NAACP president delivers address about racial profiling

By Andrew Shull

Benjamin Jealous didn’t shy away from the city’s recent — and historic — high-profile… Benjamin Jealous didn’t shy away from the city’s recent — and historic — high-profile incidents of police brutality against young black men during a lecture on racial profiling.

“Pittsburgh is a deeply segregated city, with a notorious history of not holding local law enforcement responsible, be it Johnny Gammage or Jordan Miles, who were punished for being young and black,” he said after his speech.

Jealous, the president of the NAACP, spoke to more than 500 people Thursday, June 7, on the seventh floor of Alumni Hall as part of the 10-year anniversary celebration of Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems, which is part of the School of Social Work. The Center on Race and Social Problems was founded 10 years ago to study the racial divides that plague society. Jealous’ speech was titled “Trayvon Martin: Racial Profiling and the Urgent Need to Heal America.”

Johnny Gammage and Jordan Miles were both young black men who were the subjects of police beatings that drew outrage from citizens. In Miles’ case in early 2010, charges were never brought against the officers. The police officers were acquitted in Gammage’s case in 1995.

Jealous only rarely addressed the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida, instead focusing on other cases that illustrated the ineffectuality of racial profiling.

The first case he discussed was the D.C. sniper, John Allen Muhammad, a black man who, with a young partner, terrorized Washington, D.C., by killing 10 people in 2002. Jealous said police ignored more pertinent behavioral elements of the profile and instead focused on a part of the profile that said the shooter would be “probably white.”

Jealous said the police let him and his young partner, who was also black, go after stopping them nine times and never once had them open their trunk, which served as their sniper’s nest.

“As soon as race came up, the blinders came on,” Jealous said.

He also used the example of a young white college student who was routinely able to sneak box cutters, and even a product that looked like C4 explosives, onto airplanes.

Another case he pointed to was that of Squeaky Fromme, the woman who nearly assassinated then-President Gerald Ford. Following her attempt, Jealous said the Secret Service started searching women, which Jealous said led to them thwarting an attempt on George H. W. Bush’s life.

Finally, he used the example of James Parker, a black man from Georgia who tackled President William McKinley’s assassin in 1901. Parker was mistaken for an Eastern European. Jealous said that at the time, it was thought that Eastern European Anarchists would be the most likely to carry out assassinations.

Jealous set out to prove that racial profiling is counterproductive, putting it into context of the controversy surrounding the New York Police Department’s “stop and frisk” policy, which allows them to stop and conduct a limited search, even without probable cause.

“Ninety percent [of those searched] are people of color. Ninety percent were innocent. 99.99 percent had no gun,” Jealous said, characterizing the practice as “humiliating.”

But the night wasn’t all about racial profiling. The attendees were also there to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Center on Race and Social Problems.

Larry Davis, the dean of the School of Social Work and director for the center, used the opportunity to highlight the center’s accomplishments, which include holding the largest conference on race relations in 2010 and hosting more than 100 guest lectures.

When Davis spoke after touting the school’s accomplishments, he made an indirect reference to the Trayvon Martin killing.

“As the father of three boys,” he said, “this is one of my biggest fears.”

Ralph Bangs, the associate director of the Center on Race and Social Problems, spoke after Davis to highlight the accomplishments of Pitt at large before Chancellor Mark Nordenberg came on stage to introduce Jealous.

Speaking after his address, Davis recognized his white colleague, Bangs.

“Martin Luther King [Jr.] said there are some white folks who are as dedicated to seeing us free as we are to seeing ourselves free,” Davis said. “Ralph Bangs is one of those people.”

While the crowd was mostly made up of older people, about 12 members of Pitt’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers showed up.

NSBE Academic Excellence Chair Ashley McCray said before the lecture that she thought Trayvon Martin’s case had a historic parallel.

“It’s a modern version of Emmett Till,” she said about a 14-year-old black boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after allegedly flirting with a white woman. “This isn’t about one black kid who was slain.”

Olivia Gant, a Pitt sophomore and another member of NSBE, echoed the mission of the entire Center on Race and Social Problems, saying: “To solve the problem, you need to recognize it.”

“Trayvon Martin is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said.