Racial Issues Hot Topics at Forum

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Members of a collection of multiracial and multiethnic groups that promote racial equality called on UC Berkeley students to take a proactive stance against racial profiling at a discussion Friday.

During the discussion, called "Driving While Black or Brown" and sponsored by UC Berkeley's American Civil Liberties Union, leaders of an umbrella group called the Racial Justice Committee focused on a campaign designed to decrease the number of individuals who are targeted by police primarily because of their ethnicity or race.

"All studies show racial bias is the most severe at the point of entering the justice system," said Michelle Alexander, an attorney for the ACLU Foundation of Northern California.

Rampant racial profiling is evident within the nation's prison system, whose population has doubled in six years to more than two million inmates, the majority of whom are either black or Latino and have been convicted of nonviolent crimes, Alexander said. She dubbed the disparaging numbers "discriminatory incarceration."

"African Americans and Latinos are no more likely than whites to be carrying contraband," she said.

Alexander also criticized the harsh nature of California laws regarding nonviolent offenses.

The coalition promotes legislation that would require officers to collect information regarding the race and ethnicity of the drivers they stop in order to assess whether or not discriminatory practices are occurring. The group's efforts, however, have not yet succeeded in passing the legislation.

"(Gov. Gray) Davis has been abysmal not only on this issue, but on every other racial justice issue that has come his way," Alexander said.

Aside from setbacks, however, the group has successfully recruited cities to collect data voluntarily. Contreras said 60 California cities are voluntarily collecting data, and most of the data indicate that racial profiling occurs. The coalition also established a hotline where victims of discrimination relay their own firsthand experiences over the phone.

"(Racial profiling) affects each and every one of you whether you believe it or not," said Judge Rice, an ACLU official.

He cited the "prison industrial complex" as a possible reason for the increase in population in the prison system, and called it "the new form of Jim Crow."

Dubbing prisons the "new plantation system," Alexander said individuals, primarily blacks and Latinos, are being funneled into jail for profit.

Michael McBride, a youth minister, relayed his own experiences with racial profiling and encouraged UC Berkeley students to take an active role in the community.

"All of our rights are slowly being eroded," said Andre Robinson, an ACLU official. "If we don't do something, who will? These organizations give you a vehicle to do something with what you've learned."


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