Thursday, February 25, 2016

Motorcycle clubs accuse police profiling

A motorcyclist enjoying his classic Harley-Davidson Knucklehead and minding his own business

ST. Paul, Minnesota - 2/24/2015
A minority group claims its members are being unfairly profiled, stopped by police for no valid reason, and it’s demanding a bill to prevent it.

The legislation, put before the Minnesota Senate Judiciary Committee Monday by Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, requires Minnesota’s Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training to develop a statewide policy to eliminate motorcyclist profiling, including methods to identify and avoid it. It also requires every law enforcement agency in the state to have “a written anti-motorcycle profiling policy.”

In testimony, several members of Minnesota motorcycle clubs laid out a litany of their own experiences: Officers they believed had pulled them over on trumped-up pretenses questioned them about who they were and why they were in their community and, in some cases, photographed their tattoos and patches.

“It’s my constitutional right to be in a motorcycle club,” said Jim Jahnke of Rochester, the national vice president of the Sons of Silence Motorcycle Club.

“I am not a criminal. … I think law enforcement is ill-educated,” said Jahnke’s wife, Audrey Jahnke.

After Frank Ernst of Chanhassen, representing American Bikers for Awareness Training and Education of Minnesota, described an instance in which he said he was pulled over by an officer who claimed he hadn’t seen Ernst’s protective eye wear, which he was wearing, Senate finance Chair Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, asked if Ernst had filed any complaint with the agency in question.

Ernst said he hadn’t but that he would in the future.

Jim Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, along with a representative of the Minnesota State Patrol both testified they had not found evidence of a single complaint filed against law enforcement agencies concerning profiling motorcyclists.

The not-so-subtle implication: That might be a good place to start.

Mimicking the testimony of Nathan Gove, executive director of the officer standards and training board, Franklin said current statutes and guidelines already required impartiality as well as arrests based on “reasonable suspicion and probable cause.”

“This (legislation) is unnecessary because of existing law,” Franklin said, before noting he himself rode horses, often had crap on his boots — but looked forward to having discussions with people to help them understand that cowboys weren’t so bad.

He suggested motorcyclists do the same.

From truckers to farmers to the Amish, Franklin said that over the years, certain groups have claimed they were targeted by law enforcement.

As for officers asking questions, “we have to learn what’s new in our community,” Franklin said, adding that “many of our law enforcement officers are riders.”

The discussion about profiling by police in America largely concerns race, and pretty much everyone in the audience who came to observe Monday’s hearing on the issue was white.

But the basis of the alleged profiling was the same: Bikers were being discriminated against, they said, because of the way they looked and what they wore and drove.

Still, Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said that if the Minnesota Legislature was going to draft a law against profiling, there were better places to start — including efforts that are already more than a decade old.

“While profiling of bikers is likely a problem in our state, the problem of racial profiling remains one of the significant issues that has yet to be addressed,” Levy-Pounds said, noting that after a 2003 legislative task force study on racial profiling concluded blacks and Latinos were disproportionately stopped by police, “we tried to bring some bills forward, but nothing significant has happened.”

Unlike the motorcycle bill, which Osmek admitted was based on anecdotal evidence, the task force study collected data from 65 law enforcement agencies.

The peace officer standards and training board objected to any profiling legislation at the time, saying it unfairly indicted all officers.

Motorcyclists testified Monday that they were sent on their way after 20 minutes to an hour of questioning by police — in all but one case without a citation.

Levy-Pounds posited that racial profiling had led to disproportionate lengths of incarceration for African-Americans, and worse.

“It’s an inconvenience (for motorcyclists), but thankfully it has not been a matter of life or death,” she said, “and it gives a small taste of the routine experiences of African-Americans, whether they are driving in a car, walking down the street or riding a motorcycle.”

Said Osmek: “I’ll leave that to the NAACP. I’m focusing on something that constituents brought to me that they had issue with.”

Osmek said that after the meeting, he urged motorcyclists to file complaints and collect data on their own in order to make a stronger case.

Source: Daily Globe