America, land of the free: Salt Lake City police chief outlines a long history of racial profiling

by FRANCES MOODY

“We are an affective arm of oppression because we stand ready,” said Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank. He was speaking of the existing biases within legal systems. Prejudicial laws, he said, can act as weapons inflicting unfair oppression against one group of people. To Burbank, biased laws make it OK for police and politicians to “stand ready” and discriminate. This form of discrimination prompts racial profiling, Burbank said.

Burbank’s 21 years of experience on the Salt Lake City police force helped form his opinion on the subject of illegal immigration. He has witnessed an increase in illegal immigration and has noticed peoples’ inclination to strictly crackdown on undocumented workers. When speaking to a University of Utah class, Burbank explained how current biases in law enforcement trace back to historical occurrences.

According to Burbank, racial profiling helped construct a legal system with biased laws. Perhaps, these prejudice laws of generalization created the segregated workforce in the United States today.

Segregation in the United States has a long history. From slavery to Jim Crow laws, segregation created a trend of racial profiling against African immigrants. The 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowed the legalization of slavery. Africans were imported and put to work, working hard labor jobs. When slavery ended with the Civil War, the South designed another form of segregation by enforcing Jim Crow laws

Jim Crow created a caste system in many southern states. For instance, African Americans were segregated from white people. They were forced to drink from their own drinking fountains, use different bathrooms, etc.Though free, African-Americans still worked hard labor jobs that no one else wanted and the segregation cycle continued. .

Today, racial profiling against African-Americans may be prominent. Burbank stressed that the majority of people conclude that African American people are criminals. “What’s the majority population in prison? African-American males between the ages of 18 and 35, they’re obviously criminal, aren’t they?” Burbank said, with a hint of sarcasm.

Along with the immigration of African slaves came other immigrants. New groups traveling to the United States came for a fresh start. History documents that they discovered a similar form of prejudice and favoritism experienced by African slaves. Biased opinions against Irish immigrants became prominent in the mid 1800s.  “Jobs were hard to find. Employers often advertised their unwillingness to take on the newcomers by hanging out ‘No Irish Need Apply’ signs. Irish women did find work as domestics, stereotyped as “Biddies,” short for Bridget,” published website, assumption.edu, said.

Finding work as an Irish man or woman proved itself a difficult task. “Back east all the Irish families are cops or firefighters. Nobody of any dignity wanted to be police officers…The Irish couldn’t get anything else. Segregated as we segregate Hispanics, they all became cops.” Burbank said. The idea of discrimination in the mid 1800s created an Irish family occupation trend.

Burbank also mentioned Italian immigrants struggles against biases. Some citizens viewed Italians as violent people; they also faced the problem of finding a job.  After poor treatment, Italians banned together and generated revenue in alternative ways.  During prohibition the American/ Italian Mafia produced profits through illegal sales of alcohol. Historical figures like Al Capone became prominent in U.S. history and media.

The Italian Mafia is present in pop culture. Reality Television shows like Growing Up Gotti and Mob Wives showcase media’s view of American-Italian decedents. Yet another form of biased opinion stands prominent in contemporary society.

After explaining biases in history, Burbank highlighted the struggles that a new group of immigrants are facing. He offered the idea that while prejudice opinions and laws rise up in culture on a national level, those preconceptions also surface on a local level. Illegal immigration prances to the hotspot of political attention, even in Salt Lake City legislation and business. As police chief, Burbank encounters such local issues.

People of Hispanic descent migrate to the United States everyday. However, many of them find difficulty in becoming legal. As illegal immigrants, the process of finding work may show to be a daunting task. In order to find work, some have been known to buy or forge documentation that looks legal.

The struggle of becoming legal punctures the well being of many businesses that hire employees with false documentation. In Salt Lake City, a local bed and breakfast faced turmoil when the entire housekeeping staff proved to be illegal. For protection, the names of the manager and hotel shall remain anonymous. “They all had documentation that looked totally legitimate. They came into my office and said we are all illegal… Because they told me that, I had to verify our entire staff,” the manager said.

The entire staff lost their jobs and livelihood. Most of them remained in Utah, but have not found work due to new policies of employee verification.

The hotel and its manager faced the task of replacing its view of hardworking employees who work for low wages. In cultural and business viewpoints, staff like this hotel’s housekeepers will work hard for near to nothing. Burbank finds oddness that these hardworking employees are often categorized as criminals in society’s mind.

This local hotel is just among many businesses that have suffered. Another prominent Salt Lake City hotel, The Grand America, faced the task of firing their housekeeping staff after an investigation.

Burbank closed his discussion with the U of U class and left students to ponder on new ideas and different outlooks. Among the new opinions Burbank offered that if new opinions and laws emerged, people like these housekeepers can become legal and break away from the criminal profiling they all face.

In political standards, many Utah politicians and law official hold the same existing biases in United States past and present history. Officer Burbank hopes to break away from racial profiling. Being in the minority, his viewpoints face scrutiny. “Salt Lake City, sanctuary Burbank, they actually have a wall with my name on the hill now because they are actually going to throw out all the police chiefs who don’t enforce immigration laws as they see fit. Not only do Hispanics have no judicial process, review or civil rights, neither do police chiefs,” Burbank said.

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