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“Moving while black”: the ACLU says a Kansas homeowner was racially profiled by police

Karle Robinson says police monitored him for weeks after the August 2018 incident, and refused to let him file a complaint.

Karle Robinson says he was handcuffed by police last August as he moved into his new home in Tonganoxie, Kansas.
Karle Robinson says he was handcuffed by police last August as he moved into his new home in Tonganoxie, Kansas.
Screenshot: Kansas City Star

Last August, Karle Robinson, a 61-year old black Marine Corps veteran, was finishing up a long day of moving. One month earlier, he had closed on a new home in the predominantly white town of Tonganoxie, Kansas, and he spent weeks moving things into the house, renting a moving truck to help things along. By the early morning hours of August 19, all he had left to move was his TV.

At 2:30 am, as he walked toward his house with it, a police officer approached, shining a flashlight in Robinson’s face, and immediately ordering him to “set the TV down, man.”

Robinson was then handcuffed — the officer said he wanted to make sure Robinson wasn’t burglarizing the house. Robinson calmly explained that it was his home, offering to show the paperwork to prove it. Instead, he waited outside, still handcuffed, until the officer’s backup arrived. When a different officer retrieved the paperwork, Robinson was released.

Part of the incident was captured on police body cameras.

And according to Robinson, his problems didn’t end with police leaving his home on August 19. Months later, Robinson says the incident, which he argues was clearly the result of racial profiling, continues to bother him.

This week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas stepped in on Robinson’s behalf, calling for the Kansas attorney general to investigate the incident. The group says the Tonganoxie Police Department profiled Robinson for “moving while black,” adding that police continued “a campaign of surveillance and harassment” for nearly two months after the incident and dismissed Robinson’s efforts to file a complaint.

“Each of these incidents would be concerning had they been alleged independently. Together they suggest a pervasive culture of racial bias and systemic process failure” within the Tonganoxie Police Department, the ACLU explained in a letter to Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

The ACLU says that Robinson was profiled for “moving while black”

According to the ACLU’s letter, Robinson first encountered Tonganoxie police late in the evening on August 18, receiving a warning citation after he was stopped while driving to his new home. After spending a few hours moving the last items into his house, Robinson was approached by Officer Brady Adams.

Robinson says he was bothered by the fact that he wasn’t allowed to show police that he was entering his own home, and that he was forced to sit in handcuffs as officers verified his identity. “If I’d been a white man, you know that wouldn’t happen,” Robinson told the Kansas City Star last October. “I’m being handcuffed right here on my own damn property.”

The ACLU letter notes that the officer who handcuffed Robinson initially said that he was being cautious due to a string of break-ins in the neighborhood. But when Robinson spoke with his neighbors about these incidents, they couldn’t recall any recent crimes.

For several weeks after that, Robinson says, police continued to appear outside his home and in the neighborhood. When Robinson went to the police department to complain about these incidents, he says the chief of police tried to discuss the matter with him first, and then stopped Robinson from filing a complaint.

The ACLU writes:

Chief Lawson told Mr. Robinson that Officer Adams was justified in drawing his weapon and applying restraints since he “feared for his life.” At no point did Chief Lawson permit Mr. Robinson to submit a written complaint for further review or investigation by TPD’s internal affairs unit. Chief Lawson ended the meeting by telling Mr. Robinson that Officer Adams did not act with racial bias or otherwise engage in improper conduct.

Robinson argues that the police surveillance only ended once he shared his story with the Kansas City Star, which published a story on October 3, 2018. One day after the story published, police stopped appearing near his home, he says.

Robinson and the ACLU argue that the incident is indicative of a larger problem with the Tonganoxie Police Department. The police department has countered that the ACLU’s letter “contains multiple accusations that are inaccurate,” but has not clarified what those inaccuracies are.

Robinson’s story is one of several recently that have involved black homeowners or apartment residents being viewed with suspicion by police or white bystanders.

In March, a viral video showed a police officer pulling a gun on a black man as he picked up trash outside his student housing. And in April 2018, as a string of stories involving black people having 911 called on them for unnecessary reasons gained attention, police were called on Darren Martin, a former White House staffer, as he moved into his Manhattan apartment.

The stories have highlighted the ways that black people are often viewed with scrutiny, requiring them to justify their presence in certain spaces or communities, often leaving them in situations where they must defend themselves on their own property. People subjected to these incidents have described dealing with increased stress and anger as a result. Others in similar profiling incidents have said they feared they’d make a mistake during interactions with police officers — and that their mistake could be fatal.

Robinson’s story in particular highlights how frustrating and humiliating these incidents can be for the black people subjected to them, and how those feeling can remain well after an incident. And with the help of the ACLU, he is making the case that what happened to him wasn’t just an unfortunate occurrence; it is a problem that requires serious changes in the police department.

“I’d like to see those cops and that chief lose their jobs because this was uncalled for,” he told the Associated Press. “This is strictly racial profiling.”

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