Archive for Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Students discuss racial profiling

October 18, 2000


Chris Howard figures he'll be a success. After all, he's a third-year law student at Kansas University.

Away from court and the classroom, though, he likes to dress casually, slipping on a ball cap, a team jersey, a pair of jeans.

That doesn't sound unusual, except for one fact: Howard is black. Put him in a nice car or in the wrong neighborhood in those clothes, he said, and he's likely to draw police attention even if he's doing nothing wrong.

"The way I'm dressed, a cop wouldn't think I'm about to graduate from law school," he said Tuesday night after a racial profiling forum at Kansas Union.

The forum, sponsored by Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, was to have featured a speech by an American Civil Liberties Union expert on the subject. When she didn't show up, however, it became a town hall meeting where nearly 50 students shared stories of their encounters with police in Kansas and around the country.

Some said they had been pulled over for nonexistent violations of traffic rules. Others said they were stopped when they matched the description of a crime suspect.

"We always fit the description of a black man," said one student.

Mike Conley, Phi Beta's chapter adviser at KU, said he had been pulled over several times by Lawrence Police for no apparent reason.

"Really, I wasn't speeding or anything," he said. "It didn't really match up."

Lawrence Police Det. M.T. Brown said he wasn't aware of any racial profiling complaints against the department.

"The Lawrence Police Department does not condone stopping anybody except for violations of local ordinances, state laws or reasons approved by the Kansas Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court," said Brown, who was not at the forum.

He said people who feel they have been wrongfully stopped should call the department's internal affairs division at 832-7525.

But students said such action is often useless. One woman said she had reported an encounter with police in Kansas City, Kan., only to have that department's internal investigators reject her claim.

"The judge will take a police officer's word over yours," one man said.

Howard, however, urged students to learn their rights and use that knowledge in encounters with officers.

"If he has an idea you know something about the law, he'll back off," he said.

"You don't have to cooperate like you think you have to. All you have to do is be respectful."


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