Carlos was 5 years old when he saw police officers arrest a Hispanic man known in the neighborhood as the local drunk, handcuff the man and beat him in the back of a patrol car near 500 South and 500 East.

When young Carlos asked officers why they were doing that, they told the boy to scram, or they'd beat him too.Andrea's nephew is a straight-A student and class president at Bonneville Junior High. But the boy has been hassled and victimized by the criminal justice system already.

The boy was with friends recently in the restroom of a local mall.

A security guard followed the boys in, then grabbed Andrea's nephew and started to search him. He found a small knife the teenager had just won at the games arcade and hauled the boy off to security. Security nearly had him headed to court before the boy's family got an attorney and was able to convince security staff the boy wasn't a troublemaker.

"This is a real problem here in Utah," Andrea said in a public hearing Friday hosted by members of the Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Legal System.

"They get our African American young men in the system real early. I hope this is something you look into seriously."

Every day, some person of color reports he has been followed by a police car, stopped and harassed or called back into a store and wrongly accused of shoplifting, said task force member Jeanetta Williams, head of the Salt Lake chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Friday's event was sponsored by the NAACP.

Speakers were allowed to use only their first names or keep their anonymity.

The task force is hosting similar hearings throughout the state.

"Our mission is to determine the existence and extent of real or perceived bias in the criminal justice system," said Jennifer Yim, director of the umbrella Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Fairness.

The group is collecting data, doing research and listening to citizen comment on this topic. "We want to determine if people are treated unfairly because of the color of their skin."

Tyrone Medley, a 3rd District Court Judge and task force co-chairman, said there are a couple recurring themes from the public hearings.

"First, there is a general lack of understanding on the part of the minority community as to what their rights are," Medley said. "Another theme is the harassment and unfair treatment by law enforcement. That has dominated much of the discussion in our public hearings."

Friday, nearly everyone in the group of 25 who attended the event had a story to share.

Some had been victims of police disparity or knew others who had.

Some said they were sure police would never treat a person of color the same way they treat a caucasian under peculiar circumstances. Like the Northern Utah woman who left her toddler in the car at a local hotel in 100-degree weather.

The police got the child out as the woman, who had been away for 30 minutes, returned to the car.

"If it had been anyone else, a black or a Hispanic or whatever, that person would have been arrested for leaving a baby in the car like that," one man told the group.

Several had questions. Why is it, a woman asked, that the new civilian review board, established to watch over the Salt Lake Police Department, can study complaints against the police department but can't make a recommendation to Police Chief Ruben Ortega?

Jonathon, who is caucasian, said a couple years ago he was waiting for a friend behind St. Marks Cathedral in downtown Salt Lake when a police officer on a bicycle rode up. Jonathon had a shaved head at the time and said the officer must have pegged him for a Nazi-sympathizing skinhead.

"He told me not all cops are bad," Jonathon said. Apparently to demonstrate this, Jonathon said he lifted his shirt sleeve to reveal a Nazi emblem tattooed on his shoulder.

Medley said it's not clear what the task force will do with the information it gathers. It will issue a report in about year.

Clearly, members of the minority community need to know their rights.

And the community could use some basic information about the ways into and out of the system.

Medley talked about "filing a motion" and "completing an affidavit" to file a judicial complaint.

Shauna Graves-Robinson, of the Salt Lake Legal Defenders Office, said she wondered how many people in the room knew what he was talking about.

"We might need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to educate people about the law," she said. "People don't have a clue. They really don't have a clue."