Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said he was racially profiled by police "countless times" as a youth and young man in Rhode Island's capital city.
"It's just part of growing up in the city -- which is very unfortunate and sad," Elorza, a son of Guatemalan immigrants, said Thursday during a taping of Rhode Island Public Radio's Political Roundtable. "I've been pulled over a number of times, so I'm sensitive to that."
Elorza, who took office as Providence's second Latino mayor in January, drew a distinction between what happened to him and the current state of police-community relations in Rhode Island's largest city. "These are different times," he said, "and what I see in the police department is a much greater commitment to building those strong relationships with the community, and that's the path forward."
The recent death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore is the latest in a number of episodes in different American cities where young black men have died following encounters with police. The circumstances leading to Gray's death remain unclear.
Elorza said his first budget invests in police-community relations, by including money for a 32-member cadet class and new recreation programs. He said the cadet class will enable the return of foot patrols and a renewed commitment to community policing.
In Rhode Island, groups like the Providence chapter of the NAACP and the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union say that racial profiling remains common. Concerns have also been raised about Providence's gun task force. At the same time, observers say communication between police and community groups has improved significantly over the last 15 years.
Senator Harold Metts (D-Providence) last year introduced a bill meant to balance police and community concerns about documenting racial profiling, but it didn't find a sponsor in the House. (Metts, an African-American, has also described being racially profiled.)
State Representative Joseph Almeida (D-Providence) this year introduced a bill requiring police departments to submit data on racial disparities in traffic stops. House Judiciary Committee hearings on the bill have twice been delayed at Almeida's request, said House spokesman Larry Berman,