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Is it ‘racial profiling’ or a reasonable police response to crimes?

Original post made by Jay Thorwaldson, editor emeritus, on Oct 31, 2008

Is telling police to check out persons of color unconstitutional bias or a reasonable police response to witness' reports of crimes?

A follow-up meeting Thursday evening between Palo Alto police brass and about 40 residents concerned about crime and safety shifted abruptly into a concern about race or ethnic background.

That explosively emotional topic quickly spiraled out of control to a national-media level.

Here, without the overlay of emotional response to what was reported, is more or less what happened:

In response to a question by frequent police critic Aram James, Chief Lynne Johnson said she has instructed officers that they should question persons of color who match descriptions of men who have been seen stealing from people's homes and cars or who have engaged in a series of terrifying strong-arm robberies mostly targeting women walking alone.

That does not mean all persons of color, though. And Johnson never used the term, "racial profiling," that showed up in national headlines.

Things got worse when she later said in a post-meeting television interview that because one robber near the California Avenue train station was described as an African Amercian man wearing a "do-rag" head bandanna that she would expect her officers to stop and identify any African American man seen wearing a do-rag. One can almost hear do-rags being doffed by everyone.

Mayor Larry Klein responded strongly Friday afternoon, calling that statement on its face "unacceptable, unconstitutional and un-American."

Most but not all burglars and robbers spotted by witnesses were described as black (or "dark-skinned") or Hispanic -- some were white. But police aren't stopping white drivers or people walking around town, unless they're driving a big white van with blue stripes on the side, the truck seen in a home burglary.

So is it, as James suggested, an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of some persons, or is it a reasonable response to witness descriptions of burglars and robbers? Is it, as a national headline on MSNBC concludes, "racial profiling" or is it a proper response to citizen anger and very real fear of crime and violence? Or is it some of both?

Johnson said officers have been instructed to make "consensual contacts" with persons who may match descriptions of burglars or muggers, and to do so with respect. She acknowledged the potential for abuse and misperceptions of the intent.

A series of violent assaults and purse snatchings, and a baseball-bat attack that shattered the shoulder of a man in the downtown Palo Alto Caltrain pedestrian tunnel, have badly frightened many residents. One elderly woman who was knocked to the ground -- a potentially fatal attack -- is now terrified to walk anywhere alone, a close friend said at the meeting. An imprisonment by fear.

But an innocent person of any color who is stopped due to their appearance or skin color doesn't soon forget it, especially if they are treated in a high-handed or abusive manner.

And there is a long history.

Add to the emotional mix literally years of tension in Palo Alto relating to being stopped for "driving while black" and a severe beating of the late Albert Hopkins, then-supervisor of Gunn High School's academic center, by two Palo Alto officers in July 2003.

It was a hunch by a rookie officer who noticed a young black man sitting in an older sedan in south Palo Alto who "seemed out of place" that later led to the arrest of the suspect in a brutal assault on a girl on her way home from Gunn High School. Was that racism or racial profiling or a reasonable precaution?

Inflammatory, partial news coverage of the Thursday meeting and Johnson's offhand comments have made matters explosively worse.

But the fact is that even James had some nice words about the department near the end of the meeting.

"I appreciate a lot of officers in the department, but there are some bad apples who abuse the Constitution," James commented.

And Johnson agreed with James about his expressed concern about potential abuse when officers stop and question persons based even partially on color.

The entire dialogue on race or ethnicity lasted just a few minutes out of about an hour and a half. Johnson Friday was preparing a "clarification" statement in response to the national news coverage.

At the end of the meeting, residents gave police brass at the meeting a round of applause for their efforts.

In my own experience, having covered the Palo Alto Police Department during the late 1960s and 1970s, I can state flatly that there was overt racism (a term I hesitate to use because it is nonproductive in most cases) on the part of some officers. Officers used similar excuses for following persons of color through downtown Palo Alto, especially groups of teenagers walking through town. Often, an officer would cruise slowly along behind them in a police car.

