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Abdul-Samad: "White Folks Can't Teach You About Racial Profiling"

Joyce Russell/Iowa Public Radio
Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad (D-Des Moines)

Racial profiling by Iowa law enforcement was the focus of discussion Tuesday at the annual Summit on Justice and Disparities, sponsored by the NAACP.   The gathering focuses each year on the disproportionate presence of African-Americans in Iowa's Criminal Justice System.  

Held on the Ankeny campus of Des Moines Area Community College, the program included panels on getting more black people on juries, disrupting the school to prison pipeline, and racial profiling by police.  

Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, an African-American legislator from Des Moines, argued that training to prevent blacks from being targeted for arrests won’t work unless they are involved in the training.

"How do you deal with somebody teaching about racial profiling, racial bias, that's from Belle Plaine Iowa, that ain't seen nothing about black people except on television," Abdul-Samad said.   "You can't work that way."

Abdul-Samad appeared on a panel that included the heads of the Iowa Departments of Corrections and Human Services and a Polk County Sheriff official.   The legislator referred to the panelists as “my brothers of another color.”  

“And they don’t know nothing about me,” Abdul-Samad said.   “They can’t talk about my situation.”

Currently two African-American men are suing Des Moines police officers after allegedly being pulled over, searched, and detained without cause in an incident in July.  A bill to ban racial profiling in Iowa failed to advance in the Iowa legislature.

Attendees at the summit learned that African-American men currently make up 25 percent of the Iowa prison population, while comprising only 3 percent of the population as a whole.   At the same time, Iowa has dropped from No. 1 in the nation to No. 3 for the number of African-Americans per capita in the criminal justice system.

Director of the Iowa Department of Corrections Jerry Bartruff said the state has improved its record on recidivism for African-Americans.

“African-Americans and people who are not African-Americans now recidivate at the same level,”  Bartruff said. 

Speaking for the Judicial Branch, state court administrator Todd Nuccio outlined proposals for including more African-Americans in jury pools.

“Right now we’re implementing a new jury application and part of that implementation is going to strive for greater representation and inclusiveness of our jury lists,” Nuccio said. 

Joyce Russell is a correspondent based at the Iowa Statehouse. Joyce has been covering the Iowa Statehouse since shortly after joining the news staff at WOI Radio in 1988. Her earlier broadcasting experience included news reporting at commercial stations in Oklahoma City and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Joyce’s reports can be heard on National Public Radio and American Public Media programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Marketplace. She covered the last six Iowa caucus campaigns and interviewed numerous candidates for president, including some who went on to attain the highest office in the land.