Ferguson, Missouri an Extreme Example of a Pervasive Problem

In the last week and a half, the small town of Ferguson, Missouri has been at the forefront of national news (and has even gained some global attention) after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer. Many opinions have surfaced about the incident, the resulting riots, and the response of police and government officials. Among those opinions, one thing seems fairly consistent: racial profiling here has gotten so pervasive as to be a probable cause at the root of such complete upheaval between a mostly African American community and its mostly white police force. Brown, who was unarmed at the time of the shooting, represents for Ferguson citizens the many black youth who report feeling unfairly threatened and intimidated by police for no reason but their skin color.

When such extreme racial tensions exist in our country—in fact, not all too far from home—one has to wonder if this could ever happen in Chicago. While Chicago’s racial demographics are far more balanced at a glance (in both citizens and police officers) than Ferguson’s respective extremes, racial profiling is still a reality. In an earlier post in March, we questioned whether the Chicago Police Department’s shift toward data-driven policing could cause increased racial profiling. While there is certainly no proven causation showing that this fear has been realized, a new study conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union suggested that the issue does indeed exist in our own backyard.

The ACLU’s study specifically evaluated research relating to driving crimes. In their analysis, they found that CPD officers were four times more likely to ask to search the vehicle of an African-American or Hispanic driver who had been pulled over than they did White drivers in similar situations. At the same time, of the cars that were searched, contraband was found twice as often in the vehicles of white drivers. The problem here is not that Police are being proactive in preventing crime. While the CPD denies any racial profiling, the face is that assumptions are being made based on race; and these assumptions are leading to police intimidation of often innocent individuals. ACLU spokesperson Ed Yohnka pointed out, consistent unwarranted police pressure can be "a very coercive, intimidating kind of thing." And in any city, that can create mistrust among citizens. In Ferguson, that mistrust has reaches its breaking point, and one can only hope that it can someday be restored.

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