And, yes, there were reports of groups of minority teens entering local stores and one distracting the clerk while others stuffed candy bars or small items in their pockets.

I was friends with a former police officer in a town north of Palo Alto. He was a neighbor who was assigned a police dog that only understood German. We awoke on some weekends to him running his German (literally) shepherd through his paces on his front lawn: "Achtung! Sitzen."

My friend quit the other department because he couldn't stomach a fellow canine officer keeping his dog on snarling attack alert by repeating, "Get the n------! Get the n------!" repeatedly as they patrolled neighborhoods.

When there are bad apples they can be really rotten.

At the erstwhile Palo Alto Times, we hired an outstanding young African-American man, Wil Webster, as a "news clerk" -- a term we coined to replace the traditional but then clearly inappropriate "copy boy" in the newsroom. Wil was a tall track star from East Palo Alto and one of his jobs was to rush photos to an engraving shop several blocks from the Times' building on Lytton Avenue, and bring back the engravings, on deadline.

He was the fastest photo delivery and pickup clerk we ever had because he loped through town with long track-star strides.

But just about every week he'd be stopped by one Palo Alto officer or another, who assumed that a young black man running full tilt down Emerson Street just had to be up to no good. Wil took it in stride, so to speak.

Times' Editor Al Bodi finally wrote a letter on Times' stationery informing officers that Wil was on official duty and should not be delayed. (Sadly, Wil was drafted and drowned a few years later while swimming in a river in Vietnam, where he spent his off-duty time working to improve lives of local villagers. Several of us in the newsroom choked up, some cried, when we got word of his death.)

If there is a prime evil in the world, it is judging people by the color of their skin or ethnicity, in my view. But distrust of those who differ from "us" runs deep, some believe back to the origins of man where strangers were objects of immediate distrust -- and being cast out by a tribe to wander alone was equivalent to a sentence of death or enslavement.

Can we as a species outgrow that primordial fear-based distrust, even hate?

We are about to put that measure to a great national test next Tuesday, election day.

Will we pass?

Comments (44)

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sarah
a resident of another community
on Oct 31, 2008 at 5:08 pm

This is a well written editorial. One of the fundamental problems with racial profiling is that many police officers are poorly trained in how to handle these situations. For example, in the Albert Hopkins case, I suspect that the police officers were not evil or racist. They simply did not know what to do when the found a black man sitting in his legally parked car minding his own business. The officers did not understand the rights of a citizen, which led to his beating. If we want police officers to be more aggressive in these situations, we need to improve their training to avoid more collateral damage like this.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Al
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 1, 2008 at 9:58 am

> They simply did not know what to do when the found a black man
> sitting in his legally parked car minding his own business.

You mean like offering to take him home in their police car, or calling him a cab, or even suggesting that he drive home, as he would be safer at home--rather than in a car on a Palo Alto street?

(This latter suggestion would have been prophetic, since he did come to some harm in his car after the initial encounter with the Palo Alto police.)




 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jerry
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2008 at 12:08 pm

Nicely written article. Racial profiling sucks and I believe some officers of Palo Alto police engage in this type of behavior. Fortunatley for me, I am on the other end of the scale. Not so fortunate for African-Americans or Latinos. Very sad. I think because of this, more dialogue is needed.

Kudos to the police dog officer who quit because of the other, obviously, racist police dog officer.

Steve, Midtown


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ralph
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2008 at 3:58 pm

As I recall the man who was severely beaten by PAPD made the "mistake" of being passive agressive. (meaning he refused to cooperate because he knew he had done nothing wrong)

This happened just 5 years ago, and it really puts the lie to the concept of "consensual contacts". If -- for whatever reason -- the cops suspect you are up to no good, your *only* practical choice is to cooperate fully until they are satisfied otherwise. This is true for everyone.

