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Send Racial Profiling into Retirement

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June 30, 2009

Think racial profiling — using a person’s race, color, ethnicity or national origin to determine whether to stop, search or investigate him or her for alleged criminal activity — is wrong and ineffective? So do President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, former President George W. Bush, and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

So why did the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD, the independent group of experts that oversees compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a treaty the U.S ratified 15 years ago) “note with concern” that racial profiling “continues to be widespread” in the United States? Indeed, when reviewing the United States government’s track record on racial discrimination, the Committee highlighted the persistence of racial profiling as an especially troubling issue.

A new report by the ACLU and the Rights Working Group shows just how pervasive the problem is. The report, submitted today to the Committee, includes information about racial profiling in 22 states and under a variety of federal programs. It tells the story, for example, of how the 287(g) program, designed to permit local police departments to enforce immigration law, has given police officers license to stop, question, harass and detain anyone who looks “foreign.” The report also highlights the discriminatory ways in which special registration programs, border stops, airline profiling and other government initiatives have victimized people who are (or appear to be) Arab, Muslim and South Asian. These policies and practices have wrought destruction on individuals, families and communities, tearing them apart through unjust detentions, deportations, raids and more.

We rely on the police to protect us from harm and to promote fairness and justice in our communities. The despicable practice of racial profiling, however, has led countless people to live in fear and created a system of law enforcement that casts entire communities as suspect. Surely the land of the free can do better.

Read the ACLU/RWG report, which includes a long list of recommendations for truly eradicating this troubling (and, study after study shows, ineffective) law enforcement technique.

Listen to a podcast with Dennis Parker, director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program.

And learn more about the ACLU’s work to end racial profiling at our website.

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