Bush team has no tolerance for the truth about racial profiling

September 02, 2005|By David A. Love

IN BUSH COUNTRY, racial profiling does not exist.

Recently, the administration demoted Lawrence A. Greenfeld, the head of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, after he refused to remove from a press release newly compiled data on the racial profiling of black and Latino drivers.

In 2001, Mr. Bush appointed Mr. Greenfeld to head the 50-employee agency within the Justice Department. The bureau produces annual reports on police tactics, crime statistics, prisons and drugs.

Mr. Greenfeld's problems began when the agency was to announce an important report on racial profiling and traffic stops by the police.

The study, based on 80,000 interviews in 2002, found that although black, white and Latino drivers were stopped by the police at roughly the same rate - about 9 percent - they did not face the same treatment after they were stopped.

It found that whites were searched a mere 3.5 percent of the time, but black drivers were searched 10.2 percent of the time and Latino drivers were searched 11.4 percent of the time.

Police were more likely to issue tickets to Latinos, as opposed to letting them off with a warning.

Compared with whites, black drivers were more likely to be arrested, more likely to be searched and more likely to have force used against them during traffic stops.

Mr. Greenfeld's supervisors crossed out the references to the racial disparities in the draft of the report, leaving only the wording that whites, blacks and Hispanics were stopped at about the same rate, and ordered him to make the changes to the final press release. He refused, arguing that to do so would be misleading.

Personnel officials told Mr. Greenfeld, a 23-year veteran of the agency, that he was being replaced as director and was urged to resign six months before his scheduled retirement with full pension benefits. He is expected to take a lesser position at another agency.

To make sound policy decisions, people in power need accurate information. If biased or incorrect data are released, agencies and policymakers cannot focus on the real problems at hand, and taxpayers are cheated.

The Greenfeld ousting is not a new Bush tactic. Truth-seekers and truth-tellers in the Bush administration have previously been banished or targeted for retribution.

The Pentagon suddenly announced the retirement of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki after he told Congress in February 2003 that the occupation of Iraq could require several hundred thousand troops.

And the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame was leaked at a time when White House officials sought to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. Mr. Wilson was highly critical of the administration, and claimed that Mr. Bush went to war with Iraq relying on faulty intelligence.

Mr. Greenfeld's case is not much different. He was essentially demoted for wanting unfiltered, unmanipulated data to speak for itself.

Racial profiling is real. Members of the media and government officials have been skeptical about the existence of the problem, even when police misconduct was in the national spotlight in the 1990s. They wanted proof beyond anecdotal evidence.

They got it. Now the Bush administration is whisking it under the rug.

But the problem won't go away.

And neither will the Bush administration's policy of fixing the facts and blaming the messenger.

David A. Love is a lawyer in Philadelphia.

Columnist Trudy Rubin is traveling.

Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services

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