Years ago I was in the wrong place (bank ATM at 2am) at the wrong time (silent burglar alarm malfunctioned) when first one, then 2 and 3 cop cars pulled up. At the time I was a clean cut, articulate, sober, white, male, engineer. There was still nothing consensual about our contact. The only practical option in that situation was to relax, cooperate fully and let the cops do their job.

PAPD needs to recognize this, and the tremendous potential for police abuse.

At the same time that we step up these "consensual contacts" to fight crime, we should educate the public on how to get through them as quickly as possible, the difficulty of the jobs the cops face, and the mechanisms in place to detect and correct both small and large abuses of police power. (I assume they exist, but have no idea what they are)

PAPD needs to show us that they "get" the practical power they have over our citizens and that they are responsive to feedback about problem officers. That, more than anything, will reinforce my faith that the vast majority of the officers are trying to do the right thing.

- Ralph



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Posted by Your Mother
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 1, 2008 at 7:45 pm

Ralph,

From what I understand, the person (Albert Hopkins) that was "severly beaten" for being "passive aggresive" had in fact actively resisted arrest during the encounter. The officers had a reasonable suspicion to detain Hopkins, so Hopkins had a legal obligation to comply with all of the officers requests. Hopkins' only "mistake" was not cooperating with the officers.

There shouldn't have been anything consenual about you being stopped during your bank incident. Wasn't it reasonable that officers stopped you after a bank burglar alarm went off at 2am? Put yourself in the shoes of an officer. If you were dispatched to a bank alarm at 2am, during off business hours, and you saw only one person standing next to the bank where the alarm was originating from, wouldn't you stop and question that person?

The law states that you can detain someone when you have reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime is being committed, and the person you contact may be involved in the commission of a crime. I think it was reasonable that officers detained you at the bank ATM.

I think you should educate YOURSELF on the law before you pass judgement on officers who work hard to protect you and your family.

Your Mother


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Your Mother
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 1, 2008 at 8:04 pm

Sarah,

It's not police officers that need better training on how to deal with black men sitting in a legally parked car, minding their own business. It is the general public that need to educate themselves on the LAW and their legal obligations as citizens. And the general public should learn the LAW from a source other than hollywood.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Stace
a resident of Duveneck School
on Nov 1, 2008 at 9:25 pm

Cops have a no-win situation: people complain when they racial profile, yet if a person who fits a racial profiling description commits a crime, people complain that the cops weren't around to help the victim. Let the PAPD do their jobs their way and mind your own business. Screaming racism is like trying to argue about abortion. No one budges.

Sometimes it seems that people give criminals more rights than our law enforcement. Let the police protect us and quit it with your complaining because when you are in trouble, you are happy to see the police.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by John Bullerjahn
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 1, 2008 at 9:37 pm

Jay - did not know that you were still at it. Good article. Lynn put "foot in mouth" at her community meeting. PAPD is not what media have described in a number of articles I've read. Thanks. John B., Chico, CA (Retired 17 years ago~!)


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jay Thorwaldson
editor emeritus
on Nov 1, 2008 at 10:38 pm

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

FYI to readers: John Bullerjahn was a longtime Palo Alto police officer.
To John: E-mail me at jthorwaldson@paweekly.com.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Cher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 1, 2008 at 10:41 pm

John B: You mean they are getting a bad rap? You left us with a teaser sentence.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anthony
a resident of another community
on Nov 2, 2008 at 5:12 am

If a suspect for a violent crime is black and wearing a do-rag then police officers should be looking for and questioning black men with do-rags. Seems logical to me.

If certain groups don't want to listen to logic and don't like being stopped then they should cut down on the amount of crime they committ? Again, seems logical.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Leslie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2008 at 11:33 am

I don't like racism or racial profiling. However I agree that police need to look for people who look like the perpetrators of these crimes. To force them to question people who do not fit the description in order to avoid racism is absurd. Not all people of any race are responsible for crimes comitted by people of that race, but unfortunately, as was pointed out earlier in the comments, if you are present in an area where crimes have been taking place and if you happen to resemble the perpetrators, you might be questioned. When people who look like me get around to hitting people with bats, etc, I will gladly submit to questioning because any of us, no matter our ethnic origins, could be the next victim and it benefits us all to help the police in their efforts, no matter what.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jason
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2008 at 12:11 pm

"The only practical option in that situation was to relax, cooperate fully and let the cops do their job."

