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November 30, 2023

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Law expert speaks tonight

A nationally recognized University of Toledo law professor will be addressing the roots of racial profiling and how it can stopped during his lecture on campus tonight.

Known as an authority on racial profiling, tonight’s speaker David A. Harris is currently the Balk Professor of Law and Values at the UT College of Law where he has been teaching for 15 years.

His talk, “Racial Profiling: What is it? Does it really work?” is derived from years of research and investigation into the topic. The presentation will begin tonight at 7 p.m. in 101A Olscamp. Refreshments will be provided and a book sale and signing are to follow.

The event is being sponsored by Student Legal Services, the Center for Multicultural and Academic Initiatives, Latino Student Union, Black Student Union, NAACP and BAMN.

Harris is the author of one of the foremost books on the subject, “Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work,” and has been speaking nationwide on the topic since the early 1990s.

In his book Harris explains how race or ethnic appearance is not a good predictor of criminals, but that observing behavior is the most effective means for catching lawbreakers.

He has testified before the U.S. Senate and countless other government bodies and committees. His early work on racial profiling was a forerunner for the Traffic Stops Statistics Act of 1997, the first legislative proposal to address the problem of racial profiling. He also helped congress draft the End Racial Profiling Act of 2004, which is currently pending.

He has appeared on several national programs including NBC’s “The Today Show,” PBS’s “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer” and NPR’s “Morning Edition”.

Informing people about racial profiling is especially important given our current times, said Rodney Fleming, managing attorney for SLS.

“It’s an interesting subject that a lot of people don’t know a lot about, but it’s talked about in the news especially with the war on terror, and this will be a good way for people to get informed on racial profiling and how it works,” he said.

The changes in views of racial profiling should be noted, Harris said.

“What’s interesting about it is how much people’s minds have changed since Sept. 11,” he said. “Clearly with the threat of terrorism there is a lot more at stake and there has been a kind of shift in the public mind.”

But according to Harris, racial profiling can’t prevent terrorism.

“The use of a profile that uses race or characteristics will not make us more safe against terrorists,” he said.

Anyone can be a target of profiling, said Bianca Hutchinson, president of BAMN. Members of BAMN participated in a march against racial profiling on campus late last semester.

“Some students may not think they are a target on a whole but after getting the finer details they see that they are,” she said. “Racial profiling doesn’t see any other boundaries. The knowledge that comes from it can be applied anywhere.”

And profiling is not limited to race, Harris said. Age and youth may also attract police attention, he said.

If racial profiling is not addressed as college students move into the work force, they may continue to see its effects for the next 20 to 30 years, Harris said.

“College students need to understand what is really at stake and is really true,” he said.

Director of Public Safety for the University Police Department James Wiegand has agreed to hold a forum this semester with students to address issues of racial profiling on campus, Hutchinson said.

She hopes that after students attend tonight’s lecture they will be better informed and prepared to state their case to campus police.

“We want students to first hear what the issues are and we hope that with this speech students can come to it and see what things are racial profiling and reflect on their experience,” she said. “They can then take this information and be better informed and take information from this forum and apply it and produce positive feedback.”

While racial profiling happens everywhere, the campus community is the first area that needs to be looked into, Hutchinson said.

“We wanted to address this issue on campus first and foremost,” she said. “Making students better informed is going to look better on the student’s part. Having the knowledge behind anything makes it 10 times better. I think it’s going to help the students’ case better.”

His research and lectures are fact based, not opinion based, Harris said. He first began observing incidents of racial profiling as a practicing lawyer in Washington, D.C. He then started researching and writing about it when he entered the academic world.

But the problem of racial profiling isn’t necessarily here to stay, Harris said.

“The first thing that has to happen is people need to realize this started over a long period of time,” he said. “If we think there is a problem or not we need to admit it could be and collect data and facts on it.”

Problems also lie in the public’s misconception of the issue, Harris said.

“The problem is not a few white bigots. That is not correct,” he said. “The problem is rather in institutional practices in the police departments.”

Though many of these practices are not conscious, they’re still detrimental, Harris said.

“The impact is the same whether we mean for it to be or not,” he said.

Harris is also the author of “Good Cops: The Case for Preventive Policing”, released this year, a book in which he addresses the positive strategies police departments across the country are using to combat terrorism and reduce crime.

And he is the author of countless articles, essays and book chapters and the recipient of numerous awards including the Ohio State Bar Foundation Outstanding Research Award, 2001, University of Toledo Outstanding Faculty Research Award, 2001 and the Soros Senior Justice Fellowship.

In addition to the University of Toledo he’s taught at the University of Michigan, the University of Pittsburgh, DePaul University, St. Louis University and Wayne State University and has been a visiting professor of law at several institutions.

Editor’s Note: for more information on Harris’ latest book visit

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