Lynn Minority Leaders Say Racial Profiling Necessary
David Liscio, Daily Item of Lynn (MA), May 6
LYNN — A study released this week accusing Lynn police of racial profiling when making traffic stops is not causing alarm among the city’s minority leaders.
Although the study by Northeastern University states that the Police Department failed in four of four categories, a ranking shared by other large cities statewide, the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said profiling is simply part of police work.
“I don’t want to look like I’m picking on certain nationalities, but I don’t know how some of these people get their driver’s licenses,” said Abner Darby, executive director of the North Shore branch of the NAACP. “There are certain groups of people in the city who are breaking the law, so when police see the tags on their plates aren’t right, or their inspection stickers are expired, they stop them. These people are lawbreakers, so the police are just making them do what they should be doing. It’s a safety issue.”
Darby said drivers often park across the crosswalk or in the handicapped zone near the Community Minority Cultural Center on Union Street with little regard for pedestrians or other motorists.
“When I confront them they don’t speak English, so they cuss me or give me the finger. I’m not a racist, but this is total disrespect and ignorance.”
According to Darby, profiling is a tool used by police officers on the lookout for wrongdoing.
“I’ve been here in Lynn since 1956, so I’ve seen it all. I come from Texas, and I can tell you about racial profiling. I don’t see that kind of thing here. But as I said, right outside my building the police could be ticketing and easily make back three salaries. Those people out there, they may be my color, but they ain’t my kind.”
Damon Harrison, longtime minority-rights activist in Lynn, said he has been stopped by police but does not consider himself victimized by racial profiling.
“It’s somewhat of a necessary part of a police officer’s job,” he said. “It’s like if they were on patrol in Harlem, N.Y. at 2 a.m. and didn’t stop three blond-haired, blue-eyed Irishmen to see what they were doing.”
Harrison said it’s more a matter of how police stop suspects rather than why.
“If I’m walking in Marblehead at 3 a.m., some officer would be negligent if he didn’t stop to ask if I need help. But if they stop me, put me up against the car and start slapping me around, that’s a different story,” he said.
Lynn has become increasingly diverse during the past decade, Harrison said, adding that poor people from ethnic minorities tend to have more issues when stopped by police.
“This really all comes down to an individual officer’s biases. If an officer has a complaint of brutality on his record and then gets accused of racial profiling, maybe there’s something to it,” he said. “I just think the police should stop denying it, say it’s part of their job and ask how to do it better.”
As a result of the study, the state is ordering 249 police departments to collect a year’s worth of data on all traffic stops.
Lynn and Peabody were among 15 departments that failed in all categories; a group that included Boston, Worcester and Springfield. Lynn Police Chief John Suslak joined dozens of chiefs statewide in harsh criticism of the study’s methodology. As Suslak put it, “If 242 communities are in violation of racial profiling, are we measuring the right stuff here?”