Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Congress gets serious
about racial profiling

The issue: Members of Congress
are proposing federal sanctions against
cities and states that ignore targeting of
criminal suspects based on race or ethnicity.

RACIAL profiling is a deplorable law-enforcement practice used mostly by rogue police officers, and it should be eliminated. Whether police have actually targeted suspects based on race or ethnicity is also difficult to prove, and thus to ban, but some members of Congress are seeking to impose such a prohibition.

Since law enforcement is mainly a local and state function, the legislation consists of the less than satisfying policy of withholding federal money to noncompliant jurisdictions. That approach fails to recognize that most law enforcement agencies abide by modern, professional standards and don't need to be whipped into shape by federal dictates.

Democrat Eleanor Holmes, the District of Columbia's delegate to the House, has proposed withholding some highway funds from states that tolerate racial profiling. Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Rep. John Conyers of Michigan propose withholding criminal justice grants to police departments that fail to monitor and stop racial profiling according to federal standards.

As President Bush has said of racial profiling, "It is wrong, and we must end it." Attorney General John Ashcroft has endorsed legislation introduced by Feingold and Conyers in the last Congress to require that state and local law enforcement agencies collect data on traffic stops.

Such a study might be useful, but its sponsors have abandoned it in their rush to impose sanctions.

The Justice Department has shown that specified sanctions are not needed. Following charges of police brutality and racial profiling in 1997, Justice pressured the city of Pittsburgh to enter into a consent decree that allowed federal monitoring of officers' enforcement actions.

Compliance with the consent decree reportedly has cost Pittsburgh more than $4 million, while the allegations that prompted the decree have disintegrated.

The Justice Department also has brought charges against the New York Police Department, alleging that officers stop and frisk too many people who belong to a minority. Not surprisingly, most of this activity occurs in high-crime areas such as the Bronx that are also minority neighborhoods.

Hawaii's prison population does not closely resemble the racial distribution in the state, and any study of arrests -- or of poverty -- probably would indicate the same sort of disparity. That does not mean that police have targeted suspects based on their race or ethnicity.

Although these realities of crime and ethnicity in America make assumptions difficult, racial profiling is a form of prejudice that should be ended. Fifteen states have taken action to stop or study racial profiling, and 20 others have legislation pending. Hawaii, which is not among those states, should join them in addressing this issue -- and break through the police code of silence that hides such abuse -- before the federal government asserts its heavy hand.

Molokai nurses’ strike
is about more than pay

The issue: The nurses'
walkout brings attention to
hospital's quality of care.

The strike by six nurses at Molokai General Hospital seems to be a simple labor-management conflict. Beneath the debate of pay increases and staff cuts, however, there is a struggle for the long-term well being of the facility and its ability to provide quality health care.

Both administrators and nurses appear to refrain from allowing the situation to break down into the bad-guys, good-guys postures that plagued the recent public school teachers strike. That sort of discord would erode the spirit of community that Molokai values.

The nurses, who have not had a raise in three years, are seeking an increase of 1 percent, or 25 cents, to their hourly wage of $25.10. By comparison, nurses at The Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu, which is also part of The Queen's Health Systems, earn $28.11 an hour with a $1 raise due in November. The total pay package would cost the Molokai General less than $4,000 a year, according to Caroldean Kahue, chief negotiator for the nurses association.

But Molokai General, like other health-care facilities in Hawaii and across the nation, has had financial difficulties, operating at a loss of $2 million a year for the last five years. Many of its patients are on public assistance and cost reimbursements from government health-care programs have decreased over the years. As the hospital struggles to free itself from dependency on subsidies, the matter of raises for nurses has been overtaken.

As the strike has moved into its second week, there are consequences on an island where unemployment stands at 15.4 percent, the highest in the state. Because of Molokai's small population of 7,000, the strike also has a social effect. Last weekend, when nurses abandoned their picket line to help treat a family who were injured in an accident, few were surprised. "They cannot turn away," said Kahue. "These are people in their community."

It is this sense of community that provides the optimism that this strike can be settled soon.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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