In this episode of Law Talk, we're going to discuss a controversial topic: racial bias by law enforcement. Fasten your seat belts, because you're in for a bumpy ride. You may not like what you read below or hear in our video.
You might be wondering, what do two middle-aged white guys know about racial bias and profiling by the police. The answer is, while we are certainly not going to understand how it feels first hand to be treated differently because of the color of our skin, we have decades of experience defending minorities who have been unjustly targeted or unfairly treated by the police, and we can tell you, without a doubt, that these issues exist.
To be blunt, if we have a black client who tells us they believe they were targeted for "Driving While Black," we believe him. Because all of our experience tells us this was likely the case.
Here's the truth: race matters. The reality is, in confrontations, interactions and communications with law enforcement, it can be all about race. And we're not just talking about African Americans: anyone with a darker complexion or Latino features is more likely to be arrested or treated more harshly by the police.
We're not saying that all police officers treat minorities unfairly. Police, prosecutors and judges and even jurors may insist that these biases do not exist. But what we can tell you is the facts don't lie. Not only has our experience defending hundreds of cases overwhelmingly revealed racial bias, but there are hard facts that prove it to be so. Statistically, you are much more likely to be arrested if you are a young black male than any other segment of the population. What's more, people of color statistically receive harsher sentences when they are convicted of a crime.
Compounding this issue is the fact that juries tend to be overwhelmingly white. In Pierce County, for example, which has a large non-white population, overwhelmingly the people who respond to jury summons are white. This can affect a jury's ability to relate to you as a minority defendant.
Why is it important to choose attorneys who understand these issues? Because we accept them as fact and are able to use them to our advantage in defending our clients. We don't sweep racial bias under the rug: we address it directly in how we scrutinize our cases.
Because of the number of cases we have defended and our years of experience dealing with law enforcement in Tacoma, Seattle, and surrounding communities, we not only know which police departments have a greater history of unfair treatment, but the specific officers that are known for bending the rules related to racial profiling and biased treatment of minorities and people of color.
As an example, North Tacoma is an area that is more prone to racial profiling. This area of Tacoma is predominantly white and upper class, and the hard truth is that a person of color stands out and is more likely to be deemed as suspicious, both by the public and by the police.
Knowing that racial bias by law enforcement is a legitimate concern is all well and good once you have an attorney representing you who understands this issue, but it's just as important that you are aware of how to handle this bias before an issue arises with the police. As a person of color, what should you do if you are pulled over while driving or are accosted by a police officer and you believe race or skin color was a motivating factor?
The best thing that you can do for yourself, in that moment, is do not resist. Regardless of how unfairly you believe you are being treated, that last thing you want to do is exacerbate the situation by becoming argumentative or refusing to comply with commands. If the police officer feels he or she has probable cause to detain or arrest you, they are going to do it. It is your attorney's job to sort all of this out in your defense. Resisting arrest just adds more ammunition to the police officer's case, and also increases the chance of you being hurt in the process. As frustrating, and even as humiliating as it might be, remain calm, respectful and compliant.