Racial Profiling and Inequality in the US

In September of 2004, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) released a report that estimated that there are currently 32 million victims of racial profiling living in the US, and that 87 million individuals are at-risk of becoming victims of this "human rights violation. " The End Racial Profiling Act of 2004 defines racial profiling as "the practice of a law enforcement agent relying, to any degree, on race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin in selecting which individuals to subject to routine or spontaneous investigations" (States News Service, 2004).

Hardly considered a topic for scholarly discussion fifteen years ago, the matter of racial profiling has been brought to the forefront of national issues. In fact, in June of 1999, President Clinton ordered a memorandum to the Secretary of the Treasury, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of the Interior "to begin addressing the problem of racial profiling" (Meeks, 2000, p. 18). While racial profiling is most notoriously associated with the work of police and customs officials, many other citizens routinely engage in the practice, including shopkeepers and cabdrivers. Still, it is most noteworthy when done by law enforcement.

It is in this context that racial profiling should be considered a significant factor working against the equality of all people in the US. There is overwhelming evidence of the existence of a social problem. President Clinton's memorandum mandated that federal agencies "design and implement a system to collect data at all levels of law enforcement to define the scope of the problem. " According to McDonough (2004), twenty-seven states do not ban racial profiling, and only six of the 15 states that ban "stop and frisk" searches "use a definition of racial profiling that can actually be enforced.

" Thomas-Tisdale (2004) wrote that racial profiling "violates human rights," and that according to the AIUSA report, "under the guise of fighting terrorism, state and federal agencies have expanded the use of this degrading, discriminatory and dangerous practice" (p. 1A, 18A). The San Francisco Chronicle (2004) reported, "more than four million California residents and nearly 353,000 people living in San Francisco and Alameda counties have been victims of racial profiling" (p.

B8). Reed (2004) reported that a Nebraska State Patrol Colonel was concerned that racial profiling could be taking place, and that he "called for immediate action to stop apparent racial profiling by state troopers" (p. 01B). In 1999, in the wake of a national outcry by civil-rights leaders against the police practice of racial profiling, the New Jersey state attorney general's office initiated an investigation into the allegation that its state troopers engaged in the practice.

Meeks (2000) wrote that New Jersey "led the nation in accusations of racial profiling and then attempted to cover up the disproportionate number of minority drivers who were being stopped" (p. 29). 1 According to the attorney general's office of New Jersey, "data suggest that as of 1999 minority motorists were disproportionately subjected to car searches;" in some cases the count reached nearly eight out of every ten consent searches conducted by troopers involved minority motorists (p. 31).

In May 1999, New Jersey prosecutors were forced to drop drugs, weapons, and other charges filed against twenty-one black or Hispanic motorists because John Hogan and James Kenna, the officers who stopped the drivers, "were later indicted on charges that they racially profiled black and Hispanic motorists and then tried to falsify records" (p. 32). Officers Hogan and Kenna were charged with falsifying official documents by reporting that black and Hispanic drivers they had stopped were white.

This case was one of many legal cases brought against law enforcement individuals and agencies as a result of their participation in the practice of racial profiling. Six years earlier, in 1993, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class-action lawsuit against the Maryland State Police on behalf of Robert L. Wilkins. While passing through western Maryland on Interstate 68, Wilkins' rental car was stopped by a Maryland state trooper.

He and his family had to withstand public degradation, being forced the stand outside in the rain while the state troopers and police dogs searched his car on the suspicion that he possessed or was transporting drugs. The "reasonable suspicion" was apparently based on a Criminal Intelligence Report (1992), which was sent to the Maryland Police Department and alleged that drug traffickers would be "utilizing Interstate 68 to transport drugs" (see appendix).

The report claimed that the couriers could be driving "during daylight hours" or "in the late evening and early morning;" usually "travel with two or more people in the car, however, several are known to travel alone;" may be traveling in rental cars; and, "are predominantly black males and females. " Wilkins' case was eventually settled out of court in January 1995, and included not only monetary damages but also "mandated that the Maryland State Police adopt a nondiscrimination policy and that they no longer use race as a reason for stopping people" (Meeks, 2000, p.25).

