Michael J Steinberg, the Legal Director of the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), spoke about racial profiling in the United States to an audience of sixty students on Nov. 1 in John B. Davis Lecture Hall.
After a couple of emails and a phone call with Alejandra Carrillo ’15, Steinberg’s former intern and the leader of Macalester’s ACLU org, he decided to visit campus.
In his speech, Steinberg focused on the 14th Amendment, addressing the right to equal protection under the law. The ACLU is a national organization that advocates for the civil rights and liberties guaranteed to the people by the U.S. Constitution.
Touching on several of his own cases with the ACLU, Steinberg told five specific stories of police discrimination in Michigan and finished the lecture by saying how it pertains to Minnesotans.
The most gruesome story Steinberg told was of an African American man named Milton Hall, who lived in Saginaw, Michigan.
Hall, as a young man, was a very active member of the community, but as a result of experiencing a mental illness during college he became homeless. He was charged with small misdemeanors like loitering but never caused any real harm to anyone in his life. Every morning he would visit a small convenience store because there was a woman there who would give him a cup of coffee. On the morning on July 1, 2012, the supervisor, a white male, was there. He told the woman that Hall couldn’t have coffee. While Hall called 911 about the way he was being treated, the supervisor also called the police.
Eight fully-armed policemen arrived at the scene with a dog. The dog lunged at Hall as he was encircled in the parking lot by the policemen, whose guns were raised and pointed at him. Hall didn’t like the dogs, was agitated by them and raised a penknife.
As shown in a video posted on YouTube by the Michigan ACLU, Hall was shot 46 times and killed when he began to move slightly towards the police from his standing place in the parking lot.
At this point, there have been no criminal prosecutions, with the exception of one short suspension for the policeman in charge.
A silence filled JBD when the video was over. Steinberg admitted it was difficult to speak after watching an incident as horrendous as that.
Steinberg next described the racial profiling that occurs in the Twin Cities. He noted that in Minneapolis, a black person is eleven times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than a white person. Both, he said, use it at an equal rate.
When his presentation was over, many students asked questions. These included questions about how low-income peoples are targeted more frequently, what encourages policemen to profile, and the progress of technology and how it has affected both police surveillance and bystander recording of racial profiling incidents.
The speech shocked several students and many community members who attended.
“I am shocked by the combined effects of racial profiling and police brutality, and the fact that it still exists to such a large extent,” Paul Chery ’18 said.
Thea Galli ’16 said that the biggest thing she got out of the speech was an understanding that “these narratives personify big issues that are happening today concerning racial inequality.”
Steinberg went on to outline his goal.
“My goal is to ensure that this country lives up to its values and does not shift towards becoming a police state like others throughout the world,” he said. “That means protecting rights to speak freely without government punishment, the right to worship or not worship, the right to be free from police misconduct, freedom from restriction based on sexual orientation, race or gender, and it means the ability to exercise one’s vote.”
Steinberg ended his presentation on a positive note.
“We can make a difference,” he said. “We all have an obligation to ensure civil rights and liberties in the community, state, and country.”