Horrors of Racial Profiling Recounted Before the Senate As Victims Urge Passage of Bill to Address the Problem

March 30, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — A decorated Army veteran who was the victim of racial profiling by state highway patrolmen urged a Senate panel today to pass legislation that would address the serious problem of race-based traffic stops.

“I’m an authority figure myself,” said Master Sergeant Rossano V. Gerald, a career soldier and veteran of Operation United Shield in Somalia and Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, for which he received a Bronze Star. “I don’t want my son thinking for one minute that this kind of behavior by anyone in uniform is acceptable.”

During a two-and-a-half hour traffic stop in Oklahoma in August 1998, state troopers dismantled Gerald’s car, terrorized his 12-year-old son with a police dog and turned off the patrol car’s video evidence camera halfway through the ordeal.

Gerald testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution. The committee is considering legislation (S. 821) that would address the problem of racial profiling by encouraging police departments to keep detailed records of traffic stops, including the race, gender, and ethnicity of the person stopped, as well as whether a search was initiated and if any warning or citation was issued. The House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a similar bill at the beginning of the month. It is expected to receive a floor vote in the House in the near future.

“This bill should not be considered controversial or partisan,” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Three Republican governors have ordered their state law enforcement agencies to collect data and scores of police agencies across the country have voluntarily begun the practice.

Master Sergeant Gerald, with the assistance of the ACLU, has filed a federal lawsuit claiming violations of federal civil rights law and of the constitutional right to equal treatment and to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The ACLU is seeking a court order requiring state troopers to stop racial profiling and to establish legal safeguards, including a traffic stops reporting system, to prevent future incidents.

ACLU offices around the country have received complaints from African-American and Hispanic men who have been stopped by the police for no other reason than the traffic offense derisively referred to as “Driving While Black or Brown.”

Master Sergeant Gerald’s testimony can be found at:

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