Thursday, May 3, 2012
Pass racial profiling legislation in Massachusetts

We read with interest Suzanne Manneh’s piece, “Legislation attempt to end racial profiling,” Bay State Banner, April 26, 2012, about U.S. Senate hearings on a national racial profiling bill. We are writing to express support for two bills in Massachusetts that could make it more difficult for law enforcement personnel to engage in racial profiling in Massachusetts.  

Both bills are sponsored by state Rep. Byron Rushing and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz. The first would prohibit law enforcement personnel to rely on race, ethnicity, or national origin in determining who should be subjected to traffic stops, bodily frisks and searches, and other forms of police interrogation.

The second would require the collection of racial demographic data when police stop motorists who are not wearing seatbelts in order to discourage police officers from using the seatbelt law as a pretext for pulling over black and Latino drivers.  

We are writing in the context of our leadership of a statewide organization that advocates on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and we support passage of these bills because they protect the rights and promote the freedoms of our LGBT community members who are people of color, and also because all LGBT people have a stake in a Commonwealth that prohibits discrimination, harassment and violence based solely on who one is.  

Racial profiling is the act of punishing someone merely for being who they are in a public space, and it is a particularly horrific assault on an individual’s dignity. People of color and LGBT people frequently top the FBI’s annual list of hate crimes victims. Both communities, which have significant overlap, are violently regulated simply because of who they are, and both are experienced in avoiding such violent regulation by being careful about where they go, what they wear, and what they say or do.  

While the history and experiences of the LGBT and black communities are not the same, both share a stake in ending the degrading toll that profiling of any kind takes on an individual, family members, and the broader community. We share a common aspiration to live in a Commonwealth, country and world where we are all safe to live and free to thrive no matter what we look like or who we are.