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Nicole Haslinger: Zimmerman + Racial Profiling in Rhode Island

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


As George Zimmerman goes free, Rhode Island and the nation struggle with hard questions about racial profiling.

Saturday, the verdict that acquitted George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin sent waves across our nation.

Pundits and legal experts on 24-hour news outlets debated the legal particulars of the trial: was it manslaughter, was it second-degree murder, did the prosecution misstep, and were the closing statements pithy enough? People took to Twitter, Facebook, and blogs to demand justice, and to wonder how this trial could have ended differently: If Trayvon had been a seventeen-year-old white boy, would the women on the jury have doubted that he was the aggressor?  If this were a young black woman would we have ever even heard of this case?

Protestors took to the streets in equal parts rage and grief. For the many people who were galvanized into action by the acquittal, this trial was not a case of injustice for one young boy. Rather, it was it was a case that exemplified the injustices that we see every day across the US. The results of this trial were devastating because they were all too predictable and the subsequent divided reaction to the verdict is all too telling. 

Despite the results of the trial, there are glaring issues to resolve here. The fact that Zimmerman approached Martin in the first place, out of race-based suspicion, is a problem. The fact prosecutors felt the need to argue a race-blind case, is a problem. Whether or not you believe that the Zimmerman trial was fair, so many people could identify beyond "reasonable doubt" with the Martin family's pain, and that fact should tell us that the violence of racial profiling is very real.

There is a chance, however, that we can begin to prevent further injustice. As we mourn this national tragedy, we may also learn how to create more just policy. We can take this time to build racial empathy in a nation that has been decidedly and paralyzing “color-blind” for decades.

Racial profiling is a problem here in Providence that community groups have been fighting for over a decade now. Despite clear evidence of profiling, RI legislators and police departments have made it difficult to take steps to combat it.

In 2000, the Rhode Island Traffic Stop Statistics Act required that RI Police Departments collect data on traffic stops. In 2003, Northeastern University released a study of this data that proved that non-white drivers were stopped at greater rates. When stopped, black and Latino drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to be searched. When searched, white drivers were more likely to have contraband.  As a result, the Racial Profiling Act of 2004 was passed, and the data collection continued in order to survey the effect of the act. Data released in 2006 and 2008, showed little change in police profiling. The Providence Police Department has been inconsistent in its support of community and legislative efforts, and the ACLU has had to release a fact sheet to quell fears that the act would limit police.

Organizers for the Coalition to Stop Racial Profiling have been working for two years on the Comprehensive Racial Profiling Prevention Act, a bill to help prevent profiling and offer resources to victims of it.  The Coalition is currently made up of 39 community organizations and advocacy groups, most notably the Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), the Univocal Legislative Minority Advisory Coalition (ULMAC), and the RI ACLU.

The traffic-stop data and mixed support from police both point to the troubling and cyclical nature of police profiling. By criminalizing people of color, police re-create stereotypes, widen racial divides, and bolster white fear. By creating a system in which young people do not have reason to trust that law enforcers have their best interest in mind, we leave young people increasingly alienated and without support. It is disheartening how long it has taken for people to understand that racial profiling is a real and dangerous problem. Fortunately, dedicated community coalition building and organizing has made this bill a possibility.

Although the bill is currently stalled, the Co-Director of PrYSM, Chanravy Proeung believes that awareness is growing after a series of incidences of police brutality in the South Side and the West End. She also credits a series a racial profiling community forums held at the Mt. Hope Neighborhood Association, DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality), Central High School led by Youth In Action and PrYSM (Providence Youth Student Movement), and Brown University by the Africana Studies Department.  For those who would like to support the bill visit the Coalition’s page to find out how, sign the petition, and share this short film on profiling.

Nicole Hasslinger, a Brown University student who lives in Pawtucket, RI, hopes that the Profiling Bill is the first step of many.


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"The fact that Zimmerman approached Martin in the first place, out of race-based suspicion, is a problem."

That you write this accusation is a problem. The FBI and others have determined, after seeing all the evidence, that it wasn't race based but behavior. But why let facts stand in the way of your bias and lies?

Frankly, you, and people like you, are the problem. When you are a racist, you see everything through the lens of race. Try switching lens.

Comment #1 by Mike Govern on 2013 07 17

The fact that Zimmerman approached Martin in the first place, out of race-based suspicion, is a problem.

i stopped reading this article right after this sentence.

you are pointing the finger and dont know the basic facts of the case.
did you know that the FBI interviewed over 25 of zimmermans friends regarding his opinions on race and found no evidenc of any race discrimination about him from any of them.

uh maybe all 25 were lying right??

so how did you make it to brown university if you can write an opinion piece and have researched the basic facts.

golocal prov today... msnbc tomrow.. success in life???

Comment #2 by john paycheck on 2013 07 17

I watched a depressing program last night streaming on Netflix. It was Andrew Breitbart's "Occupy Unmasked." In that program Breitbart explains how the Occupy movement was totally fabricated by the unions, the anarchists and the radical left and how they used young people as pawns.

In the program it is also explained that Occupy is the first phase. It was the attack on capitalism. The second phase is coming—the promotion of a race war.

A little over that top don't you think?

On the other hand it seems to me that America has never been in a better place racially than it is today. Racism is just not tolerated—by anyone.

We have a black president (elected twice) and in the last Presidential election we almost had a black republican candidate. Hermain Cain was well-loved and the frontrunner for the nomination until there were allegations of sexual misconduct.

So why is MSNBC and the mainstream media playing up this case? Why is race becoming such an issue?

Don't let the hate mongers stir up racism. American's come in all shapes and colors. We are all brothers and sisters.

Stand together patriots all!

Comment #3 by James Berling on 2013 07 17

Paycheck and Govern:

The FBI said it or I saw it on television. I can’t think of anything more credible.
Since when did the FBI start interviewing Zimmerman’s friends, anyway? The FBI had nothing to do with the prosecution of this case. Please site the source.

One other thing: When was the last time you followed teenagers in your neighborhood and approached them carrying a 9mm weapon with chambered hollow-point bullets?

Comment #4 by Johnny cakes on 2013 07 17

James Bering:

"On the other hand it seems to me that America has never been in a better place racially than it is today. Racism is just not tolerated—by anyone.”

What world do you live in? Try reading a book. You can start with “The New Jim Crow” - Michelle Alexander.

Comment #5 by Johnny cakes on 2013 07 17

When the 911 dispatcher asked Zimmerman if he was following the 17-year-old UNARMED teenager, Zimmerman said yes. The dispatcher told Zimmerman he did not need to do that, police were on their way and would be there in minutes (showing no regard for authority)
Zimmerman then exited his SUV, to pursuit Trayvon on foot (not smart) Tray was afraid for his life when confronted by an armed man who weighed 100+ POUNDS MORE THEN HIM
If the gun-nut murderer had stayed in his car Trayvon would be alive today...FACT

Zimmerman was previously arrested for assault on a police officer and for assault on a woman

Comment #6 by Sammy Arizona on 2013 07 17

johnny cakes - you want proof -- here it is from cnn reporting on the 284 page fbi report.

you can apologize now.. thanks

CNN) -- George Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, had a "little hero complex" but was not a racist, a Sanford, Florida, homicide investigator told federal agents, according to reports released Thursday.

In an interview with FBI agents in March, investigator Chris Serino told authorities he "believed that Zimmerman's actions were not based on Martin's skin color, rather based on his attire, the total circumstances of the encounter and the previous burglary suspects in the community," according to an FBI report.

The reports and other information in the case against Zimmerman were released Thursday by Special Prosecutor Angela Corey to Zimmerman's attorney.

The U.S. Department of Justice took up a civil rights investigation after allegations that race played a part in the killing of Martin, 17, in February in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. The reports released Thursday do not draw conclusions in that investigation.

Read the FBI reports (PDF)

Martin's family and supporters say Zimmerman racially profiled the teen, describing him as "suspicious" during a 911 call and ignoring a police dispatcher's request that he not follow him.

O'Mara on raising money for Zimmerman
The 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer has said he killed Martin in self-defense, saying the teen punched him and slammed his head into a sidewalk before the shooting, according to family members and police.

Trayvon Martin memorial removed but preserved

Among the evidence released Thursday are details about federal interviews with more than 30 people, including key members of the Sanford Police Department and Zimmerman's neighbors and co-workers.

In his interview, Serino explained to the FBI agents that African-American gangs in the community "typically dressed in black and wore hoodies," the report said.

"Serino believes that when Zimmerman saw Martin in a hoody (sic), Zimmerman took it upon himself to view Martin as acting suspicious," the report said. "Serino described Zimmerman as overzealous and as having 'a little hero complex,' but not as a racist. Serino explained that on numerous occasions he asked Zimmerman specifically if he followed Martin based on his skin color and Zimmerman never admitted to this fact."

Comment #7 by john paycheck on 2013 07 17


i hope you all do yourself a favor and read the above link on wikipedia.

fyi martin was 5'11'' 158 pounds and zimmerman was 5'7" and 185 ponunds . i know its hard for the libs but try reading and educating yourself for once instead of letting yoru emotions run wild......

Comment #8 by john paycheck on 2013 07 17

John Paycheck

I read wikipedia. It’s just more of he said she said. You can cite whomever and it won’t make a sh*t of difference in a country where race is behind everything.