Ralph,

Are you complaining about this remarkable epiphamy?

As I recall, Albert Hopkins appeared to be sleeping in his car on a residential street. That is illegal in Palo Alto. Even if it wasn't illegal, Mr. Hopkins could simply have been cooperative, but he decided to cop an attitude (pun intended).

I have never felt that getting into a hassle with a cop is a healthy thing to do...they have the sticks and tasers and guns...and maybe they had a bad night with their spouse. Why take a chance? However, in a larger context, citizens who want public safety need to get over their own narcissistic impulses. Cops have a very hard job to do. Why not cooperate with them, even if we are pulled over for no obvious reason? It has happened to me three times in Palo Alto.

I am white.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anne
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2008 at 4:01 pm



This a question of criminal profiling.

When you see facts like this Web Link

Then the PAPD are acting rationally when they want to talk with residents of EPA who are in PA.

The EPA has done nothing about the massive epidemic of violent crime/ rape etc in EPA, it is now spilling over to our town.

Enough is enough


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Citizen, concerned
a resident of University South
on Nov 4, 2008 at 2:38 am

Anne says

"the PAPD are acting rationally when they want to talk with residents of EPA who are in PA."

How in the world do you know they are from EPA? This is profiling of the worst kind: "they are black, blacks live in EPA, therefore they must be stopped because blacks are the problem." How can a black person feel safe with this racism? Do you want to put up a toll at the border and approve which residents you want in Palo Alto?

Then she complained:
"The EPA has done nothing about the massive epidemic of violent crime/ rape etc in EPA, it is now spilling over to our town."

The EPA? What kind of language is this? Kind of like, "that one"? EPA just might need help. These are your neighbors. What are you doing to help? Maybe the old saying, "If you're not part of the solution, you are part of the problem" is in play here.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2008 at 4:48 am



The administration in EPA cannot or will not deal with their violent crime wave.

The National Guard must be called in to take over the administration and law enforcement of EPA as soon as possible, write to the governor of California to make this happen.

The mayor of EPA should be ashamed of herself, how can she criticize the PAPD who are doing the job that she is unwilling or unable to do?


Look at the facts here Web Link

In fact the situation is much worse now.

Face the facts regarding violent crime, rape etc in EPA and call in the National Guard to put an end to it and thereby also protect Palo Alto from these violent thugs.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by San Jose Resident
a resident of another community
on Nov 4, 2008 at 4:48 am

Just when you think we have come so far you have comments such as Anne's and you realize we really haven't! It is really sad that there are still some people who think that it is ok to prejudge others simply because of their race and/or where they live. All communities have problems not just EPA. Palo Alto has it's share of problems as well that have nothing to do with the people of EPA. They come from the people right there in good old PA. Wake up Anne and you may be shocked by who's doing what right in you backyard or right next door!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mary
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 4, 2008 at 6:29 am



I do not know the PAPD chief or her competence in the job, but with all the shakedown artists and lawyers seeking profit who are now in feeding frenzy her career here is over.

If you look at the link provided by Anne Web Link
Your eyes are opened to the reality of violent crime in EPA, it is off the charts.
Stopping the violence in Palo Alto will require stopping the violence in EPA or else building a fence.
By all accounts the violence in EPA is getting worse, much of it gang related, no doubt.
I agree that it is time to call in the National Guard to end this plague on both our communities.
There are decent families in both Palo Alto and EPA, all are terrorized by these gangster thugs.
It is time to end it.
Whatever it takes.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 4, 2008 at 10:45 am

If the victim reports the perp was caucasian, it makes no sense to look for african-american or asian suspects. Permute that any way you want; the point is the same.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by robyn
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 4, 2008 at 12:53 pm

I think your article is great but for one thing if you think that the election is only about race that is very disrepectful of either party and what they stand for also what does it say about what you think of the people voting.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2008 at 8:48 am

Mother, Put the crack pipe down and stop smoking the power mixed with denial.
You already are a clueless bigot.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Matthew
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2008 at 9:58 am

The question of Albert Hopkins "resisting arrest" comes up and he's labeled as "passive-agressive". I wonder how many times he'd already had to face being questioned about whether he was doing something wrong just because of the color of his skin.

