Saturday, November 10, 2007
From The Washington Post…
Documents Show Police Stereotyping, Plaintiffs Say
By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
There, among thousands of pages the Maryland State Police turned over to civil rights groups in connection with a racial profiling lawsuit, were four offering guidance on how to interact with Hispanics. “The majority of Hispanics are not criminals,” one undated document said. “They are just seeking a better way of life.”
But that same document cautions: “Hispanics generally do not hold their alcohol well. They tend to drink too much and this leads to fights,” according to records in Baltimore County Circuit Court. Hispanic males are raised to be “‘MACHO’ and brave,” while females are “raised to be subservient,” the documents state.
Attorneys for the Maryland NAACP say the documents appear to have been used in lesson plans for the agency’s Pro-Active Criminal Enforcement program, in which specially trained troopers try to catch drug couriers and organized criminals on Maryland highways.
State police officials referred questions to Betty A. Stemley, the agency’s head attorney, who said she did not know who produced the documents or whether they had been used for training. “They definitely don’t appear to be part of any kind of formalized manual or training document,” she said.
The plaintiffs said the documents came as a response to their request for police training documents. Stemley said that in general, the police agency has tried to cast as broad a net as possible when providing documents in the case. The state police have been accused of producing incomplete responses to other requests.
She suggested that the documents could have been gathered by a trainer collecting material on the subject and might not have been disseminated to troopers at all. “They appear to be very random to me,” Stemley said of the documents.
Eliza Leighton, a staff attorney for Casa de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group in Silver Spring, said she was “deeply troubled” by the documents, which she said contain “startling examples of racial stereotypes.”
She said the documents could undermine her group’s cooperative work with law enforcement in Hispanic communities.
Leighton took issue with a number of the documents’ assertions, including the notion that Hispanics do not want to learn English. “The Latinos we deal with at Casa de Maryland take pride in being Marylanders,” she said.
One of the documents, titled “Dealings With Hispanics,” says that knives are “the preferred weapon of Hispanics.” Another says, “Hispanics are reluctant to learn English because they fear they may lose some of their heritage.”
“As police officers,” one of the documents says, “we tend to misinterpret their language and act unfair due to the lack of communication. … Quite often Hispanics fear the police.”
The documents surfaced in a legal battle that began in 1993, when a lawsuit was filed in federal court. The plaintiffs alleged they had been victims of racial profiling, a practice in which police stop motorists or search vehicles on the basis of the drivers’ race.
In 2003, under a consent decree, the state police agreed to far-reaching changes aimed at preventing troopers from singling out minority motorists. The agency, which did not admit to engaging in systematic racial profiling, has said it acts in compliance with the consent decree.
The ACLU of Maryland, which is collaborating with the NAACP in aspects of the litigation, said yesterday that troopers continue to search black and Hispanic motorists along Interstate 95 at rates disproportionate to their presence in the general population. In 2006, according to the plaintiffs, 51.2 percent of those searched were black, 17.1 percent were Hispanic and 27.9 percent were white.
As part of the litigation, the ACLU filed a lawsuit earlier this year accusing the agency of improperly withholding documents about racial profiling. The plaintiffs attached the documents about how to deal with Hispanics as exhibits with a legal filing this week.
Stemley, the state police attorney, questioned their motives. “The plaintiffs are using this as an opportunity to just speak against the state police,” she said.