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Racial-profiling allegations shared in Burlington to raise awareness of issue

As part of a national campaign to raise awareness, panelists in Burlington, Washington heard various examples of when people felt singled out or harassed for the way
they look.

By Sharon Pian Chan

BURLINGTON, Skagit County — Two days after a video was made public showing two Seattle police officers kicking a man, about 70 people gathered in Burlington to talk about their experiences with racial profiling.


A Latina woman who was born in the U.S. said she suffered a miscarriage when she was 18 while she was held for hours at the U.S.-Mexico border.


A former Microsoft corporate vice president who is Muslim said he has been harassed repeatedly when going through U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at airports.


A Washington State University student who also is Muslim said he has been detained more than 50 times, each time for at least two hours,
coming back into the U.S.
after visiting his Canadian wife.


"Ninety-nine percent of the time, I was pulled in and held for 2 to 2 ½ hours to be processed, and I don't know why," said Alex Aravanetes, a U.S. citizen. "It just builds and builds and builds until it's the most frustrating
event you've ever had in your life because they have absolute power over
you."


The session was the first in a national "Face the Truth" campaign to highlight examples of racial profiling, where people felt singled out, harassed and even brutalized for the way they look.


Seattle nonprofit OneAmerica organized the Burlington event with Rights Working Group, a national coalition of community organizations. The next sessions will take place in Nashville, Detroit, Los Angeles, Richmond, Va., and Portland, Maine.


The Rights Working Group wants to use video from the sessions to urge Congress to pass an act to end racial profiling, and to review the 2003 federal guidance on racial profiling.


Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica, said she was horrified by the video aired Thursday of a Seattle police officer kicking a man on the ground and using ethnically inflammatory
language April 17.


"I saw the [later] video of the officer's tearful apology, and I was not moved," she said. "Where was his tearful apology three weeks ago?"


The point of Saturday's event was to focus on the racial profiling not caught on camera.


"We might want to focus on single cases, but the fact is that racial profiling happens all the time, and we wanted to shine a light on it," Jayapal said. The panel of listeners included Jayapal; King County Superior
Court Judge Steven Gonzalez; Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim
Advocates; Karen Narasaki, executive director of the Asian-American
Justice Center
in Washington, D.C.; and Mazen Basrawi, who works in the
civil-rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice.


Manuela Zepeda Vivanco said she miscarried while being held in detention at the U.S.-Mexico border in 1967. At the time, she was trying to return to the U.S., where she had been born 18 years earlier.


Twenty years later, she said she was living in Mount Vernon, Skagit County, when a Washington
State Patrol trooper pulled over a car in which she, her husband and another
family were riding and detained them for several hours, refusing to let anyone
use the bathroom.


Vivanco said through an interpreter that she would have to think twice before calling law enforcement if she needed help.


"I'm afraid. I'm really afraid to this day," Vivanco said. "If I see police, I just want to get out of the way because I know they're going to stop me."


Jawad Khaki, president of the Ithna-asheri Muslim Association of the Northwest, spoke of being harassed and stalked every time he entered and left the country.


A former corporate vice president at Microsoft and now a chief technology officer at a Bellevue software company, Khaki said he was harassed and stopped every time he returned to the U.S. between
2007 and 2009.


He has pursued complaints through multiple federal agencies. The last time he talked to a supervisor at the U.S. Border Patrol, he said, the man told him he should stop traveling.


"I would not in my wildest imagination think that a U.S. officer would suggest to a freedom-loving citizen to curtail his travel," Khaki said. "What we are seeing in this country is not right."


Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com

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