A few months ago, Mark Bell left his Cobb County home after 10 p.m. to go to the grocery store. The political consultant said a police car came behind him. Then pulled up to his right. Then backed up and looked at his license plate. Then followed him to the store. The officer never stopped him, never said a word, but the message was clear.
“It was racial profiling,” Bell said. “Here in 2010, that is unacceptable in Georgia. A black man can’t leave his house after 10 p.m. without being profiled. You become fearful. It is mentally nerve wracking.”
To address the issue, Sen. Gloria Butler (D-Stone Mountain) has introduced anti-racial profiling legislation, SB-325, that would curb the practice of people being stopped because of race or ethnicity. Rep. Pedro Marin (D-Duluth) also plans to introduce a similar bill in the House.
Under Butler’s bill it would become for police officers to record age, gender, race and ethnicity of every person they pull over. That data would later be analyzed to detect trends on whether racial profiling is happening. The bill also calls for annual officer training and Butler said it would not add anything to the budget.
“We think this bill is necessary, because racial profiling is a pervasive and serious problem,” Butler said. “People of color are more likely to be stopped and searched by police. Racial profiling is ineffective and based on false assumptions.”
According to Amnesty International USA, 16 states prevent racial profiling of motorists and pedestrians. Florida is the only state in the Southeast that bans the practice.
“We know that if your skin color is darker than mine or your religion is not Christian, you are likely to be racial profiled,” said the Rev. Tracy Blagec, the vice president of Atlantans Building Leadership of Empowerment (ABLE), which has joined lawmakers, along with the ACLU, to get the bill passed. “People like me don’t get pulled over.”
But Georgia doesn’t have any specific data on how prevalent racial profiling is – Butler said her bill would correct that – so most of the cases are anecdotal.
At the press conference introducing the bill, Sen. Donzella James (D-College Park) talked about how her son was stopped and questioned about why he was driving a nice car and dressed up. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta), who is white, recalled stories of how her son would get stopped when he was riding in cars with young black men.
Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-Atlanta) said she didn’t have a personal story to tell.
“But that may be because I look the way I look,” said Benfield, who is white.
Marin, who is Hispanic, said the time is now right for the bill. In 2004, he said 117 members of the House voted yes on a racial profiling bill. But it later died in conference committee. He is looking to marshal those 117 bi-partisan votes again for the new bill.
“It has been a long struggle to get this bill before the governor,” Marin said. “But I truly believe it is the right time to get the bill signed, enacted and placed into law.