(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Local law enforcement officials don't deny that their agencies are guilty of racial profiling, but they said Saturday that the problem -- at least in Travis County -- stems from a few bad apples and does not reflect an agency wide tendency to single out minorities.
In a two-hour forum coordinated by the Mount Zion Baptist Church on Saturday morning, representatives from the Austin Police Department, the Travis County sheriff's office and the district attorney's office, along with Gary Bledsoe, Texas president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, discussed how the practice of targeting minorities can be eradicated. About 30 people -- most of them African Americans -- attended the forum at the Austin History Center.
"Many, many times, you will suspect that the real reason someone is stopped is for DWB -- driving while black -- or driving while Hispanic," said Malcolm Greenstein, an Austin lawyer.
Although the Austin Police Department trains cadets on its policy against pulling over drivers based on race, Assistant Police Chief Michael McDonald conceded that some new officers "slip through the cracks."
"Unfortunately, (racial profiling) does take place," he said. "I don't think it takes place as much as the community thinks it does, but it takes place more than law enforcement is willing to admit."
People who suspect they are victims of profiling can bring attention to the problem by writing letters to law enforcement agencies detailing the incident in which they felt targeted, said Travis County Sheriff Margo Frasier.
"In the sheriff's department, we have a policy against racial profiling . . . but I'm not naive enough to think it doesn't get violated," she said. "It does."
Frasier and McDonald pointed out that officers do have the right to pull over a driver who has violated a traffic law and, in some cases, when there are highly suspicious circumstances. But treating the driver with respect is the key to building trust between the minority community and the police, they said.
Forum participants said Austin is a relatively progressive city in which many minorities hold some key law-enforcement positions . For example, McDonald and Assistant District Attorney Gary Cobb are African American. As a result, people at the forum said, minority groups tend to have a more receptive audience to their racial profiling concerns.
"In most places, it's never discussed," District Attorney Ronnie Earle said. "Most places live in a state of denial, and this conversation doesn't happen."
(iSyndicate; Austin American-Statesman; Nov. 5, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.