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House hearing on anti-racial profiling legislation

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Apr 30, 2012 - 10:49:45 AM

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Graphics: MGN Online
On average, searches and seizures of White drivers yielded evidence 17 percent of the time, compared to only 8 percent of the time for Black drivers and only 10 percent of the time for Latino drivers.
WASHINGTON ( - For the first time since 9/11, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on racial profiling April 17 to discuss the “End Racial Profiling Act,” which prohibits profiling by law enforcement officers. 

Two panels presented opposite sides of the legislation and included congressional representatives, such as Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), a co-sponsor of the bill, policemen and civil rights organizations.

The testimonies of racial and religious profiling for Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, Asians and more were pretty much the same, only the faces changed. 

In each story people experienced humiliation, frightening interrogations, searches, detentions and sometimes deaths  commonplace with racial profiling.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) spoke about the tragic killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who lived in her jurisdiction. “We need to have a national conversation about racial profiling now.  Enough is enough,” she said.

Ronald Davis is the chief of police in East Palo Alto, Calif. He has 27 years of law enforcement experience. He spoke about the issue from the side of law enforcement and how profiling is poor policing, but he personalized the issue with a story about his son.

“I know that when I teach him (his son) how to drive a car, I must also teach him what to do when stopped by the police, a mandatory course for young men of color,” Chief Davis explained.

“I must also prepare him for the bias he is likely to face and the reality that, despite the strength of his character or his contributions to society, there will be those who will attach criminality to him simply because of the color of his skin, and do so under the veil of national security.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, every year, thousands of people are stopped while driving, flying, or even walking simply because of their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration or citizenship status or religion.

They are not stopped because they have committed a crime, but because law enforcement authorities wrongly assume they are more likely to be involved in criminal activity because of their physical appearance.

A 2004 report by Amnesty International estimates that one in nine Americans have been victimized by racial profiling—a total of 32 million people nationwide.

But not everyone testifying at the Senate hearing expressed reasons why the End Racial Profiling Act should be passed. Frank Gale, national second vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police, represented the opposition.

“The so-called practice of racial profiling, hyped by activists, the media and others with political agendas, is one of the greatest sources of stress between law enforcement and the minority community in our nation today,” he said.

“The so-called practice of racial profiling is, in fact, only part of the larger issue. That larger issue is a mistaken perception on the part of some that the ugliness of racism is part of the culture of law enforcement. I am here today not only to challenge this perception, but to refute it entirely,” he said.

Mr. Gale added, “I do not believe that S. 1670, the End Racial Profiling Act, will help repair the bonds of trust and mutual respect between law enforcement and minority communities. Quite the opposite, I believe it will widen them because it was written with the presumption that racist tactics are common tools for our nation’s police departments. This is wrong and is a great disservice to the brave men and women who put themselves in harm’s way every day and night to keep our streets safe.”

Anthony D. Romero is the executive director of the ACLU. He quickly responded to Mr. Gales’ remarks. “An analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that from 2002 to 2011 the NYPD conducted more than 4.3 million street stops. About 88 percent of those stops—nearly 3.8 million—were of innocent New Yorkers, meaning they were neither arrested nor issued a summons. Black and Latino residents comprised about 87 percent of people stopped.”

“There is a problem. This is not conduct driven,” Mr. Romero explained. “This is precisely why the End Racial Profiling Act is necessary.”

In his written testimony, Mr. Romero also noted, “Police used physical force more often on Black and Latino people than during stops of White people. No guns were found in 99.8 percent of stops. Thus, while the routine use of such discriminatory practices did little to improve public safety, such practices did succeed in alienating communities of color and making them increasingly reluctant to cooperate with the police in conducting criminal investigations.”

The evidence of racial profiling around the country documents instances against just about everyone who isn’t White.

A 2001 Department of Justice report found that, although Blacks and Latinos were more likely to be stopped and searched by police, they were less likely to be in possession of contraband. 

On average, searches and seizures of White drivers yielded evidence 17 percent of the time, compared to only 8 percent of the time for Black drivers and only 10 percent of the time for Latino drivers.

Mr. Romero explained the magnitude of racial profiling, “As an organization that represents clients impacted by the full spectrum of racial profiling, the ACLU’s testimony will provide an in-depth look at each of the three ‘faces’ of racial profiling—routine law enforcement, immigration and border control, and national security policy.”

“Every form of racial profiling is ineffective, and it always erodes the bond that effective law enforcement officials try to build with the communities they protect. Such actions violate the Constitution. Racial profiling, in whatever form, has no place in American life,” he said.

The End Racial Profiling Act of 2011 was introduced in the House by Rep. Conyers and in the Senate by Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin. 

The proposed legislation:

Makes it unlawful for federal, state, local, or Indian tribal law enforcement to profile based on race, religion, ethnicity or national origin;

Creates a private right of action for victims of profiling, which would allow individuals who believe they have been subject to racial profiling to sue the agent or agency they believe to have violated the law;

Allows the U.S. Attorney General to withhold grants from state law enforcement agencies that are not complying with the act;

Requires training on racial profiling for law enforcement agents;

Requires data collection and monitoring mechanisms such as complaint processes; and

For the first time, the legislation prohibits racial profiling in the context of law enforcement surveillance activities.

Related news:

Blacks are still stopped, targeted more by cops (FCN, 06-07-2011)

Report: Racial profiling rampant in Arizona (FCN, 05-06-2008)