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WSU Professor Presents Research On Racial Profiling

Carla Eckels

Wichita State University Professor Michael Birzer traveled throughout Kansas researching the effects of how minority citizens experience racial profiling in the state. His research became a book titled Racial Profiling—They Stopped Me Because I’m ______. He's participating in the Civil Rights Symposium Aug. 13, 2014 at WSU. KMUW’s Carla Eckels has more…

This research was commissioned by the Governor’s Taskforce on racial profiling. For the complete interview, click on the audio link above. Following, Dr. Birzer shares one of the case studies with Carla Eckels.

Michael Birzer: "Sharla, she is in her early 40’s she is an African-American. She told me a story one evening that she was leaving about 12:30 in the morning from a friend’s house with her husband. She had her small grandchild with two other people. They were both black and Sharla’s husband is a black male. He was driving his pristine Cadillac which he took great care of and kept it in the garage, he was waxing it every other day, so it was a nice car. They noticed a police car begin to follow them.  

"The next thing they know the red lights come on so they pullover and they’re thinking, 'What have we done?' So the police officer comes up and asks, 'Can I see your driver’s license?' So the husband produced the driver’s license and the husband asked, 'Why am I being stopped?' The police officer said, 'Well, do you have your registration?' And the husband grabbed the registration and asked again, 'Why?' And he said, 'Well, I’ll be back with you in a moment,' and he walked to his police car. So Sharla and her husband are sitting there and they notice more police cars show up and the officer returned to the car and said, 'I’m going to have to have you get out of the car.' Sharla is now getting upset because she wants to know what is going on and it’s very ambiguous to what’s going on and she begins to ask the officer, 'What’s going on? Why are we being stopped?' He said, 'I’m going to have to have you get out of the car first.' And so everybody got out of the car and he tells them their car has been reported stolen and Sharla said, 'Well how could it be reported stolen?  My husband owns the car, here’s the registration, you’ve got his driver’s license, the car is ours. How could it be reported stolen?'"  

Carla Eckels: "My goodness and you’re still in touch with Sharla, right?"

Michael Birzer: "Yes, Sharla called me a couple of days after I interviewed her and she told me, 'One thing that I left out of the story that I told you is that when I was getting my driver’s license out of my wallet because they wanted my ID, too. I had my badge in there, my parole badge. One of the officers said, 'What’s the badge for?' And she said, 'I’m a parole officer.' And so a few moments later one of the officers there who was an officer that pulled up later said, 'I recognize you. You are a parole officer. I tried to work with you last week. I called you in reference to this person that we’re trying to deal with.' And Sharla said, 'Yea that was me.' That’s basically the way that it ended. Sharla’s husband was very upset and immediately went down to the police station or near sub-station to file a report and never heard anything back at that point."

Birzer says there are were 6 primary dominant themes in the study.

"The first theme was named emotional effective. And that theme, really--if you look at theme--it goes into the actual emotions on the part of the participant. The embarrassment he or she felt. The heightened alertness upon seeing the police and I can tell you as a white person sure I get nervous when I see the police but there was something more to this after I spent many, many hours with these participants, it was much, much more. And I can tell you it was much more or much greater with African-American males," he says. "Increased anxiety levels, anticipation of being stopped anger; fear, lasting emotional trauma in many of these cases. So, yes there was something there when these folks really believed when they were stopped because of their race."

Birzer is scheduled to speak at the 4th Annual Statewide Civil Rights Symposium. The event sponsored by U.S. Attorney General Barry Grissom. It will be held from 9:00 am - 4:00 pm at the Wichita State University Metroplex, 5015 E. 29th St. N.

In addition, Civil Rights Attorney James Thompson will lead a Racial Profiling Workshop on Saturday, August 16, 10:00 am  at 1751 N. Ash.