A well-meaning Des Moines City Council passed a racial profiling ordinance this week. The idea is to prevent police from picking on minorities when enforcing the law.
Racial profiling ordinances feel good, but they don’t amount to much.
Make an ordinance that says don’t do it.
The problem is it’s unenforceable.
Then a cop pulls over a minority.
The minority says he was racially profiled.
The cop said it was a broken taillight.
Cop said. Minority said.
Des Moines police already have a policy against racial profiling.
There’s one important difference: A police policy allows the department to investigate patterns of behavior.
The city can only look at the single instance in a single complaint.
Single complaints are weak when it comes to something as complex as racial profiling.
How do we know what the cop was thinking the moment those lights came on?
Is he thinking that’s a black guy where he shouldn’t be or is he thinking that’s a car with a violation?
Even the best detectives aren’t psychic. You can’t do much from a single instance, especially involving vehicles at night where darkness often makes the race of a driver difficult to spot through the back window.
Des Moines police also do spot checks of body and car cameras for racial profiling and other tactics.
A single incident of racial profiling is unacceptable.
It’s also hard to prove.
But a pattern?
That’s a trail of evidence that gives police administrators the power to discipline or fire cops who can’t get with the program.
This system is imperfect, too. It requires trust that police can police themselves, a belief some in our community mark akin to fantasy.
The easiest and most reasonable move would be to ask the Iowa Department of Transportation to include race on driver’s licenses.
Then, every time a cop runs a license for any reason, it’s recorded. Because the state collected the race data, there is less potential for police tampering.
You get hard data that shows who is being pulled over or otherwise stopped by police.
That data can also help shake out patterns of bad behavior and lead to getting rid of bad cops or reforms in how officers’ do their jobs.
This ordinance may evolve, but right now it’s a feel-good measure that doesn’t even satisfy the protestors and reformers who pushed for the change.
Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.
ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.
I once sat in a forum at Drake about racial profiling. The black woman next to me said that she didn’t agree with putting race on driver’s licenses – because of all the people who are “passing”. I thought that was interesting.