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The Three Faces of Racial Profiling: The ACLU Connects the Dots

Laura W. Murphy,
Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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October 18, 2011

In recent weeks, local police have been circulating predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods in Alabama, asking those standing on the street to go inside their homes or face arrest — all because the state passed a law requiring police to be immigration agents.

During the past decade, as international terrorism became a subject of intense concern, Arab Americans and South Asian Americans have been spied upon, stopped, questioned and subjected to intensified inspection based on their racial characteristics rather than any evidence of wrongdoing.

And for more than a century, black men and women traveling through predominantly white neighborhoods have been questioned for no reason — simply because police officers felt they didn’t belong there.

Before there was even a name for it, racial profiling has been engrained in our country’s law enforcement practices. But racial profiling not only goes against our Constitution and our country’s value for equality — it also hinders law enforcement officials from doing an effective job.

For years, many of our political leaders have vowed to put an end to racial profiling. Attorney General Eric Holder has made it clear that ending the practice of racial profiling is a "priority" for the Obama administration. And certain members of Congress have echoed that sentiment, by introducing S. 1670, the End Racial Profiling Act of 2011 (ERPA), in the U.S. Senate on Oct. 6. The law also will be reintroduced in the House, and should receive bipartisan support.

The law would take concrete steps toward eliminating the practice of making a group of people subject to heightened scrutiny based on race, ethnicity, religion or national origin. ERPA is a laudable starting point, not a complete remedy, because the operational lines between legitimate practices and illegal profiling have become dangerously blurred at our borders, in our airports, and on our streets and freeways. It will take sustained vigilance to make these boundaries meaningful and to ensure that anyone violating them faces consequences.

Now is the time for us to come together and end this unlawful practice. Racial profiling is ineffective, erodes public trust in law enforcement and violates the Constitution. It has no place in American life.

In the coming days, through a blog series on “The Three Faces of Racial Profiling,” it will become evident the damage that racial profiling has done to many Americans. At the core, racial profiling is about discrimination, not about keeping our communities or our country safe.

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