From a legal point of view, racial profiling is complicated because it can be difficult to prove. It is for this reason that politicians of color and civil-rights leaders have initiated a national movement to "mandate that law-enforcement agencies keep statistics of whom they are stopping, questioning, detaining, and searching" (p. 7). In February of 2004, States News Service reported that four senators introduced bills to combat racial profiling.

Senators John Breaux, a democrat from Louisiana, and George Voinovich, a republican from Ohio, presented their bipartisan legislation, the "Uniting Neighborhoods and Individuals to Eliminate Racial Profiling Act of 2003 (UNITE)," which would stress better education and communication between citizens and law enforcement. The bill was designed to establish "public safeguards" and provide "meaningful complaint procedures" for those who felt they had been discriminated against.

2 Senators Jon Corzine, a democrat from New Jersey, and Russell Feingold, a democrat from Wisconsin, introduced the "End Racial Profiling Act of 2004," which was aimed also at eliminating racial profiling by law enforcement. According to States News Service (2004), Senator Corzine said, "the reliance by law enforcement agents on race or ethnicity or national origin or religion in deciding who to target for criminal investigations violates our nation's basic constitutional commitment to equal justice under the law.

" The law was introduced, in part, because besides violating our constitution, racial profiling undermines effective law enforcement by generating resentment among minority groups and "weakens the respect and trust between law enforcement and communities that is essential for successful police work. " In effect, the senators were rebuking claims that racial profiling was an effective police tool, pointing out how the practice actually hurt, instead of helped, the criminal justice process. 3

There have been indications that the movement to curb racial profiling has gained some ground. The introduction and adoption of laws against the practice only further indicates the place of racial profiling as among our most important current issues. According to Deere (2004), a January, 2004 survey of law enforcement agencies in Arkansas showed that "more than 20 police departments and sheriff's offices are complying with a new state law requiring them to have written policies against racial profiling," which was enacted at the beginning of the year.

The compliance meant that law enforcement officers must have reasonable suspicion before stopping, arresting, or detaining someone. Still, several of the offices that were contacted by the newspaper had not yet drafted a policy, and parts of the state law were "poorly worded," and meant that certain elements would be "difficult to enforce. " For example, the law calls for police training to include foreign language instruction, "if possible," to "ensure officers can communicate adequately with residents in their communities.

" Part of the End Racial Profiling Act of 2004 called to include "religion" in the possible categories used to profile individuals. This addition signifies one of the many changes in police work since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Thomas-Tisdale (2004) writes that the attacks have meant that racial profiling is no longer a "black/white" issue, but has expanded to include Muslims, South Asians, and Middle Easterns, among others.

In addition to the USA PATRIOT Act, which was passed shortly after the attacks and serves to allow more civilian surveillance by the US government, the increased practice of profiling at airports and other entrances to this country has caused many to raise questions about whether civil liberties are being violated. 4 According to US Marshal Matthew Fogg, "racial profiling is a threat to the effectiveness and fairness of our criminal justice system, and it is an affront to the dignity to all Americans.

" Thomas-Tisdale's article outlines the release of a report by AIUSA that claims that Racial Profiling is a threat to domestic security and human rights in the US. Judge Timothy Lewis, chair of AIUSA's national hearings on racial profiling pointed out that racial profiling has actually impeded effective law enforcement. Citing examples such as the alleged "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh and British "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, the report claims that programs that specifically target Arab, Muslim and South Asian men and boys, "would not necessarily have identified" these two men.

Judge Lewis agrees, pointing out that "focusing first and foremost, or worse, solely, upon such characteristics" would actually "divert attention from actual criminal behavior," and possible perpetrators of crime. According to the Ben Jealous, Director of AIUSA's Domestic Human Rights Program, "racial profiling is so pervasive and widely accepted that it has become a corrosive acid on this nation's spirit of unity.

" Again, though the report did point to progress being made in the task of bringing an end to profiling, citing President Bush's February 27, 2001 statement – "Racial profiling is wrong and I promise to end it in America" – the report also pointed to several glaring deficiencies in US legislature against the practice: twenty-one states had yet to pass laws concerning racial profiling, and only four states had passed laws banning racial profiling based on religion or religious appearance (p. 1A, 18A).