If I was getting hassled on a regular basis by armed authority figures, I'd sure as hell start getting resentful after a while. I might not go along with them so easily after a while.

I might have resentment over the hurt and shame of frequent accusations justified only due to the shade of my skin color.

I'm really sure the police have a difficult job. I'm also really sure that the responsibility that goes along with the power of the job is easy to overlook. A high standard is required.

We'll continue to have a lot of these problems until our concept of "we" expands to ignore the specious consideration of skin color.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by tj
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 5, 2008 at 10:12 am



The facts of the Albert Hopkins matter are that both officers were Asian, Hopkins was acting strangely and gave probable cause for questioning, sleeping in your car in a residential neighborhood suggests intoxication and needs to be investigated. The two officers are still in their jobs.
The city settled out of court because it was cheaper than a trial in which the race card would be played as it was with OJ and many others.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Respect
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 9, 2008 at 7:58 am

Let's get something straight. Unless you are or have been a police officer, you have no right to use the term "cop". They are police officers, show them the respect they deserve.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joe the burglar
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2008 at 11:19 pm

What luck! Instead of me, the mob goes after the cop. Sorry, chief! Honesty and straight talk don't pay. You should have just given a PC statement like any old pol who say one thing and do another. Instead, you took the vitims' words and told the truth, believing it's the right thing to do. Too bad for you, many can't deal with the truth. They'd rather go after you than face up to reality. Heck, some aren't even from PA. What do they care about the little old ladies who get mugged around here? Better business for me. I'll just rob another house and get my van loaded with them big screen TV and fancy electronics, while you get chased out of town. Yippie!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Butt Ping Yun
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 10, 2008 at 12:15 am

It's mind boggling that East Palo Altans should be protesting and calling for the ouster of the Palo Alto police chief and a boycott of businesses here. Shouldn't they be protesting their own police dept. for letting crime run rampant, and driving them over here to get business services? They could use a police chief who actually works and tries to do something about safety and law enforcement. Did they not realize we just elected a new president of African descent, and the nation has officially entered the age of beyond race? For them though, race is still stuck in the subconscious, like a watermark showing in every page of their vision. Racism still exists, but not in this particular case, and not a factor in all matters. Please fight the battles that count and do not terrorize the innocent and blame the victims.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Michael Vilain
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 10, 2008 at 5:35 am

Some years ago, the new city of West Hollywood tried to impose a passport and require a visa to visit the city on weekends. So many straight boys were dressing up to come party at the clubs in the town. And they were able to "blend in" so well that the peace officers had problems figuring out who was who. Eventually, they just dropped the requirement and revenue went way up. It was easier to keep people from pissing in the bushes south of Santa Monica Blvd.

Maybe more of a police presence on foot or bike is needed. Robbers and muggers just seem to blend and look like the rest of us and there's no telling until it's to late.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Andrea
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2008 at 10:01 am

Yes the comments made by the police chief were wrong and completely ludicrous HOWEVER they were said by her NOT by the police officers in Palo Alto. I am sick of reading these ridiculous blogs by people like Jay Thorwaldson who have no idea what police work really entails. People pick apart police officers and criticize everything they do. Each day police officers go to work risking their lives for the thankless people like him. Mistakes are made sometimes but let's not let that over shadow the hundreds of hundreds of calls they take a day successfully and how they work to keep our city safe.

