Civic leaders are irate after Palo Alto’s police chief ordered officers this week to stop and question blacks on the streets following a recent rash of robberies in the Silicon Valley area.
Police Chief Lynne Johnson is being scrutinized a day after a community meeting where she issued the instructions for random stops because several suspects were African American.
“When my officers see an African American who has a doo-rag on his head, absolutely the officers will be stopping and trying to find out who that person is,” Johnson told KGO-TV cameras after the meeting.
“When our officers are out there and they see an African American, you know, in a congenial way, we want them to find out who they are,” Johnson said.
On Friday, angry civic leaders said Johnson’s comments were irresponsible, calling it a classic case of racial profiling.
“We’re outraged,” said Reverend Jeff Moore II, president of San Jose-Silicon Valley National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP]. “It’s an embarrassment, and it clearly shows there’s racial profiling and it continues to go on in the Silicon Valley area.”
“This is one chief who made a Freudian slip, plain and simple,” he said.
About 2 percent of Palo Alto’s population of 59,000 residents are black, according to recent US Census figures.
Michael Risher, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said “stopping people in the street just because of their skin color is unconstitutional, it doesn’t make us safer and it’s just plain wrong.
“We all have the right to walk down the street without being stopped by police, without a specific reason that we have broken the law. This type of vague description, just any young black man, doesn’t give the police the right to stop us,” Risher said.
Police spokesman Dan Ryan said on Friday that the chief’s statements were taken out of context and were truncated to appear in the worst possible light.
“There is no way we are targeting African Americans,” Ryan said. “It’s illegal, immoral and we’ve never done that.”
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