TJ Holmes described a personal experience that is all too common to many black men in their encounters with the police. The former CNN anchor and host of the new and upcoming BET show Don’t Sleep!, Holmes said he was stopped by the police while driving, over a mile from his home in the Atlanta area, in another case of racial profiling. And he tweeted about the experience, warning that “Driving while black ain’t no joke.”
Now, some people have doubts about whether Holmes actually experienced harassment from the police. But whether you question his account of what happened to him is really beside the point. Racial profiling is alive and well in the age of Obama. The problem did not go away with the nation’s first black president in 2008, and this latest incident, true or not, shines the spotlight on an important issue.
Holmes is not the first high-profile person to claim he was a victim of racial profiling. For example, last April, African-American director Tyler Perry alleged that two white Atlanta police officers gave him a hard time when they stopped his car and acted openly hostile toward him.
In July 2009, Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. was handcuffed and arrested by Cambridge, Massachusetts police for breaking into his own home while black. Police were responding to a 911 call concerning a report of a breaking and entering into Gates’ residence. President Obama was critical of the police treatment of Gates, but backlash from law enforcement caused Obama to backpedal his remarks, hold a “beer summit” with Gates and the arresting officer, and refer to the incident as a “teachable moment.”
And last year, Trayvon Martin—until then just another black Florida teen—became an iconic symbol of racial profiling when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch leader and wannabe cop who allegedly shot Martin because of race.
The death of Trayvon Martin has captured the attention of the nation, much in the same way as the brutal, videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King by LAPD officers two decades earlier. The 1991 beating of King, who died in June of this year, and the riots resulting from the acquittal of the officers accused of beating him, reminded America of the harsh treatment communities of color face at the hands of police.
Sadly, 20 years later, the more things change, the more they stay the same. In cities such as New York, so-called stop and frisk is practiced almost exclusively on young black and Latino men. Last week, the Center for Constitutional Rights released a report called “Stop and Frisk – The Human Impact,” which details the ways in which this racial profiling tactic negatively impacts over half a million New Yorkers every year.
The New York City Council has even proposed the Community Safety Act, legislation which would ban discriminatory racial profiling by police, end the wrongful searches that lead to the arrest mostly of blacks and Latinos for petty marijuana possession, and establish an NYPD Inspector General Office to police the police. If passed, the act would also require police to give their name and rank, along with a reason for the stop, a business card and information for filing a complaint.