Stop-Racial-Profiling Bill Wins Senate Passage

Legislation seeking an official end to law enforcement agencies in Tennessee using race or ethnicity as a means of targeting individuals for closer police scrutiny has passed the Senate on a unanimous vote.

“Racial profiling has no place in law enforcement in our state,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, the bill’s sponsor. He added the legislation will “protect officers by providing them clear guidelines for appropriate action.”

The Racial Profiling Prevention Act, according to its official summary on the General Assembly’s website, seeks to require police agencies around the state to develop specific written policies that prohibit officers from “detention or interdiction of an individual in traffic contacts, field contacts, or asset seizure and forfeiture efforts, solely on the basis of the individual’s actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, or national origin.”

While a number of state law enforcement agencies have already taken steps to end racial profiling, Kelsey said his measure would require it.

About 40 of the state law enforcement agencies who have developed these policies have also been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Kelsey added.

Because the group requires a written racial profiling policy for accreditation, Kelsey said he used CALEA’s definition for the practice.

Monday’s vote on the Racial Profiling Prevention Act was 27-0. Sens. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, indicated they were present, but not voting.

The measure — HB0057 — sponsored in the House by Memphis Democrat John DeBerry, Jr., has been assigned to the House Education Instruction and Programs Subcommittee, but is not on notice yet.

Back in November, USA Today created an interactive graphic, compiled from FBI arrest records, that indicates a significant number of Tennessee jurisdictions have some level of racial disparity in arrests and convictions.

In the wake of the deaths of a pair of black men last year at the hands of police — 18-year-old Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner, 43, New York City — racial disparities in police arrest and incarceration have taken center stage.

The video of Garner’s death, where the large man can be heard repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe,” as Officer Daniel Pantaleo continued to choke him and other officers held him down — went viral on the Internet.

The two deaths, as well as the exoneration of police in both cases, resulted in nationwide protests, including in Tennessee.

Recently a Department of Justice review opened after the Ferguson Grand Jury declined to indict Wilson found the officer had likely shot Brown in self defense.

However, the Justice Department also found a pattern of racially biased law enforcement throughout Ferguson’s justice system, including that 88 percent of use of force cases involved black individuals. Additionally the report shows that while African Americans make up about 67 percent of the Ferguson population, they account for 85 percent of drivers stopped and 90 percent of the tickets issued. The offense that garnered the most fines was “failure to appear.”

That report has spurred calls across the nation for additional federal reviews of other police departments.

A number of bills filed this session appear to be aimed at smoothing over the relationship between law enforcement officers and a public that seems to increasingly see police as unaccountable to the law they’re supposed to enforce.

In December, the U.S. Justice Department issued new restrictions banning racial profiling by federal law enforcement. And in January, Memphis Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen introduced legislation in the U.S. House to require that law enforcement agencies report data to the FBI on any police-involved fatalities.