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California and the West

Controversial Racial Profiling Bill OKd

Legislature: Assembly gives approval over objections of minorities that plan is toothless. Senate passage expected.


SACRAMENTO — The California Assembly on Monday approved legislation aimed at stopping racial profiling by police--despite mounting opposition from critics who say it does nothing.

Lawmakers took up the bill, by state Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City), on their return from a monthlong summer recess. Aimed at ending widespread complaints by minorities about "driving while black" police stops, it requires officers to hand over a business card with their name on it to anyone they pull over.

The measure does not require law enforcement agencies to collect data on the race and ethnic background of those they stop, and does not force police to investigate complaints from those who receive the business cards.

Critics, including the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union, consider the bill toothless and a setback in a growing national crusade to pass tough laws against racial profiling.

Gov. Gray Davis last year vetoed a far stronger Murray bill containing the data collection requirement amid opposition from police groups, which were major contributors to Davis' 1998 election campaign.

Davis has promised to sign the latest legislation, which is a result of a compromise he reached with Murray. Nevertheless, opponents are staging a rally at the Capitol today to pressure the Democratic governor to change his mind. The bill still requires final Senate confirmation, which is expected easily.

"Communities of color do not support this bill," said Michelle Alexander, director of the ACLU's Racial Justice Project, the organizer of the protest. "This bill is a fraud. It will not do anything meaningful to stop racial profiling, and is simply pandering to police groups that have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to [Davis'] campaign."

The Davis-Murray compromise has unleashed a backlash among many leaders in California's Latino and black communities. Some have branded Murray, an African American who says that he himself was once a victim of racial profiling while driving his Corvette in Beverly Hills, a sellout.

On Monday, two leading black lawmakers in Washington, Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), blasted Davis for refusing to sign meaningful racial profiling legislation.

They vowed to make it an issue at the upcoming Democratic National Convention--a potentially embarrassing development for the governor, who is widely viewed as a rising star within the party.

"Data collection is critical to any meaningful effort to address the serious problem of racial profiling that has plagued communities of color for decades," Waters said.

Yet despite the growing criticism, Sacramento lawmakers strongly supported the compromise bill, calling it much better than nothing--and the most they are likely to get this year from the notoriously plodding Davis. It cleared the Assembly 63 to 1, after an emotional speech by Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar).

Cardenas, who is Latino, recalled what happened recently when his brother, an engineer, was driving to lunch with a white colleague, and a police cruiser pulled up alongside them.

The white man waved nicely to the police officer. Cardenas' brother gripped the wheel and looked forward, afraid of what might come next.

"My brother is a professional. He has never been in trouble in his life," Cardenas said. "But that's the kind of mentality that befalls an individual when they get pulled over as a teenager time and time again."

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