Groups in Des Moines start effort to document alleged racial profiling

(Radio Iowa) – Several groups have started a new initiative to document alleged racial profiling by law enforcement in and around Des Moines. The ACLU, the NAACP, and a religious coalition known as AMOS will hold clinics on the Drake University campus to interview people of color about where and when they say they were stopped by police solely on the basis of race.

Thirty-eight-year-old Charice Williams of Des Moines talked at the announcement of the initiative about police pulling her son over, patting him down, and even handcuffing him with what she calls no justifiable cause. “I’m a homeowner, I pay my taxes, I work, I contribute to the salaries  of those who constantly, constantly and on a regular basis harass my family,” Williams says.

Twenty-year-old Isaac Newsome is an African-American who grew up in Des Moines, and now attends classes now at Graceland College in Lamoni. Newsome described one incident when he and three friends were driving in Des Moines, and a police officer spotted his car. “He did a complete u-turn in the middle of traffic and followed me, pulled me over.  He got all of our names, asked me questions — if I had guns or any drugs on me,” according to Newsome. He says the stop  wasn’t that unusual. “That happens every time I get pulled over. They ask me if I have guns. I’m taken out of the car every single time.  And I’m always patted down. This last time was the first time I was put in handcuffs and put in the back seat of the car,” Newsome said. Newsome said there was no justifiable cause to stop him.

Activists including  Harvey Harrison with AMOS says Newsome’s not alone.But now they’re going after data to document it. Arnold Woods is president of the Des Moines chapter of the NAACP. “I receive calls monthly, weekly about someone who has been profiled all the way from Altoona, because they’re driving a Cadillac, they’re driving a Mercedes , because they (police) think they are selling drugs or something — young  guys coming back from baseball practice, basketball practice,” Woods says.

Trained interviewers will  talk to those claiming racial profiling and collect names, dates and locations of what they call unjustified arrests.  Activists say, based on anecdotal evidence, they could get hundreds of stories.  Ben Stone with the ACLU says  racial profiling is nothing new as a report by his organization in 1999  made “quite a bit of a splash that was called “driving while black or brown.” Activists says the time may be right for action now as there’s a growing awareness that blacks are disproportionately  represented in the criminal justice system.  They hope that could lead to some attention for what’s sometimes the first step into that system…the unjustified arrest.

NAACP leaders say they’ve complained to police about African-Americans getting targeted just because they’re black.  Des Moines Police Chief Judy Bradshaw says they get occasional complaints about police behavior, but not about racial profiling. “If there are these hundreds of allegations our internal complaints do not reflect that,” Bradshaw says. “I think we’ve got really great positive relationships with all three of those organizations.  I’ll be curious to see what comes out of the panel discussions.” Bradshaw says her department has refined their policy to restrict racial profiling.

Meanwhile, Isaac Newsome says he may or may not make it back to Des Moines to be interviewed at the clinics on the Drake campus as he  says he doesn’t have too much faith it will make a difference. Activists disagree. They hope the hard data they collect will led to change.

The first series of clinics will be held at the Drake University Neal and Bea Smith Legal Clinic from 1:00-5:00 p.m. on three Saturdays: October 5th, October 26th, and November 9th. Those interested in telling their stories about Des Moines-area racial profiling incidents can either walk in or set up an appointment in advance by calling 515-279-2234 or emailing srpiowa@gmail.com  or going to www.aclu-ia.org.