PHILADELPHIA - The NAACP's Federal Sector Task Force announced plans yesterday to highlight discriminatory practices it claims occur frequently within the Department of Defense.
Task force members also vowed to continue challenging U.S. Customs Service officials on strip searches of blacks, particularly women, as they re-enter the United States.
"You'll see the Department of Defense come under vigorous attack," said Leroy W. Warren Jr., task force chairman, at the quarterly meeting here of the 64-member board of directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Among key issues being discussed are racial profiling, mandatory sentencing, a moratorium on the death penalty and voter registration. Warren, who lives in Silver Spring, Montgomery County, talked angrily about hiring practices at the Defense Department, which he said keeps blacks and other minorities out of key positions.
He said his task force will present detailed evidence in December, and he accused Defense Secretary William S. Cohen of not being serious about equal employment.
Pentagon spokesman Timothy Blair said he was not aware of widespread complaints by blacks or other minorities, adding that Defense Department officials are "pretty proud of our record overall."
Blair said it is hard to comment on the allegations without having specific data or complaints before him.
"I don't know what this is all about," Blair said. "I have been in the military for 11 years and have gone to several places and held several positions.
"This is my opinion, that it really is not a discriminatory organization. The opportunities are tremendous for men and women, regardless of race and ethnic backgrounds."
On the issue of racial profiling at airports nationwide, Warren and other NAACP members said something must be done soon.
"It's predominantly African-Americans being stopped, coming from countries they [customs officials] deem to be drug countries," said Lacy Steele, an NAACP board member from Seattle. He said NAACP members across the country must pressure their members of Congress next year to pass a bill prohibiting racial profiling by the Customs Service.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Customs Service, denied allegations of racial profiling. "We do not search people based on race, gender and ethnicity," Boyd said.
According to information released yesterday, the Customs Service began "a series of reforms" in late 1998 to ensure that people are not searched based solely on their race or gender.
The report said that in fiscal 2000, the Customs Service processed nearly 80 million international air passengers. Of those, 9,008 - about one in every 8,900 - underwent personal searches.
The report also said that in fiscal 2000, the Customs Service conducted 60 percent fewer searches of black air passengers than in fiscal 1998 - 2,437 vs. 6,141 - and that during the same period, it conducted 82 percent fewer searches of Latino air passengers - 2,731 vs. 14,951.