Marching to end profiling in America

Opinion: Columns

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By Matt Lee

OPRF High School named four winners of its annual Martin Luther King essay contest. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, they were asked to write about the cause they would march for today. Space permitting, we will run one each week for the next four weeks.

Have you ever been mistaken for a criminal because you "fit the profile"? This is a common scenario all across America. Racial profiling has plagued the values of United States law enforcement and is unfair to all minorities. 

Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. along with 250,000 firm believers, marched for equality in America. If I were to march for a passion of mine, each stride would be to end the injustice of racial profiling. This is a form of unlawful racism, which occurs when an officer of authority uses the consideration of race in developing a criminal profile. Police are able to make judgments on suspicion alone; this leads to wrongfully convicted citizens, who just want the discrimination to end. All too often minorities are being hauled off to jail because they "fit the profile." Racial profiling is wrong, and it alters lives, destroys families, and halts dreams.

Marching with me would be my mom. She understands profiling all too well because she worked as a school nurse in Chicago. Almost every one of the students she saw was underprivileged or living close to poverty. Many of the students had children, were in gangs, or had already been to jail. Profiling was nothing new to this school.

Because of racial profiling, many African American and other minorities sit in penitentiaries and prisons across this nation, many of whom were unjustly prosecuted, and in some cases innocent. Profiling also affirms the many cruel stereotypes that are held in our society. The stinging generalizations — all African Americans are criminals or gang affiliated, and most Hispanics are illegal — do not set a good example for the public.

Let's take the case of Cornelius Dupree Jr. He was a Texas man accused of rape. According to Jeff Carlton, court documents stated a 26-year-old woman and a male friend were robbed at gunpoint by two black men in the parking lot of a Dallas liquor store in November 1979. The men ordered the couple to drive and eventually forced the man out of the car before taking the woman to a nearby park where they raped her and stole her fur coat. Mr. Dupree and another man, Anthony Massingill, were arrested in December 1979 after the woman picked the pair out of a photo lineup. The male victim was unable to identify either man. Mr. Dupree was sentenced to 75 years for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. He entered prison in December 1979. His case got overturned due to DNA testing, and he was released on Jan. 3, 2011. Now the state of Texas has to pay him $2.4 million in a lump sum that is not subject to federal income tax as a result of being wrongfully convicted. 

I have not yet been profiled in such a way. However, this does not change my stance on the topic. A close friend of mine, Marcus, was stopped by police for no apparent reason. The officer threatened a search and beat him with questions, simply because of his Hispanic origins. I recall the days after, how depressed he was. 

By marching for this cause, I would hope that no minority must go through this unjust phase — and to let people know that there are unsolved racial tensions in our country. This is an issue that can be seen around the nation, and can happen to any age group. Law enforcement seems to believe that profiling a person based on race "comes with the job" or is inevitable. 

If I had a sign above my head, it would say, "What is fair about profiling? Nothing."

Reader Comments

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Dan Hefner from Oak Park  

Posted: January 27th, 2014 6:21 PM

Ten years ago a recipient of the MLK essay award was tossed from OPRFHS for being an out of district border jumper. Her expulsion from OPRFHS came about two weeks after her speech. How her parents could have lied their way into OPRFHS ,to their childs detriment, always baffled me. I hope things worked out for her and she ended up pursuing her education. I do recall she ended essay, with the phrase "education will set you free".

joe from south oak park  

Posted: January 27th, 2014 5:47 AM

Second, I'm not exactly sure how someone can be 'beat' with questions, and the 'threat' of a search is very different than an unreasonable search... your friend may not have liked the way that the officer spoke to him, but that doesn't mean that anything wrong took place. profiling is a necessary and reasonable thing to do given the right circumstances.

joe from south oak park  

Posted: January 27th, 2014 5:37 AM

"A close friend of mine, Marcus, was stopped by police for no apparent reason. The officer threatened a search and beat him with questions, simply because of his Hispanic origins." - this is concerning for a few reasons. First, your not being aware of the reason for your friend's stop doesn't mean that it was without reason or that it was a result of your friend's ethnicity. Maybe the officer was stopping him because a crime was committed nearby and he was close to the description.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 25th, 2014 9:27 AM

Police were being thoughtful of your son's safety, Ms. Taylor, not profiling. It is NOT safe in Oak Park at night in some areas. Just because there aren't an exceptionally high number of batteries and robberies reported doesn't mean it's safe. People have been adjusting their behavior in OP due to crime for decades now. If you don't get robbed or attacked because you're careful at night, or don't risk going out after dark, that doesn't mean there's no threat. There is, and the cops know it.

Marsha Montgomery Taylor from Oak Park  

Posted: January 25th, 2014 8:28 AM

God Morning, I am a mother of five students that attended OPRFHS. Only one of my children was racially profiled and that was my afro-american son. He was on his way home one evening and police stopped him and asked to see his ID. After seeing he resided in Oak Park they cautioned him not to walk outside after dark. Are the Oak Park Police afraid of the "Dark" or the color of my son's skin?

Mimi Jordan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 24th, 2014 1:19 PM

I always look forward to reading these MLK essays each year in the WJ. They are consistently moving and powerful. I appreciate hearing young peoples' perspective on issues of justice and fairness. Matt Lee's words about the depressive effect of profiling on his friend, and his admonition to authorities that profiling should not "come with the job" should strike a chord with all of us.

Real List  

Posted: January 22nd, 2014 10:41 AM

As a male, caucasian teenager, when I would hang out with other male, caucasian teenagers, the police would often slow down as they drove by or sometimes engage/harass us for no good reason. Was that profiling? Because I am male and 15 I was up to no-good? Were the police engaging groups of teenage girls the same way? Or senior citizens? Profiling goes beyond race. There is a difference between profiling and statistical trend analysis. When you ignore the latter entirely, you tend to fail.

OP dude  

Posted: January 21st, 2014 11:06 PM

wearing a striped shirt, blue jeans, white trainers and was Chinese, it would be ridiculous to not include the race of that person, because then the cops would be looking for literally anyone wear those clothes. The police also work on levels on instinct that don't always fall so neatly into bureaucratic guidelines, but none the less help to apprehend criminals. Are you calling for police to close off their instincts and just wait for crimes to be committed before doing anything about it?

OP dude  

Posted: January 21st, 2014 11:02 PM

This is a very over simplified idea of "profiling" and it's relation to the acquisition of criminals. No system is perfect, and every profession has good and bad people, but the police can only catch a criminal if they have a description. Now, I agree that nobody should automatically be seen as a criminal based on their color, but the color of a person is just 1 descriptive element in a list of others that's needed to get a better representation of a criminal. If the criminal was cont...

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