Blog of Rights

Profile-Me-Not

By Nahal Zamani, Human Rights Program at 3:53pm

In a letter to the Obama administration made public today, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concerns over a lack of progress to end racial discrimination in the United States. In particular, the letter urged the Obama administration and Congress to do more to end racial profiling, like passing the End Racial Profiling Act and reconsidering the 287(g) program. Monday's announcement that the federal government will investigate allegations of bias against Latino crime victims by police in Suffolk County, New York is an encouraging step, though there is plenty more to be done.

You may remember that the ACLU advocates before the CERD Committee on the status of racial profiling and discrimination in the United States. This summer, we issued (along with the Rights Working Group) a report on the pervasive problem of racial profiling, and in December 2007, a comprehensive analysis of racial discrimination in the US.

ACLU affiliates across the country are leading the charge to end racial profiling on state and local levels. Following the launch of the ACLU of West Virginia's Campaign to End Racial Profiling and a standing room only symposium on community and law enforcement relations, it was recently announced that the Charleston Police Department will require its officers to receive anti-racial profiling training.

In Maryland, the ACLU has been working to keep the pressure on the Maryland State Police (MSP), who – despite being sued for profiling drivers of color on I-95 back in the '90s – appear to have done little to eradicate the practice. Data shows that drivers of color continue to be stopped at disproportionate rates, and the MSP is refusing to turn over documents that would show whether it is meaningfully investigating complaints by drivers.

Both Illinois and New Jersey won significant legislative victories this session that will bring transparency to police practices in the two states. In Illinois, legislation extending the collection and analysis of data about all traffic stops will help to detect and deter bias-based policing. And in New Jersey, a new bill will make permanent the monitoring instituted in 1999 to combat racial profiling by the state police on the New Jersey Turnpike.

The Rhode Island ACLU is in court today arguing that detaining car passengers based on an officer's "hunch" that they look undocumented amounts to racial profiling.

And in Texas – where the Shelby County District Attorney is facing a federal lawsuit over a scheme in which authorities pull over mostly African-American motorists without cause, ask if they are carrying cash and, if so, order them to sign over the cash to the town or face felony charges of money laundering or other serious crimes – the ACLU recently filed a brief opposing the DA's request to use the seized money to defend herself.

Go, Team ACLU!

- Nahal Zamani, Human Rights Program and Nicole Kief, Racial Justice Program

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