Friday, April 30, 2010

Racial Profiling and Hip-Hop the Subject of Madison ACLU Student Alliance Event

On Thursday, April 29th, 2010, the ACLU Student Alliance sponsored an event called "Stand Up for Hip-Hop" at the Red Gym on the UW-Madison campus.

As a part of Hip-Hop As a Movement Week, the event brought attention to racial profiling in the Madison community, individual rights with law enforcement, and featured live performances from student DJs, MCs and slam poets.

J Dante was the event's host and introduced the ACLU of Wisconsin before describing for the crowd the meaning of hip-hop profiling.

"So what exactly does 'hip-hop profiling' mean you might be asking? Let me read for you a list of newspaper headlines in Madison since 2008," said Dante. "'King St. Club on Hot Seat,' 'Profiling Charged After Event Canceled,' 'MPD vs. Clubs, Hip-Hop,' 'Brink Lounge Bans Hip-Hop Shows,' 'Should Majestic Drop the DJ?'

"Local beat writer Katjusa Cisar described it as 'tension that has been building up in Madison for years.' Just type "hip-hop" and "venue" into's search engine, set the time limit at the past ten years and hundreds of stories pop up. At the Madison Hip-Hop Forum in 2009 which looked to address many of these issues, a promoter complained about the police canceling her party at the last minute and without evidence. 'It feels like we're always being targeted,' she said.

"Things need to change in Madison. And unfortunately not much has changed since that 2009 forum. Police still watch our every move and venue owners are still just as reluctant to embrace hip-hop music," J Dante said. (Dane 101 readers might have caught The Pub's sight against hip-hop in the last ALRC rundown)

The ACLU has been involved in issues around racial profiling for years all around the country. Back in 2003, the concept of "hip-hop profiling" came to a peak in Florida, where the ACLU called for an investigation of the surveillance of rap artists who were the subject of police scrutiny for alleged associations with gang members. Anti-racist activists demanded that police start with reasonable suspicion rather than employment as a rap artists before profiling individuals.

In Wisconsin, in addition to tension around the hip-hop scene in Madison, racial profiling is being debated once again in the news and around the state. When the legislature passed its biennial budget, a provision that allows police officers to do primary seat belt enforcement (pull people over for a seat belt check) along with requiring the collection of data such as the race of the person pulled over was signed into law. Since then, the ACLU of Wisconsin and our supporters have been at public hearings for the Office of Justice Assistance to give feedback on how the data collection would work and why it would be helpful in addressing racial profiling.

What is essential for everyone in the United States and for anyone who comes in contact with law enforcement is a basic understanding of individual rights. Criminal defense attorney and ACLU of Wisconsin board president Erik Guenther talked to the group about what to do if they encounter police and what to do if they feel they were the subject of profiling at hip-hop shows or on the street. Students got a chance to ask questions about police and the criminal justice system and to share their stories about what they felt was unfair treatment or discriminatory scrutiny by law enforcement.

After the Q&A, the performers got to take over. Music was provided by DJ Dyme.

Phonetic One got the group fired up, supported by J Dante.

Polygon n Flaka Flows shared some social rhymes.

And Stereotype ended the night with a bang along with J Dante.

For more information about racial profiling issues in the Madison area, contact the local ACLU office at 6084695540. For more information on how UW-Madison students can join the ACLU Student Alliance at UW, email the group or find them on Facebook.