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Racial profiling under the microscope

Tony Best

Racial profiling under the microscope

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It was a conversation Eric Holder Jr had hoped wouldn’t have been necessary to have with his son: how to handle racial profiling by the police.
After all, when Eric Holder Sr sat him down in the New York home decades earlier and told his son some facts of life, America was much different. Racist Jim Crow laws were still on the books in the South, the idea of a black man occupying the White House was unthinkable and having a man with Baja roots heading the United States Justice Department never crossed people’s minds.
But when America’s first black attorney-general travelled to New York the other day to address the annual convention of the National Action Network that’s led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, his father’s advice was ringing in his ears.
“Decades ago, the reality of racial profiling drove my father to sit down and talk with me about how – as a young black man – I should interact with the police if I was ever stopped or confronted in a way I felt unwarranted,” Holder told the predominantly black audience from across the United States, including men and women from Barbados, Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean.
“I thought of my father’s words years later – as a college student – I was pulled over twice on the New Jersey Turnpike and my car was searched – even though I was sure I hadn’t been speeding,” Holder recalled.
“I thought of them (father’s words) sometime after that, when a police officer stopped and questioned me in Washington when I was rushing to catch a movie – even though I happened to be a federal prosecutor at the time. And I couldn’t help but think of my father just a couple of years ago when I sat down to convey the same message to my own son after the shooting of Trayvon Martin [youth killed in Florida by George Zimmerman] – a conversation I hoped I’d never have to have.”
The attorney-general didn’t go into detail about his Bajan father’s words of wisdom. Holder Sr. a real estate broker in Queens, noted for his dignified bearing, penchant for education and firm conviction about the value of religion and that children should be raised in a cohesive family structure probably told his son to remain calm, watch his language, maintain his innocence and avoid any action that would provoke irresponsible or deadly action by cops.
It was the kind of advice a Bajan, now a Wall Street attorney, received from his parents’ years later and probably saved him from trouble with the law. He was rushing to catch a bus to go home after a hard day’s work in Brooklyn and two police officers saw him running and boarding the vehicle. The cops stopped the vehicle and ordered the youth to stand up and be searched. They found nothing illegal on him.
The fathers’ advice was the product of Bajan common sense. Holder’s father was born in St Joseph, the site of a judicial complex that bears his son’s name and was opened by him a few years ago while the Wall Street lawyer’s father lived in different parts of Barbados before emigrating to the United States more than 40 years ago.
Ever since Holder Jr became head of the Justice Department  in President Barack Obama’s cabinet, he has been the target of Republican fulmination on Capitol Hill. But he has kept his cool.
That may have angered the Republicans who voted in the House of Representatives to hold him in contempt of Congress, the only cabinet minister in US history to be so singled out. Even so, he has presided over a US Justice Department whose Civil Rights Division has filed more criminal civil rights cases in the past three years than at any other time in US history. Among them were record numbers of hate crime cases.