As for the police officer who successfully caught the man who brutally attacked a young girl walking home from school that was NOT racial profiling it was suspect profiling which ended up working because the suspect was caught. People are so quick to judge and throw out slander against the police however if anything were to ever happen who is the first call they would make…the police.

So yes the remarks from the Chief were not okay but let's remember they came from her not from the other 100 plus police officers who work tirelessly and thanklessly everyday to protect Palo Alto citizens and our streets.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by De Andre
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 11, 2008 at 4:22 pm

Jay,
Just a quick question on the comment you made about the rookie cop who said the black male he saw, "seemed out of place." I'm an independent journalist, and I followed that case very closely, and no where in any of the reports, interviews and during both of the court appearences did he or anyone else investigating the case said those words. Can you plese elaborate or are you making up quotes to fill in space on your editorial.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tim
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 13, 2008 at 1:07 am

Seeing the crime comparison data between PA and EPA is shocking and eye opening! Considering the rampant, out of control, violent criminal behavior in EPA, I am amazed PA is as safe as it is. Obviously the PA police are doing something right!

Perhaps the citizens of PA should march into EPA city hall to demand an end to all the criminals coming into PA to rob houses and people!

I don't think this is a racial profiling issue. I think the real issue (as statistics clearly indicate) is that all the criminals live in EPA. Criminals don't like the police, so obviously they will use any excuse to complain against the police. We law-abiding citizens probably shouldn't listen to what the criminals want!

Oh well, perhaps with continental drift, earthquakes, geothermal activity and such, EPA will eventually break off and float away into the ocean!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Your Mother
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 14, 2008 at 8:27 am

Matthew,

From what I understand, the contact with Albert Hopkins was not initiated by an officer just driving around in his beat. The contact with Hopkins was made when a citizen called him in as a suspicious person in a vehicle.

Now, the person that called Hopkins in may have had some racial bias. They may have thought Hopkins was suspicious just based on the color of his skin. Did the responding officers know Hopkins was black before they arrived? I imagine that police officers don't have a choice in choosing which calls to go to. When I call PAPD and report a suspicious person in a vehicle parked in front of my house in the wee hours of the night, I'd want them to come out and investigate. For all I know, the suspicious person may be casing my home to burglarize it. The race of the person sitting in the suspicious vehicle would not be a factor for me in arousing my suspicions. Just the fact of an unknown vehicle parked in front of my home, occupied by an unknown person is enough cause for me to be concerned.

So are you suggesting that the officers who arrived at the scene just drive by and not stop to investigate because the person sitting in the car was black? "Dispatch, from Ofc. JOE, I arrived at the scene and it's just a black person sitting in a car, in a dimly lit area, behind Mike's Bikes, which was burglarized last week. Ahh.. I don't want to get accused of racial profiling, so I'm clear this call." Is this what you want out officers to do?

The fact of the matter is, Hopkins was contacted not because he was black, but because he was sitting in his car, late in the evening, behind a business that had been burglarized a week prior. Although sitting in a car, in the late hours is not illegal, I think it was more than reasonable for a citizen to be concerned and for them to call the police to investigate the person in the car. If Hopkins did not want to be hassled by "armed authority figures", well, he should not place himself in situations where criminal suspicion may arise.

And as a side note, I just read that Albert Hopkins' son, Kyle Hopkins, was arrested for burglary, possession of stolen property and possession of a stolen, illegal handgun. Hmm. go figure. Was it racial profiling that led to his arrest?

You should always listen to Your Mother.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Want the truth
a resident of Atherton
on Nov 14, 2008 at 2:41 pm

I think the police could have probably been more courteous when interacting with Hopkins.

Although the courts use "innocent until proven guilty." The police very much do the opposite. This initial interaction, is I believe mainly based on the color of your skin and the perception the officers have of your wealth. If this was an elderly white male in his brand new top of the line Mercedes, the officers probably would have been VERY courteous to him, and things would have turned out very differently.

