Lawyers Discuss Racism in Criminal Justice System

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- It's becoming a familiar tale of "driving while black" -- a carload of black men is pulled over by police who want to search for drugs even though there is no evidence the men are carrying drugs.

In this case, one of the men in the car was a Washington, D.C., public defender who sued the Maryland police and won a settlement. Robert Wilkins spoke about the 1992 incident during an American Bar Association discussion yesterday about racism in the criminal justice system.

Bill Lann Lee, the Justice Department's acting civil rights chief, told the audience, "We are talking about civil rights violations" in such incidents. "These stories are legion."

Lee said such practices also are bad law enforcement because while police might find small-time couriers, they may be "missing very big fish."

Lee said Attorney General Janet Reno is "convinced that you can have law enforcement that's sensitive to these issues, avoid racial profiling, and be effective."

"If we allow racial discrimination to occur, then we're just undermining the whole community policing concept," Lee said.

The moderator of the discussion, American University law professor Angela Jordan Davis, asked, "How is it that the issue of racism in criminal justice is still so pervasive in 1999? …