I have some questions: Who designated hoodies as criminal attire? Who criminalized this urban and suburban street wear? What was suspicious or criminal about Treyvon Martin who was just walking home?
Why is it legitimate and “legal” for an armed civilian (vigilante) to profile, stalk, question and confront someone who is minding their own business - then murder them while claiming to be in fear for their life? And then calls it self-defense.
You defend this world because you and your children do not have a target on their backs and you are free to walk the streets without fear of vigilantes or the police.

Comment #9 by Johnny cakes on 2013 07 17

When I was 17 I was an all conference offensive lineman and the captain of my football team. I was no child. Trayvon Martin fancied himself a tough guy (what 17 year old doesn't) Trayvon Martin decided he didn't like a guy following him. So he ran away, but instead of calling 911 or going home (which is what somebody scared would have done) he was going to stalk and beat the guy senseless. Because you don't mess with Trayvon. George Zimmerman broke no laws and acted in self defense. Trayvon didn't deserve to die, but it was his actions (and the actions of the criminals in the neighborhood that had created a culture of fear) that led to his death. Don't jump a man in a dark alley and you won't get shot.

Comment #10 by Redd Ratt on 2013 07 18

Here's the key evidence from the trial that the race hustlers (and those influenced by them) never acknowledge in their arguments:

Martin and Zimmerman got into a fight (no gun was drawn at this point). Martin was on top; Zimmerman was on the bottom with Martin getting the better of Zimmerman and doing some damage. The all-woman jury evaluated the evidence and concluded that Zimmerman (still on the receiving end of the punishement) then shot in self defense.

Completely sad and unfortunate, but that's at the core of the jury's decision.

There is no legal justification for any "civil rights" action.

Comment #11 by Art West on 2013 07 18

Who designated hoodies as criminal attire? Who criminalized this urban and suburban street wear?

next time you go to the bank, wear a hoodie and the bank personnell will ask you to take it off as soon as you walk in.

let me tell you, my daughter is white and lives in an urban city and she is in fear of having a target on her back just walking down some streets.

you are oversimplyfiing this situation dramatically. to the point where you probably have not read the facts of the case and are speaking out of emotion rather than logic.

Comment #12 by john paycheck on 2013 07 18

With all their puffed-up arrogance and ignorance, and a system of white supremacy behind them, people here profess to know what happened the night Treyvon Martin was murdered.

I don’t care what you have read or seen, all you really know for certain is that a 17-year-old was walking home, innocent of any crime and minding his own business, and was shot dead.
That is all you really know. The rest is simply conjecture - or what you think happened.

People here speak authoritatively about the “facts,” and cite other racist fools as proof, that they “know” what happened that night. Zimmerman felt it was his “right" to follow, confront and murder someone that was bothering no one. That is all you really know.

Comment #13 by Johnny cakes on 2013 07 18

Johnny, Zimmerman never confronted Martin. You should take your own advice and shut up.
Racist like yourself consider any blacks that believe George Zimmerman acted in self defense as Uncle Tom's and any non blacks that believe that are racists. I base my belief that Martin jumped Zimmerman on the evidence that was presented at trial. That's all.

Comment #14 by Redd Ratt on 2013 07 18

There is no “evidence” only conjecture as to who initiated contact. All anyone knows for certain is that an armed vigilante felt it was his privilege and right to follow a complete stranger who was doing absolutely nothing - and shoot him.
You can believe whatever you want but they are not facts, only assumptions.

Comment #15 by Johnny cakes on 2013 07 18

Johnny Cakes,

You are a victim of your bias and preconceptions. Sad that you'd ignore the mountain of evidence to draw a twisted picture that, in some way, affirms your warped world view. In my world, assault is a crime--and if someone bigger and stronger than me was sitting on my chest pounding my head against the cement, I'd do everything in my power to make him stop.

If you don't assault people, chances are you won't get shot, no?

Comment #16 by Mike Govern on 2013 07 18

Let us not fall into the trap the radical left has so carefully laid.

Here's a quote by one of President Obama’s heroes: Saul Alinsky:

“In the beginning the organizer's first job is to create the issues or problems.”
― Saul D. Alinsky, Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals

And here’s a quote by one of my heroes:

“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and that in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr

Whom would you follow?

Comment #17 by James Berling on 2013 07 18

This is Amerikkka—From Dred Scott to Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin, Black people have no rights that white people are bound to respect.

Comment #18 by Johnny cakes on 2013 07 18

I just watched an ESPN special on Len Bias. Obviously a very different situation, but they both show how quickly a decision can forever change the lives of a lot of people. I remember where I was when I heard he died. I was working out by myself on my hoop game when a friend came to the park and asked "guess who died last night"? I knew instantly it was Bias. What a horrible loss.

Comment #19 by Redd Ratt on 2013 07 18

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