End of the day, the what is in the police report is what the police wrote, it is not what really happened. No one will ever know besides the police that was there and Hopkins.

Your Mother will never really understand the severity of racial profiling until she is in their shoes - a black man being constantly harassed by police for things he did not do.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 14, 2008 at 11:20 pm

Lots you have different versions of the Hopkins case. None of you were there. When it came to a jury trial of the police officers...the jury was hung, with seven whites and one black voting to convict and four asian-americans voting to acquit (the police were also asian-american). I suspect the jurors had a lot more information that any people on this website and they couldn't agree. Give it a rest. Albert Hopkins is dead now. May he rest in peace.

Here's my source:
Web Link


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Posted by Your Mother
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 15, 2008 at 7:47 am

Want the truth,

How and why do you assume that the officers that contacted Hopkins were not courteous during the contact? What evidence do you have to support that? I believe things went south when HOPKINS played the race card for being contacted, and HE became discourteous with the police. Your scenario of a white man in a mercedes getting better treatment by the police is completely erroneous. The white guy in the mercedes would have been taking into custody in the same manner HOPKINS was, if he acted in the same manner HOPKINS did.

My son is a criminal justice major at SJSU. He tells me that officers always want to be cordial when contacting people, for several reasons. One, it is the right thing to do and it helps build rapport. Second, you get compliance from the people you contact and they may be more apt to "spill the beans" if they are doing something illegal.

Penal Code 835a states:
Any peace officer who has reasonable cause to believe that
the person to be arrested has committed a public offense may use
reasonable force to effect the arrest, to prevent escape or to
overcome resistance.
A peace officer who makes or attempts to make an arrest need not
retreat or desist from his efforts by reason of the resistance or
threatened resistance of the person being arrested; nor shall such
officer be deemed an aggressor or lose his right to self-defense by
the use of reasonable force to effect the arrest or to prevent escape
or to overcome resistance.

The officers had lawfully detained Hopkins. Being detained, HOPKINS had the legal obligation to identify himself. Refusing to identify himself resulted in him obstructing and delaying the officer's duty / investigation. This amounted to HOPKINS being in violation of PC 148- resisting arrest. PC 835a says that an officer may use a reasonable amount of force to affect the arrest, overcome resistance, and to prevent escape of a person to be arrested. The second part of PC835a says that an officer does not need to back down or retreat from a resisting suspect.

When HOPKINS put his hands on the officers, he threatened their safety. Per the definition of PC 835a, the officers using a reasonable amount of force to take HOPKINS into custody was LEGAL and JUSTIFIED.

HOPKINS was solely responsible for what happened to him. He just should have cooperated with the police, identified himself, and he would have just been released from the scene. But he played the race card, refused to cooperate, and he forced the officers to use force on him to take him into custody. HOPKINS' inability to be courteous and cooperate opened the superficial wound of racial tension in our town, and scarred the good reputation of the Palo Alto Police Department.

Although I am not black, I am a minority. I do not know what it is like to be constantly harassed by the police. However, if an officer stopped me because I WAS breaking the law or doing something suspicious (having a tail light out, running stop signs, making illegal turns, and parking my car behind a bike shop that was recently burglarized late in the evening without a good explanation for being there) I would not default to the race card and charge the officer of racial profiling. I would rather thank them for doing their job.

You should always listen to Your Mother.


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Posted by Sarah
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2008 at 10:31 pm

Did you catch CBS news last night? They were reporting on the chief's comments and then the Saturday downtown attack. They showed the sketch and described him in every way, except the color of his skin. Is a description now racial profiling?


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Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 19, 2008 at 1:33 am

You can look at the sketch and pretty much determine the race,....

since that is what you are so concerned about.

I have this image of the CBS News describing the suspect as black, then once (or twice) "and did we tell you he is black?".

And that being more to your liking.

Glad someone is riding herd on this though.


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Posted by Ada
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 20, 2008 at 10:50 am

So what is a reasonable police response to crime then? To ignore the color of the skin of the suspects ? How else do you suggest to match the suspects? By height and weight?


