This poem is loosely based on the story of James Hatsuki Wakasa, a Japanese internee who was shot by a guard at an internee camp in Topaz, Utah on April 11, 1943, because he was supposedly “escaping.” In reality, he was behind the fence the whole time, and thus shot for reason at all. Wakasa’s story was one of the more egregious examples of blatant racism and racial profiling that I came across in my research. In this conversation poem I wanted to explore the differences between what the U.S, government said they were doing to the Japanese-Americans, and the true reality that the Japanese-Americans faced in not having a voice to speak out in the camps.
This poem also works to move our overall narrative structure along, as a portion of the top left stanza is the official language that the government used to tell the Japanese-Americans of their fate. However, I didn’t really think the official government language was conducive to poetry, so I combined it with a more lyrical approach to get more emotion in the piece. This poem is mostly based on Wakasa’s story, but does not mention him by name so as to encompass the injustices of all the internees; Wakasa’s story or similar stories of reality distortion and disillusion could be the story of any internee who was racially profiled or exploited at this time.
I wrote a bunch of drafts for this poem, some general and some more specific to Wakasa’s story, before finally settling on this version of “Disillusion.” I struggled with developing both voices and giving them equal say in the matter, instead of writing purely from the viewpoint of someone who thinks that racially profiling is wrong. Similar to the other poems, I had to find the right balance between incorporating facts and raw emotion, and seeing how these elements differed depending on the “speaker” on each side of the poem.
This archive from the Data Collection Resource Center at Northeastern University contains a variety of articles and statistics of post-9/11 racial profiling in the United States. The United States is a free country, but as these articles, statistics, and other news stories show, there are still numerous examples of racial profiling and stereotyping within our free borders. The U.S. government has revamped security after 9/11, but at what cost, and is there any way for racial profiling to be fully eradicated?
This archive contains a variety of interviews of Japanese-Americans who were interned in various camps during World War II. The internees had different stories and ways of dealing with their lack of liberties, and served as inspiration for our poems. Each story is horrible and chilling, and lets people appreciate the rights and liberties that we can enjoy today in the United States. It is important to remember, though, that these rights are intended for every American citizen, not just citizens born in the United States. As we hope our blog shows, racial profiling is still present in the United States, and people need to be educated about the negative impact of racial profiling so that it can be stopped in the future.
Here are a few clips that depict racial profiling from the movie Crash, by director Paul Haggis. The movie was released in 2004, and contains multiple story lines of families of different races and backgrounds–white, Latino, African-American, Muslim, Asian, etc. I feel that the general arch of this movie contextualizes the opposing sides of racial profiling in the United States. On its most basic level, the movie is about the six-degrees of separation for people, as it portrays the intersecting lives of multiple families. In the beginning of the movie, the majority of the characters are very racist, and seem to have little or no redeeming qualities. For example, Sandra Bullock’s character racially profiles two African-Americans who end up stealing her car at gunpoint, and she later profiles the Latino man who is fixing her house locks as a gangbanger. The Latino locksmith is actually a caring family man, who only wants to protect his young daughter from the evils of the world that she will grow up in. There is also a young, white cop, played by Ryan Phillippe, who seems to be above the inherent racism and sexism of his partner. However, by the end of the movie, most of the seemingly racist characters like Sandra Bullock have a redeeming quality, while the seemingly good character, like Ryan Phillippe, makes a horrible decision that centers on racial profiling, shooting an innocent and unarmed black man.
The movie seems to say that since racial profiling is so ingrained in our society, it will be hard to eradicate it entirely. As Phillippe’s shooting shows, even the people that don’t seem racist might have a moment of weakness, and sometimes that moment of weakness can have fatal consequences. Yet the movie can also be interpreted with a more positive tone. By the end, Sandra Bullock gains an appreciation for her Latino housemaid that she didn’t have before, and many of the other main characters who made seemed bad are able to redeem their past mistakes.
I would definitely recommend watching this movie if you haven’t already. Some of the blatant racism can be jarring the first time you watch it, but I think that it allows viewers to meditate deeply on pertinent race issues that have to be improved upon in the future.
This article on CNN.com relates to the compare/contrast post that we plan on completing soon for the blog. The article seems to be written from the perspective that racial profiling is bad, but presents examples that can help better flesh out the arguments for and against racial profiling in the United States.
