A case of racial profiling

Young Chico man’s story rings true

Chico’s police union has publicly attacked City Councilman Andy Holcombe for saying that he received “at least a few calls” over the past two years from citizens who felt they had been racially profiled by police but who were afraid to come forward with complaints.

A few years ago, while conducting research, I too was told of an instance of racial profiling in Chico. My research included recorded interviews with nine minorities who were students or recent graduates of Chico State. The ethnic breakdown was five Latinos, three blacks and one Asian. One question asked of participants was: “Have you encountered any issues or incidents … that you feel were related to your race, ethnicity or gender while attending the university? If so, please describe …”

None of the Latino or Asian students/alumni reported any racial incidents, while all of the blacks had encountered racial bigotry in Chico. The episodes ranged from housing and employment discrimination, to a racially insensitive professor, to ugly slurs shouted from passing vehicles by brain-dead bigots, to police misconduct. All different, all dehumanizing.

Of the nine, only one mentioned Chico’s police. He was called “Oliver” in my research findings, as all participants were promised anonymity. At Chico State, Oliver was successful academically and a respected student leader. He also was the lone black man interviewed.

Here is what I wrote in 2008: “Oliver talked about three incidents … all involving the police, in which he felt race could have been a factor. He concluded, however, that only one of the three situations was clearly racist. That incident had to do with being pulled over by officers for a minor traffic infraction and being disrespectfully questioned about drugs and then feeling pressured to agreeing to have his car searched.”

Oliver, one of two black males in the vehicle, believes the stop was racially motivated. “First thing [the police] asked was, ‘Are you on drugs?’” Oliver told me. “They wanted to search my car. … So I just said, ‘Search it. I don’t have anything to hide.’ … They definitely were overbearing, trying to make us look incompetent.”

For whatever it is worth, I believe this young man’s account, which means I think police subjected him to racial profiling and harassment. I did not ask Oliver why he did not file a complaint, but I can understand a hesitancy to trust a department that would employ such officers.