Amnesty International to hold racial profiling hearings

ATLANTA, Ga. - Amnesty International USA will hold Congressional-type hearings around the country this fall on racial profiling. The hearings are set for Chicago on Sept. 23, Tulsa on Sept. 30, and New York City on Oct. 2.

Amnesty International feels that significant ground has been lost in the battle against racial profiling since the 9/11 tragedy. Attorney General John Ashcroft had promised to end racial profiling before 9/11, but since then he has implemented as the "Special Registration" program that targets visitors from predominantly Muslim countries and North Korea for registration and interrogation. The AI hearings will be focused on examining the practice of racial profiling as it affects a range of ethnic minorities in the U.S. and as it is practiced by law enforcement agencies on every level. Special attention will be paid to practices employed in the "War on Drugs" and "War on Terror."

The testimony will be divided in three sections: racial profiling by local law enforcement, racial profiling by federal law enforcement (including INS), and racial profiling by airport security. Profiling by private security (at shopping malls, for instance) may be included in some cities. The goals of the hearings are to create public awareness that racial profiling is a violation of international human rights standards and to help pass legislation that will address racial profiling and will bring the U.S. into greater compliance with CERD (Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination), the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), and other human rights agreements to which the nation is a party.

Suha Dabbouseh, the membership coordinator for AI's southern office, spoke with Indian Country Today about the hearings. "Amnesty International reports human rights abuses and violations," Dabbouseh said. "Two of our priorities are the 'War on Terror' and discrimination. We are doing a series of congressional-style racial profiling hearings throughout the country. Thematically it will deal with pre- and post-9/11 profiling. Even before 9/11, profiling affected many communities. We are trying to talk to a wide array of community members, including the Native American community, the Muslim community, and the Arab community."

AI is hoping to have as many people at the hearings as possible. "We want to have people testify as to what their experiences have been, we want to hear the narrative," Dabbouseh said. "We will include the testimony in the report we are compiling in regard to racial profiling in the United States. The report will not only be about Tulsa, but also the other cities where we are having hearings. We in the southern region decided to pick Tulsa, as opposed to a place like Atlanta, because we wanted to go with a smaller city where we feel there could be a problem. It's cities like Tulsa that are not getting that attention. We hope to have a presence in these communities after the hearings, and that these communities will use our findings to increase the coalition work they are doing on racial profiling. We know that Oklahoma has a law in the books against racial profiling; however, as it stands there is no requirement for collecting any of that data."

AI is hoping to that the Native American community will help to spread the word about the hearings, especially the Tulsa hearing, which will take place at Tulsa's Greenwood Cultural Center (322 N. Greenwood). Tulsa is unique is having one of the largest Indian populations in the country. "We need help with coverage, getting the word out to the community, whether that is putting it on a list server, putting out a bulletin, or by word of mouth," Dabbouseh said. "We are trying to secure testimony. If people feel insecure or uncomfortable giving their name, there is anonymity, or they can choose written testimony and have an advocate read that testimony, or the people can testify themselves. We have a form that we are asking people to fill out so we can get a sense of how many people we have." AI offers the form online, which can be printed out and sent into the organization. All submissions will be kept confidential upon request.

For more information, or to download the form for the upcoming hearings, visit amnestyusa.org, or call (617) 623-0202. To contact Tulsa's Greenwood Cultural Center, call (918) 596-1020.