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Posted by Frank Capra
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 22, 2008 at 9:00 am

Some Questions to Ponder

Is the Chief of Police the chief policymaker for the PAPD? Did the chief institute a policy of racially profiling African Americans? Could her behavior be construed as a Monell violation (Monell v Dept of Social Security SCC)? Is the Chief (not a line officer) responsible for a policy practice and procedure that violates the constitutional rights of a class of people namely African Americans? Now whether the city could be sued by the NAACP, ACLU or other organizations (which protect the civil liberties of all citizens) is something we will have to wait and see. By her departure has the problem been "eliminated"? So was this decision enacted to promote diversity and civil rights of liberal minded Palo Alto or was it about just plain $$$$$? Is it cheaper to pay her off than to keep her on? Did the powers that be breath a sigh when the chief "voluntarily" decided to depart with her platnum parachute?. Have things changed in Palo Alto? What about the officers she protected throughout her career? Is this change we can believe in? You be the judge!


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Posted by t spoon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 23, 2008 at 11:45 am

i think this whole issue is a sad distortion of a miscommunication. EPA has always been a hotbed, back to the days when it was known as "whiskey gulch". E. O'Keefe was a street that was plagued by violent crime, burglaries, and shootings. Most of the offenders in crimes that I know of could be described as a "black male", with additional supporting details. Just as someone could be described as a "white male" with brown hair, blue eyes, wearing etc etc... I just don't see this as a case of a "you people" profiling.


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Posted by EPA-to-PA
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 3, 2008 at 5:23 pm

Palo Alto has changed sooooooo much from when I was a kid growing up 30 years ago. Back then there were *more* kids from EPA attending PA schools, more friendships between EPA and PA fostered through sports such as football, basketball and baseball, and, I'd argue, more African Americans living in PA. We all knew back then that crimes in PA were disproportionally committed by African Americans from EPA, and we focused more energy on helping solve the economic issues behind EPA-driven crime.

Now, the enlightened PA citizens frown when the perfectly rational association between African American skin color and certain street crimes are made, and we let PA's police chief be trampled on by everyone when she's trying to protect us. At the same time, these same 'enlightened' PA citizens never go to EPA, have no friends in EPA, and work at companies that barely even employ a single African American.

I understand now why people who didn't know PA before 1995 call it Shallow Alto: all you people who moved in brought your extreme liberalism and your hipocrisy with you. Now, kindly please leave.


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Posted by Wm Hanley
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 6, 2008 at 4:53 pm

This is an intelligent article. It encloses human nature and social needs. The police want to protect by using the best information they have while NOT hurting on any group. Yet I believe the police have been hancuffed in their ability to protect us ALL. Lawsuits, automatically perceived bigotry, the rights ABOVE those victimized, and lets not forget - the fear of payback - ther are over 57 gangs with more firepire that than the police hiding beneath that they use 14 year olds to kill.

This may be the challenge of those who don't want to victomized against those who will.

The police and law stand between -but the fear of being suied and the governments cowerdice my mean the death of officer after officer while we ignore it all.


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Posted by Mr. X
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 7, 2008 at 6:53 am

Time to take off the kid gloves and let the cops do thier job. To much BS to cut through. The bleeding heart liberals are the main problem behind all this hoo haw. The cops know who's who.


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Posted by HUtch 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 27, 2013 at 7:58 pm

PAPD profiling .... Pleeazzze It's because of this usual liberal PA crap I can't wait for N. Korea or the Muslims to nuke us...

On second thought.....
Just think housing will become cheap and extremely affordable We won't have to worry about ABAG or low income housing/High density housing cause it will all be low income housing. All the weak idiots in this town will be dead leaving only the strong to survive and flourish, 50 dollar a year will buy a lot of beer and our future will be so bright will have to wear shades. Things will be going great and it will only get better.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 27, 2013 at 8:10 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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