Why We Can’t Wait

Dear Editor; 

The shocking death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer and countless video recordings from around the country showing excessive force used by law enforcement against unarmed detained persons has laid bare a troubling propensity for police violence against people of color. 

The New York State Legislature has already acted to address some issues, such as passing legislation to criminalize chokeholds, and to amend Section 50-a of the New York Civil Rights Law so that personnel records of police misconduct are no longer confidential and hidden from the public, media and attorneys. Although these State actions are laudable, they do not address what I believe to be at the root of the problem. 

There has been a long and well-established pattern of racial and ethnic profiling by law enforcement officers in this country in which persons of color are stopped, questioned, detained and/or arrested due to their skin color, often for no legitimate rationale or purpose. If New York State truly wants to address the mistreatment of minorities at the hands of police, we must prevent racial and ethnic profiling. 

 With this goal in mind, I recently introduced a resolution at the Erie County Legislature in support of a bill that is currently before the New York Legislature. The measure would amend the State’s Executive Law to ban a law enforcement agency’s use of racial or ethnic profiling. 

The law bans the practice of a law enforcement agent or agency, relying, to any degree, on actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, national origin or religion in selecting which individual or location to subject to routine or spontaneous investigatory activities.

This bill requires every law enforcement agency to adopt a written policy which prohibits racial or ethnic profiling. It would also establish procedures for the review and the taking of corrective action with respect to complaints by individuals who allege that they have been the subject of racial or ethnic profiling. 

We cannot wait.

For too long, our community has lived in fear. Passing this legislation will begin to restore balance between police agencies and the people they are supposed to serve and protect. I am pleased to introduce my resolution and have urged my colleagues to join in supporting the legis 

Legislator Howard Johnson 

Erie County Legislature, District 1

(image used for this letter to the editor by local photographer Cams Banks)