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Speaker sheds light on racial profiling

Knowing your rights when being approached by law enforcement can help prevent the wrongful accusations that lead to harassment.

J. Mark Finnegan, attorney at Herberle ‘ Finnegan, PLLC, spoke about racial profiling and knowing your rights during the Race and Justice lecture yesterday in the Union.

Finnegan, an Ohio native, specializes in federal civil rights class action cases, including cases about racial discrimination, immigration, child labor, slavery, minimum wages, pesticide poisoning and farm labor housing to name a few.

The case Finnegan spoke about the specific racial profiling case, Farm Labor Organizing Committee v. Ohio State Highway Patrol.

“I intend to show everybody here that the Ohio State Highway Patrol engaged in racial profiling,” Finnegan said during his opening. “They lied about it and they were caught lying about it, we proved they were lying, and we won the case and stopped the practice.”

The case he spoke about was when Jose Aguilar and Irma Esparza were pulled over for a burnt out break light, after which Trooper Kevin Kiefer wrongly confiscated their green cards and made them get out of the car for searching by OSHP officers and a drug dog.

The searching of Aguilar and Esparza’s vehicle included tearing off car panels, tearing seats apart and even dumping luggage contents all of the wet ground along the Ohio Turnpike, according to Finnegan.

By taking their green cards, Kiefer put Aguilar and Esparza at risk for getting a misdemeanor, if found without their cards, Finnegan said.

The OSHP’s interactions with Aguilar and Esparza’s, who spoke little English, opened up nearly 40 more cases, all very similar according to Finnegan. The cases were brought to light after posters were hung in the labor camps around Ohio, seeking migrant workers who had been stopped by the OSHP and felt they were mistreated.

Finnegan lesson on rights and the ethical legal treatment of others emphasized that the term “illegals” is incorrect because it is not illegal to be here without papers. Undocumented is the correct term for someone living and working the United States without papers. He also says that only immigration, not local police forces, is allowed to arrest them on a civil warrant.

While the OSHP is not allowed to ask questions about immigration or immigration enforcement, what they are allowed to do is engage in consensual questioning, which citizens have the right to refuse answering. This is what Kiefer claimed happened when he confiscated Aguilar and Esparza’s green cards, according to Finnegan.

Finnegan advises that being polite while denying information to officers is the best way to enforce rights.

Suspicious behavior is the other reason some OSHP officers had for pulling over Hispanics and checking their immigration status.

“It became clear what was going on was these troopers who knew nothing about immigration, did not know how to speak Spanish and were talking to motorists who did not speak English were taking a shortcut – ‘looks like a Mexican to me,'” Finnegan said.

Summer Donaldson, junior, knows about the injustice of racial profiling that goes on and the lack of action against it.

“It makes me want to speak up against a lot of the injustices that go on, on a daily basis. Because it affects such a minority group of people, those issues aren’t always brought out on a larger scale,” Donaldson said.

The fact that Finnegan, who has the knowledge of the law and is taking a stand against these issues, had a positive effect on Donaldson.

“It’s encouraging because there are people who have power, who actually are speaking up against racial profiling and are acknowledging that it is real and it is happening,” Donaldson said.

Stephanie McBee, sophomore, said the subject affects her in a big way, as a minority. Though McBee said she’s hasn’t been racially profiled by law enforcement, she knows people who have.

“I can’t really relate to it, because I haven’t been pulled over but my opinion of it is that it’s ridiculous,” McBee said of the racial profiling case Finnegan spoke of.

His lecture brought to light the changes that still need to be worked on in our society since the Civil Rights Movement, McBee said.

The department of Ethnic Studies and College of Arts and Sciences sponsored the event.

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