As the article states, “…New York police are allowed to stop and question anyone on the street if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person was involved in illegal activity, is about to commit a crime or is carrying a gun.” (CNN) The New York Police Department is allowed to “stop, question, and frisk” anyone who they deem suspicious and capable of (or already committing) a crime. The article adds, “Close to 700,000 of the searches took place in New York last year, a record number.” (CNN)
The police argue that this “frisking” policy takes lots of guns off the streets, and thus theoretically limits the violence in the area. New York City Council Member Peter Vallone Jr. says, “’Stop, question and frisk’ takes about 800 guns a year off the streets.” (CNN) I think that this practice is overstepping the boundaries of being a free citizen.
While the number of police “frisk” searches have greatly increased in the last few years, the number of shootings in the city has stayed roughly the same. According to the article, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly “testified that 96% of shooting victims in New York are people of color and therefore, stopping and questioning suspicious individuals in minority communities is justified. He said about half of the stops actually result in a “limited pat-down” and only 9% result in a more thorough search.” (CNN) Delores Jones-Brown, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, said, “the majority of people who are stopped are black, followed by Hispanics, then white people.” (CNN) Jones-Brown adds, “Almost 90% of those stops do not result in an arrest or a summons being issued.” (CNN) If the searching leads to little or no arrests, then the process would appear to be futile. If police were really concerned with stopping violent crimes and getting criminals off the streets, they would utilize their time and resources better. Instead of wasting their time inconveniencing innocent people, they would work towards finding the real criminals and searching them. For innocent people will be really inconvenienced if they are robbed from or murdered by a criminal that the police could have stopped with better preparation.
The fact that the police are trying to put an end to violence and death on the streets is definitely a good thing. However, who is to judge the appearance of “suspicious individuals?” Should the police be passing judgment on people who are probably innocent, or are there no other options to ensure the safety of the community? The CNN article also alludes to the prospect of racial profiling by the NYPD, as most of the “suspicious individuals” are nonwhite. Just because people might wear baggy pants or bandanas, doesn’t mean that they are part of a gang. Same with tattoos and smoking, or any other minuscule thing that the police can determine as “suspicious.” Most of these examples have worked their way into everyday American fashion and social norms, and as the above studies seem to indicate, most people are not criminals.
According to the RAND Corporation, a non-profit research organization for the public and private sectors, “In 2006, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) stopped a half-million pedestrians for suspected criminal involvement. Raw statistics for these encounters suggest large racial disparities, [as] 89 percent of the stops involved nonwhites.” (RAND)
I do not think that these “frisk” searches are the solution, as they present an inherently racial bias/profiling. Even if the police officer is not racist, there is no way around the problem that if you stop someone who is a different race then you, you will be called out for racial profiling. If the government needs to have probable cause to search someone’s home, or wiretap their phone, then this same law should carry over to free citizens walking or driving on the streets. Unless there is probable cause to search someone, the police need to mind their own business. For example, just because the majority of shooting victims in New York are nonwhite, doesn’t mean that every minority is carrying a gun and intends to commit a crime. That is not to say that the police shouldn’t stay vigilant on the job; that is what they are trained and paid to do. If they think someone is suspicious, they need to search them. But if they think that the person is “suspicious” in the more racial context, they need to find other solutions than just frisking them and violating the person’s liberties. Otherwise, police officers lose their credibility and authority with the general public. People won’t listen to officers who they recognize as racist, especially in communities where minorities and people of color are present. For police officers to be truly effective, they have to prove to the public by their actions and conduct that they treat every citizen equally, no matter the citizen’s race, which in this country means innocent until proven guilty, or innocent until proven suspicious. If officers spend most of their time conducting futile searches on innocent people, they risk the chance that true criminals are able to slip though the cracks.
After reading the posts on WomenBehindBars, I thought this was another interesting case of racial profiling that took place well before 9/11. Similar to Susan Smith, who originally accused an unnamed (an unreal) black man of murdering her two young children, Charles Stuart murdered his pregnant wife and was able to briefly convince Boston police that a black man had carjacked them and killed them. Stuart beat himself to show that he had been attacked. He gave the police a description of this supposed black man, and eventually picked one out of a lineup at the police station. This black man, Willie Bennet, was held for a time before Stuart’s brother told police that Charles was the murderer. Soon after, Charles Stuart committed suicide by jumping off the Tobin Bridge.
More information about the specifics of this case can be found on Wikipedia.