It's not often, thankfully, that a SAJA friend and host of one of our webcasts gets arrested by the New York Police Department. Here's a guest post by Prof. Ravi Shankar, who teaches English at Central Connecticut State University, and hosted a SAJA webcast in March 2009 South Asian poetry.
Nearly a month ago in midtown Manhattan, I was detained and then arrested by
the NYPD on an erroneous warrant, an encounter with explicit racial overtones. My experience is described in fuller detail here:
opinion/hc- commentaryshankar0802. artaug02,0,1479.story
and I speak about it on radio here:
My very perception of time changed when I spent nearly 36 hours locked up
That this happened in an environment still buzzing with what happened with
Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and in the aftermath of institutional
policies like those in the Patriot Act that target those of Asian and Arab
descent is less revealing than the fact that my experience is not uncommon.
An unscientific survey of the nearly 99% of the people I met in Central
Booking found them to be Hispanic, Asian or African-American, many of them
incarcerated for charges such as loitering, trespassing or open container. A
much more scientific study was done by the Rand Corporation
technical_reports/TR534/ and it found that 89% of
all traffic stops by the NYPD in 2006 were of non-whites. Nearly 90%! In the
Big Apple. It's mind boggling.
I've even read conspiracy theorists postulate that this movement is to get
all brown and black people "in the system," have their identities and
fingerprints fixed for cross-index. Perhaps that's reaching, but it's clear
that on top of being shabby police work, racial profiling also violates the
4th Amendment which states authorities require probable cause prior to a
search and the 14th Amendment which ensures equal protection for everyone
regardless of race. I'm not prone to political agitation generally but in
this case, I feel compelled to advocate on behalf of all those whom I met
that weekend who have no platform and because I don't want Obama's election
and the idea of a post-racial America to obscure what's happening right in
front of our eyes.
Let me know what you think. And what you think I should do.
Associate Professor, Central Connecticut State University
Editor of Drunkenboat.com, Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry
from Asia, the Middle East & Beyond (W.W. Norton & Co., 2008)
Please post your comments below.