Keeping the Peace? Racial Profiling in Kalamazoo: A Documentary SIP
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The scenario is this: an African American man is driving in a reasonably priced automobile on any interstate USA, moving with the flow of traffic. A state police officer pulls out and begins to trail the suspect car. After a short while, the police cruiser eventually puts on its lights with the intention of pulling over the car. Once the car is pulled over, the officer approaches the car and asks the driver for the appropriate paper work. This exchange happens to hundreds of motorist's everyday. Is this event what it seems to be, the routine traffic stop of an African American man or is it something else? For the last two years, the media, the public, and politicians have explored this question. Prompted by allegations of racially motivated police misconduct on the New Jersey turnpike in 1998, the question as to whether or not African American motorists are treated differently by law enforcement has come to be known as the debate over racial profiling or "driving while black". It's a debate that fosters a reexamination of the 4th amendment, the existence of racism in our institutions, and the cost of making neighborhoods safe. After allegations of racial profiling surfaced in Kalamazoo, Michigan, most notably in the case of Baryl Wilson, I decided to explore this issue via documentary film for my Senior Individualized Project. The title of the video is: Keeping the Peace? Racial Profiling in Kalamazoo. The main purpose of this 26 minute video is to educate those who have little knowledge or understanding of issues of race and its connection to law enforcement and civil liberties. I strongly believe that the white community hasn't the tools to understand this problem fully, simply because of the veil some African American scholars, including Cornell West, call "white privilege". In addition, geographical separation on the local level serves to distance this problem from those who don't experience it, such as most members of the white community. This video attempts to bridge this gap by bringing the issue of racial profiling directly to those who need to hear it. Although there are many approaches to presenting this issue on video, a documentary style video seemed most appropriate. This medium makes the issue more engaging and meaningful when it is explored by those, in their own words, who have a stake in its existence and its solution. The documentary format also helps provide an image, a picture, to attach to experiences that many may never have known. The issue of racial profiling is a national issue of great complexity, whose thorough examination would require time and resources unavailable for this SIP, therefore the video deals strictly with racial profiling in Kalamazoo, framed within a national context. It is in this video where alleged victims, politicians, members of the community. and those involved in law enforcement, all come together to tell the story of racial profiling here in Kalamazoo. To better understand and benefit from this story, one must not only look closer at the issue itself but also the creative process that brings it all together.