At a news conference organized by the ACLU of Rhode Island, a dozen civil rights and community groups gathered at the State House today to call for concrete action by the Attorney General and local law enforcement authorities to address the now-thoroughly documented problem of racial profiling in the state.
The report showed that a majority of law enforcement agencies in the state disproportionately stopped and searched racial minorities, even though contraband was much more likely to be found when white drivers were searched. The report also rejected the explanations offered by police departments that attempted to justify the disparities, finding that the racial differences persisted even when other factors were controlled.
Onna Moniz-John, a member of the Traffic Stops Statistics Act Advisory Committee, called the report “a vindication of the concerns expressed by the minority community for years, but that were shrugged off as mere ‘perceptions’ of bias by police. This report shows we were right – we have been unfairly targeted by police departments for harassing stops and searches.”
Speaking for the civil rights and community groups at the news conference, Moniz-John said the first step law enforcement agencies needed to take was to acknowledge the reality and seriousness of the problem. She called on the Attorney General to take “concrete action” by investigating police departments where significant disparities existed. She said, “The Attorney General has released this report without a plan of action for follow-up or investigation of the findings. Although he hopes that the report will be a ‘starting point,’ and will ‘stir discussion,’ we expect a more substantive and meaningful response. The time for discussion is over – it is time for action.” She said the AG needed to determine whether any legal action should be taken, noting that the report essentially documented widespread violations of the Constitution and anti-discrimination laws.
Moniz-John also said that local police chiefs needed to immediately begin investigations to determine whether any individual officers were engaged in race-motivated stops and to halt any general enforcement practices that resulted in this discrimination. She said those investigations should be reported to the Attorney General and made public so that the community would be kept informed of what actions were being taken to address the problem. She called these actions “initial steps,” and said she expected additional recommendations would be forthcoming.
King Downing, coordinator of the National ACLU’s Campaign Against Racial Profiling, who was invited to Rhode Island by the local ACLU in order to monitor the situation here because of its seriousness, added: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Data collection needs to continue to be sure that the Attorney General and the police departments do what they say they’re going to do.” Downing called on victims of racial profiling to contact the ACLU’s hotline, 1-877-6PROFILE.