A few months ago, Mark Bell left his Cobb County home after 10 p.m. to go to the grocery store. The political consultant said a police car pulled in behind him. Then pulled up to his right. Then backed up and looked at his license plate. Then followed him to the store. The officer never stopped him, never said a word, but the message was clear.
“It was racial profiling,” Bell said. “Here in 2010, that is unacceptable in Georgia. A black man can’t leave his house after 10 p.m. without being profiled. You become fearful. It is mentally nerve-racking.”
To address the issue, Sen. Gloria Butler (D-Stone Mountain) has introduced anti-racial profiling legislation, SB 325, that is intended to curb the practice of people being stopped by law enforcement because of race or ethnicity. Rep. Pedro Marin (D-Duluth) plans to introduce a similar bill in the House.
Under Butler’s bill, police officers would be required to record the age, gender, race and ethnicity of every person they pull over. That data would be analyzed to detect trends that could show whether racial profiling is happening. The bill also calls for annual officer training. Butler said it would not add to the budget.
“We think this bill is necessary, because racial profiling is a pervasive and serious problem,” Butler said. “People of color are more likely to be stopped and searched by police. Racial profiling is ineffective and based on false assumptions.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union’s Azadeh N. Shahshahani, 26 states prevent racial profiling of motorists. In the Southeast, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina and Louisiana ban the practice. Shahshahani, an attorney for the ACLU of Georgia, added that 14 have laws that mandate collection of stop and search data.
“We know that if your skin color is darker than mine or your religion is not Christian, you are likely to be racial profiled,” said the Rev. Tracy Blagec, the vice president of Atlantans Building Leadership of Empowerment, which has joined lawmakers, along with the ACLU, to get the measure passed. “People like me don’t get pulled over.”
But Georgia doesn’t have any specific data on how prevalent racial profiling is, something Butler wants to change. In the meantime, most cases — like those voiced at a news conference and rally outside the state Capitol on Tuesday — are anecdotal.
Sen. Donzella James (D-College Park) said her son was stopped and questioned about why he was driving a nice car and dressed up. Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta), who is white, recalled stories of how her son would get stopped when he was riding in cars with young black men. Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-Atlanta) said she didn’t have a personal story to tell. “But that may be because I look the way I look,” said Benfield, who is white.
Marin, who is Hispanic, said the time is right for the bill. In 2004, he said, 117 members of the House voted yes on a racial profiling bill that died later in conference committee. He is looking to marshal those bi-partisan votes again.
“It has been a long struggle to get this bill before the governor,” Marin said. “But I truly believe it is the right time to get the bill signed, enacted and placed into law.”
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