Metro-East News

August 13, 2014

East St. Louis man says racial profiling happens in metro-east

Lafayette Kennel watched the turmoil in Ferguson, Mo., from a unique perspective: He has witnessed police harassment first-hand.

Kennel, 34, of East St. Louis, said that from his perspective, some police officers stop youths, especially young black males, "by the way we dress -- jeans and a baseball cap. Or, a lot of times the police will stop you if you're driving a Chevy box car, a Cutlass or Buick Regal. They just pull you over because the cars are older models and are considered by the police to be dope or 'hood' cars," Kennel said.

Illinois State Police Capt. Jim Morrisey said that when police are working the streets, they are not out to target or profile certain individuals.

"In our investigations, we target criminal activity," Morrisey said. "The race or sex of a person is irrelevant to us. We don't randomly contact people based on race. We make contact with them based on our observations."

Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was unarmed when a police officer fatally shot him Saturday afternoon in Ferguson. The shooting sparked rioting, looting and a call for justice.

While some say police are trying to get a handle on crime and drug activity, others say their tactics have evolved into a staunch abuse of power that targets black youths.

Kennel said he knows what it feels like to be targeted because of race. Statistics showed that black males were stopped more often in Ferguson than other drivers. He believes these stops were predicated on race.

"When an officer stops a car, he says, 'Sir, can you please step out of the car? They ask you for your license and registration. Then they cuff you and tell you it is for safety reasons. They put you in their squad car. They also ask you if they can search your car. If you say no, they get the dog out and let him walk around your car to see if he smells (drugs)," Kennel said.

Kennel said it's his experience that police not only stop black males, but "they stop the white kids who are black, too. If they grew up in the black community, white kids might wear sagging pants or wear their hats cocked, too" Kennel said.

Kennel said he believes that sometimes the cops who come out particularly with an agenda to arrest and harass black males ... have attitudes. "If the police officer asks you something to get under your skin and you respond the way he wants you to, things probably won't go well for you. But, if you fall back, things might go all right," he said.

Kennel said some police routinely drive through the neighborhoods and projects stopping black males, looking for drugs. "They make you drop your pants and spread your cheeks. ... They're looking for drugs. They make us get naked. That's disrespectful to us. They do this outside in front of a lot of people, It's wrong and dehumanizing."

Not only can you be targeted for your race, "they profile you by the neighborhood where you live," he said.

The FBI are investigating the Brown shooting, and the officer involved has not been identified. Witnesses have said Brown had his hands raised in the air, in a defensive posture, when he was shot.

"It hurts me to look at Michael Brown's family and the pain they and the Ferguson community is feeling," Kennel said. "I want the looting to stop. It is hateful and it's hurting the people who work and live there. People have lost jobs and the people who live there do not have their stores. It's senseless."

Kennel, whose nickname on the streets was "Boss Hog," said he used to be "out on the street corners with other guys," but he put that life behind him. He said he knows the strained relationship that often exists between police and black youths in urban areas.

"I got locked up for four months in Menard and I saw that that was not the life for me. I watched about 30-40 young black men from our community come into the jail with 20 or more years to serve. I have three kids. I knew that was not what I wanted. I got out in September last year and I haven't had as much as a ticket since."

Kennel said he now works with community groups to help mentor young people.

Police have been given power and they need to make sure that they don't abuse it, Kennel said. Many since the Michael Brown killing have called for cops to have to take more sensitivity training.

"Just because a black male is wearing his pants sagging, that doesn't mean he is up to no good. And if a police officer had a bad experience with one black male, that is no guide to determine how another black male is," he said.


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