National Press Club

NAACP's President Jealous deplores racial profiling

August 29, 2013 | By Sean Lyngaas |

 Benjamin Jealous, the president and CEO of the NAACP, speaks at a National Press Club Luncheon, Aug. 29..

Benjamin Jealous, the president and CEO of the NAACP, speaks at a National Press Club Luncheon, Aug. 29..

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

If history is any guide, racial profiling is ineffective, inhumane and indefensible, Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), told an Aug. 29 National Press Club luncheon.

The United States is a young country, so “we have no excuse not to know our own history,” Jealous said. “When we forget our history, we repeat it. And we do so at a great price.”

Speaking a day after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for civil rights led by Martin Luther King Jr., Jealous drew on a study he wrote on racial profiling not long after the September 11th attacks in an effort to thoroughly repudiate the practice.

Jealous had sharp words for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, neither of whom were in the room. Both are strong proponents of the city’s “stop-and-frisk” tactic, in which law enforcement officials stop, question and search those they deem suspicious.

“There is no statistical evidence to back up [Bloomberg’s] claims that people will die” without stop-and-frisk, he said. “What he has chosen to do is what demagogues have chosen to do again and again in history, which is to strike fear into the hearts of people…rather than wrestle with the facts,” he said.

As for the New York City police commissioner, “Ray Kelly should remember what he used to say, what he said about a decade ago, that taking credit for a drop in crime was like taking credit for an eclipsing moon,” Jealous said.

Racial profiling threatened to “slander an entire generation of New York City’s children,” he warned.

A federal judge this month ruled that “stop-and-frisk” violates the constitutional rights of minorities, while the New York City Council overrode Bloomberg’s veto of two measures that place checks on the tactic. The council’s opposition to stop-and-frisk stems in part from a “big, broad, audacious coalitions of people,” the NAACP worked to build, Jealous said.

The NAACP leader, who traces his lineage to two black Reconstruction leaders, put stop-and-frisk against a backdrop of racial profiling in America that he said was replete with injustice and human error.

He went as far back as the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901 to make his case. At a public exposition the day McKinley was shot, security officials were advised to look for tall, “swarthy” men with “exotic facial hair,” according to Jealous. The assassin didn’t fit the profile, but a light-skinned black man who ended up apprehending the killer did, he said.

The episode proved that racial profiling “distracts dangerously, so dangerously that if you inject race and ethnicity into a profile that’s otherwise based on behavior, blinders go up and people die, and sometimes it’s the President of the United States himself,” he said.