I’m not going to argue that transgender rights aren’t important. They matter a lot. But it’s astounding that, in a year when race and policing have been, you know, kind of in the news, only the Bay State Banner gave decent coverage to the fact that the vast majority of the bills considered at the hearing were about police, profiling, warrants and race. In the Boston Globe’s “Politics” section, they had room for two fawning profiles of elected Democrats (Attorney-General Maura Healey has “indefatigable drive and charisma“, and House Speaker Bob DeLeo has a “slimmed-down and healthier” look), but race and policing didn’t get a look in this time.
So this is what happened regarding racial profiling.
The Comprehensive Community-Police Relationship Act of 2014 has just been introduced in the RI Senate. This is the result of a compromise between civil-rights people working on the issue and Rhode Island’s police. It doesn’t have everything that civil-rights people might want, but the civil-rights people who negotiated it are confident that it doesn’t take any backward steps in people’s legal rights. No hearings have been scheduled yet. In the past, many bills addressing racial profiling have failed due to public police opposition, but this time the RI Police Chiefs Association says that they will not be testifying against the bill.
This is a significant step forward if we can pass the bill. Rhode Island already has a law on the books that says racial profiling is illegal, like about 20 other states, but we don’t yet have a law that takes serious steps to reduce racial profiling. As far as I know, RI will be the only state (if this bill passes) that will take enforceable steps to reduce racial disparities in community-police interactions.
The proposed law also includes some other good things for civil liberties:
On Tuesday, April 15 the New York City Police Department (NYPD) announced it was disbanding a controversial unit that had been spying on Muslims since its inception in 2003. The NYPD’s “Demographics Unit” specifically gathered intelligence on Muslims living in New York City, New Jersey, and even as far away as Philadelphia. It sent plain clothed detectives to cafes, restaurants, and other community centers frequented by Muslims with the stated purpose of identifying potential centers of terrorist activity. Detectives were told to speak with the employees at such establishments about political issues in attempt to identify anti American sentiment. The NYPD also sent informants to Muslim student groups on various college campuses. Despite the wide breadth of surveillance, even the NYPD acknowledged that the program has failed to create a single lead.