Too bad law enforcement agents never seem to profile the likes of Whitey Bulger
and James Lee DiMaggio.
For some reason, the white bad guy stereotypes just don’t stick like the black,
Latino hoodie hood.
But this week, we got lots of bolts of reality. Bulger finally was convicted
after 16 years on the lam. DiMaggio was caught and gunned down in Idaho after
abducting young Hannah Anderson. And on top of that, there’s the fictional
Walter White getting bang up ratings in the season opener of “Breaking Bad.” (By
the way, did you see the Asian American female character in that episode who
actually had a speaking part? She pointed to a man’s zipper and said, “Barn door
open.” Not exactly a great moment in Hollywood diversity.)
Makes one wonder in real life: Shouldn’t we really be profiling white people?
We might actually catch more bad guys.
Of course, society doesn’t do it that way. We save that sort of treatment for
minorities and people of color.
Bulger, after all, was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, but he was No. 2 to Osama
bin Laden. Still, only South Asians got profiled and stereotyped, not greybeard
No doubt it’s a strange twisted aspect of that phenomenon known as “white
privilege” that extends even to white “bad guys.”
But this week may change all that, as racial profiling took a huge hit when a
federal judge in New York ruled that stop and frisk is unconstitutional.
It was ironic because even as the week began, I was feeling a twinge of
nostalgia for that great white conservative, President Ronald Reagan.
Now mind you, perhaps the most liberal thing Reagan was known for was his
progressive use of hair color.
But I don’t want to be too harsh on the icon whom even folks like Sen. Ted Cruz,
the Canadian American from Texas, seem to have shoved aside in favor of Ayn
No, Reagan deserves at least a few seconds of our thanks this week for the one
thing he did for Asian Americans that may be short of impossible in today’s
gridlocked political climate.
On August 10, 1988, 25 years ago, the president signed the Civil Liberties Act
of 1988, the law that gave an official apology to the 120,000 Japanese Americans
incarcerated in concentration camps during World War II.
And with it came an unprecedented $20,000 per victim. A small price to pay for
the upheaval of racial profiling.
Rep. Mike Honda sent out this tweet:
It’s 25th anniv of Civil Liberties Act, which apologized to those, like my
family, in internment camps. Strong nation remedies its mistakes — Rep. Mike
Honda (@RepMikeHonda) August 12,
The law didn’t assure the nation would never again make such heinous racial
Indeed, it has.
But the anniversary did serve as a perfect set-up for this week, when a few
existing modern civil liberties horrors were swept away by strong
In New York, the notorious stop and frisk practices of the NYPD were found
unconstitutional in a thorough and courageous
decision by U.S. District Judge Shira
Scheindlin. In a nearly 200-page ruling, the judge reviewed all the cases,
4.4 million stops in New York City between 2004 and 2012, in which the vast
majority (88 percent) ended up in no arrests, no ticket, no charge.
That’s New York City law enforcement at work.
Of course, the majority of stops involved African American and Latino males.
It didn’t jibe with the fact that most of those actually charged with
criminal conduct were white.
Innocent people were racially profiled. Real criminals were caught
And yet Mayor Michael Bloomberg continued to defend an abusive stop and
frisk policy as the reason for low crime rates in New York City. Well, that
too is coincidental, as crime rates nationwide are down.
Stop and frisk? It’s like internment, but without the housing element.
That housing, or rather warehousing, aspect in law enforcement was addressed
within hours of the stop and frisk ruling, as Attorney General Eric Holder
spoke at the American Bar Association convention in San Francisco. Holder
unveiled new policies intended to ease prison overcrowding and the
over-incarceration of blacks and Latinos.
Holder showed that having a black man as the nation’s highest ranking law
enforcement official does make a difference. By simply giving his blessing
to judicial discretion, judges can refrain from imposing harsh, overly
punitive mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug-related crimes.
For the convicted and their families, mostly people of color, it was a
humane and compassionate stand.
For society, it represented a departure from the “law and order” politics of
the day to end the public warehousing of people of color and deal with
prison overcrowding head on.
He found the self-interest in mercy.
People are quick to comment that Holder may be trying to pump up his legacy
here. In spite of an uneven record, there’s nothing wrong in applying some
much needed justice here.
But we’ve arrived at this point because of an over-reliance on stereotyping
and racial profiling that comes at the expense of justice, fairness, and, as
District Judge Scheindlin found, the Constitution.
What these new developments this week don’t address is what is owed to the
people who were irreparably harmed, stopped and frisked multiple times, or
imprisoned and stripped of family and freedom.
Japanese American internees got $20,000 per victim. As I said, I don’t think
in a political climate where politicos fight tooth and nail over everything
from health care to food stamps to aid to the poor that we’ll ever see
anything like reparations again.
But no one seems to be talking about a nice simple apology draped in an
American flag either.
It’s not clear if judges will heed Holder’s call for sentencing reform. But
when it comes to stop and frisk, Bloomberg has shown that he’s comfortable
being the law and order fearmonger who sees nothing wrong in how millions of
blacks and Latinos were routinely robbed of their civil liberties.
New Yorkers should learn from all the data of its eight-year experiment in
freedom-stripping. Instead of harassing blacks and Latinos, the NYPD should
employ a more even-handed approach that respects the people they serve and
the Constitution. Why should white criminals get a pass because the police
are stuck looking for the wrong people and insist on using racism as their