Avoid This Illegal Question in the Hiring Process
INTERVIEW EDGE • APRIL 1995
A hassle arrest is an unwarranted police harassment that never leads to a conviction. This is a fact of life in minority communities and one of the reasons why it is illegal to ask job applicants about their arrest records. Ordinarily, this kind of harassment strikes the poor and powerless, but sometimes even celebrities are victims. In the past few months, hassle arrests of two prominent African-Americans have made headlines.
In May 1992, Olympic athlete Al Joyner had just arrived in Los Angeles after a meeting with the President at the White House when he was stopped by police and handcuffed at gunpoint. No charges were ever filed. Joyner later sued the LAPD and was recently awarded $50,000 in damages. But it is doubtful whether any amount of money can compensate this athlete for an incident so distressing that he was unable to qualify for the 1992 Olympic team.
Then in May of this year, railroad police nabbed Earl Graves, Jr., a senior vice president at Black Enterprise magazine, as he stepped off a commuter train in New York. Graves was traveling from his home in the upper middle-class suburb of Chappaqua, and was arrested in front of his neighbors and colleagues. Apparently the officers were searching for a five-foot-ten-inch black man with a mustache, but settled for the six-foot-four, clean-shaven Graves.
Railroad officials hastened to send letters of apology (to Graves, his father, who publishes Black Enterprise, and The New York Times, among others) and promised to beef up diversity training for its officers. Such training may be called for, but until the workforce itself is truly diverse, unfortunate incidents like these will probably continue to occur.