Activists Hope Race Forum Will Help Relations Profiling, Community Policing, Imprisoned Minorities Likely Topics

Article excerpt

Byline: Alliniece T. Andino, Times-Union staff writer

Human rights activists hope a televised event tonight and other efforts will keep Jacksonville from becoming the next Cincinnati.

Cincinnati is the city many people use as the most recent example of race relations gone wrong. A race riot was ignited after police shot and killed a black man.

To confront one aspect of race issues, the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission and WJCT TV-7 invited several panelists and a few hundred residents to River City Speaks: A Dialogue on Police, Race and Justice, which will be aired live at 8 p.m. on WJCT.

"I want to get people talking. I want to get them involved," said Leslie Hardy, a member of the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission and its subcommittee on Community and Police Relations. "We felt that this would be a means to improve or start dialogue in the community about issues concerning justice and race."

Topics that will likely surface include racial profiling, community policing and the disproportionately high number of minorities in jails and prisons.

Chief Assistant Public Defender Bill White, who will be a panelist, said some issues generated within his department deal with how a mostly white justice system -- police, judges, lawyers, prosecutors and jurors -- relates to African-American defendants.

"Do we speak the same language? What do African-Americans know about day-to-day life the rest of us don't understand?" White said.

White judges and prosecutors who come in little contact with blacks may have a harder time believing that race is even a factor in the legal system, he said.

Airing these issues through the forum should improve the situation, White said.

"The subject of race is taboo. …