By Eelisa Jones
The Wisconsin NAACP held its 2015 Education Summit on Saturday, June 13. The summit took place at Springfield College School of Human Services on 700 W. Virginia St.
Although the summit’s main purpose was that of improving education for minority youth – featuring workshops with titles like “The Dangers of School Privatization” and “Educator Equity” – the keynote address focused on racial profiling, an issue affecting minorities both within and without the academic community.
Given the string of police brutality cases on a national level and a 2013 University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee study which identified Wisconsin as having the highest incarceration rate of African American men compared to all other states, the presentation seemed more than appropriate.
As NAACP 1st Vice President of Wisconsin Conference Wendell J. Harris, Sr. introduced keynote speaker Carlton T. Mayers, II, Esq., he emphasized the necessity of establishing a society in which minorities can feel protected and supported by their public entities.
“This is our fight,” said Harris. “I know you know how to fight. When you leave, you will have the tools and resources to take the fight to the next level.”
Mayers has worked for the NAACP National office in Baltimore, MD as its Criminal Justice Specialist since 2013.
Previously, Mayers worked as a law clerk in the City of Burlington’s Attorney Office and has also volunteered for various community organizations, including the Chittenden County Restorative Justice Panel.
Since joining the NAACP Criminal Justice Division, Mayers has focused on collecting what little official data is available to create a comprehensive national picture of the role that racial profiling has played and is playing in the individual, social, economic, and political lives of all U.S. citizens. The product of his and his colleague’s efforts is an 83-page packet of statistics, politico-historical context, and legislative templates called “Born Suspect.”
One can most effectively address racial profiling when the practice is framed as the product of a racialized belief system, said Mayers.
Media and socially ingrained stereotypes readily lend themselves as building blocks for an oversimplified and often inaccurate racialized worldview.
The goal of those behind “Born Suspect” is to end the exercise of racial profiling – an economically and socially ineffective practice – and increase law enforcement accountability.
In tandem with these goals, Mayers identified the need to address and correct the problems of over-incarceration, unsuccessful reentry after incarceration, and the death penalty.
Mayers noted that racial profiling has been historically ineffective in maintaining public safety, offering several examples of its failure to benefit U.S. society.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, as part of the U.S. government’s “War on Drugs,” airport security officials increased their stop-and-search procedures of individuals returning to the United States.
According to a 2000 report entitled “Better Targeting of Airline Passengers for Personal Searches Could Produce Better Results” published by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), 11 percent of African American female travelers became targets of this practice, compared to six percent of all other travelers between the beginning of 1997 to the end of 1998.
Additionally, the GAO reported that the searches of African American women tended to be more invasive when compared to the searches of other passengers.
One attendee of Saturday’s summit volunteered her own story relating to this practice.
The woman, who will remain unidentified, said that she had been a target of an airport stop-and-search in 1995 when returning from France.
She had been travelling with two Caucasian males who were excluded from the search procedure.
She was taken into a back room, stripped, probed, and returned to where her confused companions had been waiting for her.
“They didn’t know what was happening,” the woman said. “But when I came out crying, they knew.”
The GOA reported that, despite the disproportionate searching of African American women, officials found that this demographic was less likely to carry contraband compared to other passengers.
Mayer’s offered the examples of racial profiling practices on the New Jersey Turnpike, on Maryland I-95, and at various locations post-9/11 which similarly failed to contribute to improved safety conditions.
Following Mayer’s address, attendees broke for lunch and then regathered for a panel discussion which further addressed the impact of minority status on the relationship between law enforcement and the public.