Blog of Rights

One Step Closer to Ending Racial Profiling

By Dan Zeidman, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 10:28am

Whether it be the Arab-American Secret Service agent barred from a commercial flight en route to join the security detail at President George W. Bush's Crawford ranch, the African American high school student in Seattle singled out and degraded in front of his friends, or the Latino family in Chicago awoken at the crack of dawn by police and building inspectors searching for evidence of overcrowding — racial profiling touches us all.

We rely on the police to protect us from harm and promote justice in our communities. Still, the continued use of racial profiling undermines this essential relationship. Beyond its detrimental effects on public trust in law enforcement, racial profiling is ineffective and will ultimately compromise public safety.

Over the years, many of our political leaders have recognized this reality and have sought to put an end to racial profiling. In March 2000, former Attorney General John Ashcroft said racial profiling "needs to stop…Every American has a right to look to law enforcement officials to protect their rights."

In February 2001, President George W. Bush went even further and explained that racial profiling is "wrong, and we will end it in America. In so doing, we will not hinder the work of our nation's brave police officers. They protect us every day — often at great risk. But by stopping the abuses of a few, we will add to the public confidence our police officers earn and deserve."

More recently, in a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder called ending the practice of racial profiling as a "priority" for the Obama administration.

Fortunately, a piece of legislation has now been introduced in Congress by Sen. Ben Cardin and will soon be reintroduced by Rep. John Conyers, Jr., that will allow both Democrats and Republicans to come together and start the process of ending racial profiling As its title suggests, the End Racial Profiling Act of 2011 (ERPA) will eliminate the practice of making a group of people subject to heightened scrutiny based on race, ethnicity, religion or national origin. In addition to defining and explicitly prohibiting racial profiling, ERPA will also mandate racial profiling training and data collection, authorize the grants for the development and implementation of best policing practices and require periodic reports from the Attorney General on any continuing discriminatory practices.

ERPA is the thoughtful result of nearly two decades of work with law enforcement and civil rights communities, and its passage is vital to restoring trust between communities of color and the justice system.

By passing the End Racial Profiling Act, we can start the process of ending an unjust and unproductive practice and begin strengthening the relation between our communities and law enforcement.

The ACLU remains firmly committed to ending the unconstitutional use of racial profiling and will continue working to ensure ERPA's swift and successful passage. As Rep. Conyers explained last year, "In 2001, we achieved a bipartisan consensus with the Bush administration in support of profiling legislation and hope that we can rebuild that momentum in support of this long overdue federal action."

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