Cohen Legislation Targets Racial Disparities In Criminal Justice System

(Memphis) New legislation aimed at addressing racial disparities in the criminal justice system was proposed Friday.

The new laws would help identify cases of racial profiling and penalize those responsible for it.

The proposed legislation is announced just days before the MLK holiday by Congressman Steve Cohen.

He’s basing the need for it on situations that happen around the country, as well as right here in Memphis.

Cohen said, “Used to be a saying driving while Black.”

Representative Steve Cohen says there is a history of racial impropriety around the country and right here in Memphis and Shelby County.

“African Americans and Causians use cocaine and crack and marijuana in the same numbers and yet if you’re African American in Shelby County you’re seven times more likely to be arrested and convicted,” said Cohen.

Cohen is asking US Attorneys to examine racial profiling in their areas and engage their communities to find ways to eliminate it.

A panel of prosecutors, defenders, civil rights, and faith-based leaders would be asked for input.

“Law enforcement officers do a great service and we need them so much but they need to spend their time based on actual probable cause and not racial stereotypes,” said Cohen.

“Congressman Cohen is on point in relationship to that,” said Rev. Dwight Montgomery, SCLC.

Reverend Dwight Montgomery is one of the leaders of Southern Christian Leadership Council in Memphis. He says problems like racial profiling are prevalent in his neighborhood.

“Not only do you have disparties that are perpetuated by Caucasian officers but in many cases African American offices have done the same thing,” said Montgomery.

Montgomery believes new legislation will help but isn’t putting the burden solely on government.

“SCLC has this responsible parenting plan. We’re going to be calling upon parents through special PTA meetings to talk to the parents get to the young people. Then, we have to have activities that young people enjoy,” said Montgomery.

Another piece of legislation proposed by Cohen stops law enforcement from making small drug arrest just to get federal grant money.