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House committee takes on racial profiling

Police car on the street at night

By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

A House committee took on an anti-racial profiling bill on Wednesday in a public hearing that sparked a debate between lawmakers on the realities of stopping the practice.

The House Judiciary Committee took up a bill being sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, that would allow the Attorney General’s Office to collect data on police stops where racial profiling may have been used.

Under the bill, a person’s race would need to be recorded in all traffic stops and not just citations or arrests.

Smitherman, who said he has been racially profiled, said the bill would help to identify those law enforcement officials who racially profile people they pull over.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman looks on as a bill collecting racial profiling data is debated in a House committee on March 7, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

During the hearing, multiple law enforcement speakers spoke about how the bill would present some logistical problems to their departments.

Bobby Timmons, the executive director of the Alabama Sheriff’s Association, said the bill would burden both filed officers and their home offices with additional paperwork.

State Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, was stern in her response.

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“People’s lives are worth more than paperwork,” Coleman said.

Coleman, an African-American legislator, said she and her family deal with racial profiling. Coleman said that she worries every time her teenage son leaves the house that he won’t come back.

The spirit of the bill seemed to be generally approved by the committee, but some expressed that the bill would not prevent racial profiling.

State Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Killen, said that there should be state laws that make racial profiling illegal so those law enforcement who practiced it could be put in jail. Pettus, a former state trooper, also expressed concerns that the bill would not prevent the practice.

Law enforcement representatives at the meeting had similar concerns as they pointed out that racially profiling was specifically prohibited in their code of conducts across the state. They also said departments around the state already record a person’s race when writing reports.

Coleman, an advocate of the bill, said that Alabama had not thoroughly collected data on racial profiling as the only statistics recorded were from arrests and citations. Smitherman’s bill would expand that data collection to all traffic stops.

The committee took no action on the bill Wedneday, but Chariman Jim Hill, R-Moody, said the bill would be voted on next week. In January, the Alabama Senate approved the bill 25-0.

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