fresh voices from the front lines of change







At the Take Back the American Dream conference Wednesday, strategies and tactics were weaved with moving personal stories at a session on racial profiling with Gaby Pacheco, Rashad Robinson, Jasiri X, and moderator Cathy Montoya.

The panelists described racial profiling as a form of both physical and psychological violence that affects communities of color and, indirectly, communities as a whole. For example, if a hate crime is committed against an undocumented person or if an undocumented woman is raped, then there is almost zero chance that they will report the crime for fear of being deported. This makes communities less safe overall, according to panelists Pacheco and Montoya.

The conversation extended beyond the impact of Trayvon Martin, the Florida youth whose death by gunshot has ignited a national debate on race and “stand your ground” gun laws. Pacheco pointed out that such violence against black and Latino communities happens on a daily basis. The only difference was that their names did not trend on Twitter or hit the front pages of prominent national newspapers. As activists, it is our job to either create our own media or push the mainstream media to tell the stories of people who become victims of racial profiling. It is how we can politicize otherwise unconvinced people to rally to our side.

The Importance of Stories

Each panelist spoke of some type of personal experience with racial profiling. The panelists noted that experience of being stopped and assumed to be undocumented is parallel to the experience of a young black man being stopped by the police. The panelists and the audience both emphasized the commonalities between communities.

As an organizing tactic, Rashad Robinson pointed out that publicizing people’s personal stories in the media could move people who weren’t already on our side. Robinson also said that progressives needed to start talking to people outside the base through strategies such as building common ground through personal stories.

Audience members also shared their personal stories of racial profiling. Adam, a 17 year-old from Durham, N.C., once questioned a police officer’s rationale for profiling him and violating his rights. The officer then told Adam that he had no rights. Montoya, who is of Korean-Latino descent and says that she carries her passport with her everywhere in the South, recounted her experience of a Korean police officer profiling her in Alabama. Jasiri X shared the story of a 13 year-old black boy in Milwaukee who was shot by his 75 year-old white neighbor’s house for allegedly robbing the man’s house.

Combating History through New Tactics

Every panelist saw storytelling itself as a powerful organizing tactic. Jasiri X brought in the elements of art and culture as important tactics for telling stories. Hip-hop started as a mechanism for social commentary, and progressives can use that as a tool for spreading messages to communities of color about their experiences. Montoya especially emphasized the role of Latino hip-hop artists in the South in bridging the divides between black and Latino youth.

The panel also discussed mobile applications such as the one developed by the Sikh Coalition that can be used to report airport profiling. Websites such as Copwatch can also be used to monitor the behavior of the police, especially towards people of color. Recording a police officer’s actions and using social media to draw attention to racial profiling are all strategies that progressives can use to engage people outside the activist community.

The general consensus focused on a desire to engage people outside the progressive community in creative, innovative methods designed for and by the people who are most deeply affected by racial profiling and racist legislation. Empowering communities of color through various organizing tactics and social media can be the solution to a culture that justifies rampant profiling of black and brown youth.

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