Phoenix - The National Black Police Association is no stranger to dealing with controversies around racial profiling. That’s one reason why the Washington D.C.–based organization opposes SB 1070, the Arizona state law that asks police to do the job of federal immigration agents and investigate suspects’ immigration status. In the hours before a judge blocked key provisions of the law from taking effect. Ronald Hampton, the group’s executive director, outlined his concerns.
New America Media: Why does the National Black Police Association oppose Arizona's new immigration legislation?
We think it's going to hinder policing. Not just in Arizona, but in the 13 or 14 states that are considering something similar. We've been talking about community policing for years now, and this law is going to cause people to withdraw from partnership with the police— I mean, it's crazy.
Please explain the idea of community-oriented policing, which your organization advocates, and the impact you believe SB 1070 could have, if it were fully enforced.
Community policing is something we have been involved in for at least the last 25 years. It's a concept where you develop a partnership between police and communities to provide public safety. It’s important to know that very rarely do police officers live in the urban areas they patrol. So we utilize the vested interest and experience of people living in those communities to help solve crimes and provide prevention and intervention, tell us what's going on. Ninety-five percent of the people who live in our communities are law-abiding, so it doesn't make sense to alienate them.
The whole bedrock of community policing is to work together with the community—it’s the community that solves crimes. What's the first thing police do when they get on the scene? They start trying to identify witnesses, and they start trying to interview people for information. [With SB 1070,] people who may be undocumented are going to be afraid of cooperating with police.
The same kind of suspicion exists with young people [who] are less likely to cooperate with police because sometimes police have a tendency to take advantage of young people. The mistrust is going to begin to spread.
Do you see any parallels in terms of what Latinos may experience with SB 1070 and law enforcement agencies' targeting of African-American communities?
Look at the issue of racial profiling. If you do racial profiling when you do police work, you're going to fail every time, because there's no substitute for good police work.
What if law enforcement were to go to the local legislature and say, “We need a law that would allow us to go into the black neighborhoods in order to clamp down on drugs and gangs”? There's a great deal of stereotyping and labeling that happens with drugs, violence, and gangs. Police perceive it as coming out of the black community and try to find shortcuts in order to zero in on a particular group.
There might be a time when we might see legislation that would allow police to fight drugs, violence, and crime in black communities the same way they are trying to do with SB 1070 in Arizona. They could come into neighborhoods with roadblocks and raids.
SB 1070 is dangerous … because it gives law enforcement agencies this unlimited reach in doing whatever it is they decide to do. As it is, as a society, we've had trouble trying to grab hold of police powers and limit them.
What are some of the areas of police work, in your view, that might be negatively effected by SB 1070?
Working with victims of domestic violence is one of the toughest areas of police work. We've done an awful job through history protecting the victims of domestic violence. To do anything, we need the cooperation of the victims. With 1070, what will happen is that the victim will be less likely to come forward to police, because the person's immigration status has become more important than protecting the person. That's a perfect example.
Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona says new protections were written into the legislation specifically to prevent ethnic profiling and the targeting of innocents. She says the law is not going to cause problems of this sort.
Having spent 24 years as a police officer, I think it's going to create a problem. We know racial profiling is against the law now; that doesn't mean racial profiling is gone. It happens all the time, and it's going to happen in the context of this law.
Who's going to be there to monitor, to make sure it doesn't happen? I think that this was part of the strategy to get this law passed—to write in that it's not going to use race as a factor. But who do they think police are going to stop when they're looking for people who are in the country illegally? Who are they going to look for?
And the police officers are not going to write on a piece of paper that they used race, or that they stopped this person because they look Hispanic. They’re going to come up with creative paragraph to explain how it happened.
Do you consider comparisons of SB 1070 to laws in Nazi Germany or the Jim Crow South farfetched?
The person who is subjected to these laws is going to have a different view than those who aren't. After we see how 1070 is carried out, then the victims of 1070 are the ones who are going to be able to say if they were treated fairly and if their rights were protected. Whenever we have controversial laws, there are always these two sides. They can be horrible, if you happen to be on the victims' side of it.
There's a great deal of talk of tensions and mutual suspicion between the black and Latino communities. Is this evident at all among black police officers?
Unfortunately we live in a country where minorities are sometimes pitted against one another. We've seen it with jobs, services, and access. But we work very closely with the Hispanic law enforcement organizations, and we've worked with some of the organizations involved in the immigration issue.
We don't have the luxury of buying into the stereotyping and marginalization that has taken place around poor people in our country. If it can happen to them, it can happen to us. Don't forget that racial profiling has been going on long before we had the term racial profiling. We put together a brochure on what to do when the police stop you in 1975.
We don’t have the luxury of thinking that we are the ones that are disadvantaged and they are not, or we're not and they are. What we have to do is address inequities in the system and ways in which we are pitted against one another, as we are on this issue. Racial profiling can occur in Arizona, or in D.C. or North Carolina. The more we work together— Hispanics, blacks, and whoever is victimized by disparities in our criminal justice system and in society—the better we're going to be prepared to improve our communities.