On October 14th 2014, a conference held at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez campus (UPRM), recruited the expertise of UPRM professor, Dr. Christopher Powers, Att. José Negrón Rodríguez, and UPRM student Brendan O’Boyle to discuss the heated topic of racial profiling. Panelists challenged ethical perspectives present in society and its government, particularly in relation to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson County.
The conference opened with the following statement by Dr. Powers, in response to a question about the meaning of racial profiling: “Racism is persistent. Racial profiling exists because power exists. Those in charge separate the society in order to strike fear and control populations.” He added that race is not an anthropological or biological fact, but an invention of man to distinguish amongst people.
Regarding racial distinctions, Att. José Negrón commented: “Racial profiling happens geographically. Depending where you are is where you’ll see it in different races. For example, you may not see much of it in Mayagüez; however, in San Juan, Dominicans have a lot of problems being victims of racial profiling. Depending on the location is where the issue arises. It is a problem which is very abundant where it’s legal.”
To deal with the problem, Negrón recommended that civilians know their rights. “However, there’s a problem with this. With a show of hands, how many of you have read the Bill of Rights?” A deafening silence fell in the conference room.
“See? Very few people take the time to read the bill and familiarize themselves with what their rights actually are.” The attorney providedd the audience with brochures with information of people’s rights.
Brendan O’Boyle’s perspectives on racial profiling were personal. He described his experience with racial profiling in Puerto Rico. “There have been occasions where, just because I’m white, have blonde hair and blue eyes and am an American, people assume that I’m rich and ask me to go back to my homeland because ‘I don’t belong in this country.’”
Att. José Negrón explained that while racial profiling also affects people with financial status, “the poorer you are or your population is, the more likely you are to be racially profiled by police officers.”
The attorney’s claim is exemplified by recent events in Ferguson with the death of African American youth Michael Brown, 17, who was shot multiple times by Caucasian officer Darren Wilson. News reports published in Russia Today (RT) stated that “the police chief said the officer fired multiple times, but was reluctant to give more details because he didn’t want to “prejudice” the case.” The police department received explosive responses from the public. “Many protesters who have spoken with The Huffington Post over the last week said that some immediate justice for Brown’s killing would go a long way.” Stated an article published in The Huffington Post. This event was brought up in the conference.
Dr. Powers provided his personal standpoint on the Ferguson issue: “By what standard of police measures is it justified to shoot an unarmed teenage boy multiple times after initially shooting him in the head? It shows how minority lives have less value in face of justice.”