Conyers hopeful new racial profiling ban bill will pass

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr.'s bill to prohibit racial profiling has failed in every Congress since 2001, but he said Wednesday that his latest legislation will be different because it follows a string of high-profile police shootings.

"This issue is being watched now like it never was when I started introducing this," said Conyers, a Democrat representing Detroit and the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee. "It's a different scene. People are sensitive to this, and the media's reporting each incident."

Conyers said he had the support of 82 co-sponsors prior to the bill's introduction Wednesday — more than in any other session. U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

The End Racial Profiling Act would require federal law-enforcement agencies to stop the practice of racial profiling and hold local agencies to the same standard if they want to qualify for federal grants.

It would require retraining of law-enforcement officers on how to discontinue racial profiling, said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, a co-sponsor.

"This creates a federal prohibition against racial profiling, and you can be prosecuted or you can be held accountable," Lee said. "It mandates data collection."

The legislation appears to face an uphill battle in a Congress where Republicans control both the House and the Senate.

Appearing with the lawmakers were members of a group of 70 activists who marched from New York City to Washington to protest the unequal treatment of blacks by police.

"What (the bill) was missing before was a grassroots movement," said Linda Sarsour, who helped organize the march.

The lawmakers and advocates highlighted recent instances of police killings of unarmed black men, including Walter Scott who was shot in the back in South Carolina, and Freddie Gray, who died after he was injured while in Baltimore police custody.

Conyers has called for a federal investigation into the arrest and beating of Detroiter Floyd Dent by Inkster police at a traffic stop. Charges of cocaine possession against Dent were dismissed Wednesday at Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's request. On Tuesday fired officer William Melendez was charged with misconduct in office and assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder.