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What The Racial And Identity Profiling Act Can Teach Everyone About Bias

An installation at the San Diego Museum of Man's exhibit on race features sel...

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Above: An installation at the San Diego Museum of Man's exhibit on race features self-portraits of San Diego teenagers, who worked with City Heights-based The Aja Project and were asked to capture how they wanted to be represented, July 25, 2018.

The law requires officers track their perceptions about people they stop to evaluate if they exhibit bias. This process can also be enlightening for the public.

Transcript

A series of protests claiming police brutality along racial lines erupted across the U.S. in 2014 after the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a Democratic legislator from San Diego, said she watched the national movement unfold on TV with her son.

"He says, 'Mom, you know what, we’re in the streets and just raising issues, but the reality is you and Speaker Atkins have the juice' — that’s exactly what he said, he said, 'the juice' — 'and you can do something about it,'" Weber said in an interview with KPBS.

The law she later sponsored that the Legislature passed in 2015 established a statewide system of data collection and analysis to identify and address any potential bias among law enforcement but also highlights a process of awareness that the public can employ to confront their own biases.

RELATED: How One San Diego Agency Is Complying With Law To Combat Racial Profiling

The law requires officers to document what they think is the race, ethnicity, gender and other information about the people they stop. Weber said tracking these perceptions is key to identifying any instances of profiling by police.

“You look at a person and they’re really multiracial but you stopped them because they look Hispanic, or you stopped them because they look African American or their head is wrapped and they look Muslim, so the issue is not what we are, it’s what people think we are and we stop them based on that," Weber said.

The San Diego Museum of Man's Sydney Garcia, who was not commenting on the law directly, said questioning your perceptions of others helps you recognize bias.

Museum of Man Trainings

The Museum of Man offers guided tours through its exhibit, Race: Are We So Different, that includes discussions and workshops around race and identity. For more information, visit museumofman.org/race or email education@museumofman.org. Registration begins Aug. 6.

"The implicit ones are the ones we aren't aware of until somebody brings them out or until we start to be more self-conscious and self-reflect about how we move about in the world," said Garcia, an anthropologist and education specialist on race, equity and social justice.

For example, she said her last name and light-colored skin leads many people to believe she is Hispanic, but she identifies as black, referencing her "multi-ancestral" background.

“When people meet me for the first time they go, 'Oh I wasn’t expecting that,' or 'I wouldn’t have guessed that,' or 'Are you sure?' kind of questions," she said.

Garcia said that feeling of surprise demonstrates a bias, and she helps community members uncover that at the museum's exhibit, "Race: Are We So Different?"

She said expectations of a person’s appearance or personality have been shaped throughout history. She pointed to a past IQ test that gave soldiers two minutes to look at modified pictures, including a bowler with no bowling ball and a house without a chimney, and draw what was missing. But she said for people who grew up in an area without bowling or had different-looking homes, they scored poorly.

"Say you have a bunch of people emigrating from a certain country, they all do poorly on this test, and the thought is, 'Oh that’s because this group of people is less intelligent,'" she said.

Garcia said addressing these or other misconceptions requires both awareness and taking action.

For law enforcement, the Racial and Identity Profiling Act mandates officers realize their perceptions by logging them, and the law also created an advisory board to help take action, if necessary.

Co-Chair Andrea Guerrero said the board will use the perception data to inform policy and training recommendations. She said the group will be looking for how the demographics of people stopped by law enforcement agents compare to the demographics of the area the officers patrol.

“If officer A and officer B are in the same beat and we’re still seeing a disparity, then we need to look deeper," said Guerrero, who also leads the nonprofit Alliance San Diego.

She said the law was a grand step toward accountability for a group that exercises significant authority.

“In order for us to grant that authority we need to be vigilant how it’s used," she said.

Weber says even her son was impressed with the law's passing.

"He thinks I’m the most powerful woman he’s ever met which is unusual because he didn’t think that before and he’s in his 30s," she said.

But the law applies only to police. Realizing your bias is still optional. For you, there’s the Museum of Man.

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