Racial profiling is a longstanding and deeply troubling national problem despite claims that the United States has entered a “post-racial era.” It occurs every day, in cities and towns across the country, when law enforcement and private security target people of color for humiliating and often frightening detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of criminal activity and based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. Racial profiling is patently illegal, violating the U.S. Constitution’s core promises of equal protection under the law to all and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. Just as importantly, racial profiling is ineffective. It alienates communities from law enforcement, hinders community policing efforts, and causes law enforcement to lose credibility and trust among the people they are sworn to protect and serve.
We rely on the police to protect us from harm and promote fairness and justice in our communities. But racial profiling has led countless people to live in fear, casting entire communities as suspect simply because of what they look like, where they come from, or what religion they adhere to.
Racial profiling affects a wide array of communities of color. More than 240 years of slavery and 90 years of legalized racial segregation have led to systemic profiling of blacks in traffic and pedestrian stops. Since September 11, 2001, members of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities have been profiled by airline personnel, federal law enforcement, and local police.
The federal government’s encouragement of unprecedented raids on immigrant communities and workplaces by local law enforcement in cooperation with federal agencies has targeted Latino communities in particular. These policies have unjustly expanded the purview of and undermined basic trust in local law enforcement, alienated immigrant communities, and created an atmosphere of fear. Anti-immigrant rhetoric has led to a dramatic increase in hate crimes against and racial profiling of Latinos.
The ACLU’s work on racial profiling encompasses major initiatives in litigation, public education, and advocacy, including lobbying for passage of data collection and anti-profiling legislation and litigating on behalf of individuals who have been victims of racial profiling by airlines, police, and government agencies.
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