headed thoughts. The idea of matriarchs is great as the impact women can have on young men’s lives just by a word or a look can shut them down.

Brook told the audience of the webinar that in San Diego County, 18 police departments together decided to discontinue the Carotid Restraint, commonly known as a “Choke-hold,” which is a barrier to communication with some of our new communities. They are also being working on de-escalation training, intercultural communication training, diversity, inherent bias, and excited delirium. He said their officers are specifically trained to intercede when another officer is intentionally or unintentionally violating any of their policies and make sure that it gets reported.

Educators like Shelly Moore Krajacic, Executive Officer, National Education Association (NEA), believe people need to be intentional while talking about race. Some of the educators of early childhood may opine that children already come with racial biases planted in them. But one is never too young to start having a conversation about race. “In order to bring change, we got to have a serious explicit talk about race with the students of colour as we have failed them so far in the history of this nation.” She urges every citizen to interact with people from various communities and take interest in their values, eating habits and cultures.

Rabi Peter Levi, Regional Director, Anti-defamation League (ADL) says that no one is born a bigot. “Bigotry is not learned explicitly but implicitly through books, movies, or deliberations in society. Bias is universal and we all have it but we don’t educate people about unhealthy biases, based on gender, role of women and men, race, religion.”

In terms of the policy, Levi says we have to ask ourselves if the race or the colour of George Floyd had anything to do with police using force against him.  It is not just one bad cop that did it, there were three others who watched and did nothing. The question finds its roots not only in the culture of law enforcement, but also in our schools, boardrooms, bedrooms and society that make people indifferent towards their groups. The policy needs to address these systemic issues in terms of racial justice, housing justice, economic justice, education justice.

Levi suggests a multi-pronged approach to address racial profiling. There is a need for constant vigilance across the board and accountability in protecting everyone’s rights. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has opened up so many vulnerabilities. There is a greater divide between have and have-not, which has a lot to do with not just class, but with race. Systematic racism, microaggression, implicit bias may be new to our vocabulary but we all need to understand their impact on our communities. In fact, we should not be indifferent to any policy, bigotry or a biased joke on a dinner table, or a comment we see online or on mass media. It requires huge efforts, yet, for creating better world for our next generation, we need to take this bitter pill, only then we can get rid of our sour past and start a rewarding future. Only we have to make a choice.

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