ACLU Applauds Ashcroft Move on Racial Profiling; Calls on Attorney General to Examine Other Racial Justice Issues

March 1, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Calling it an encouraging first step, the American Civil Liberties Union today applauded Attorney General John Ashcroft for calling on Congress to pass racial profiling legislation that has languished on Capitol Hill for years but encouraged the Justice Department to do more to combat racial injustice.

“While he was in the Senate, Ashcroft failed to move the bill that he endorsed today out of his subcommittee,” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “But this is a new year with a new Administration and we are very hopeful that the Republican-controlled Congress will listen to the new Republican Administration and finally pass this bill.”

For more than six years, Rep. John Conyers, D-MI, has sponsored legislation that would require the Attorney General to conduct a study of traffic stops to better understand the extent to which race determines who is stopped. The bill would not require any law enforcement agency to collect data, but instead would authorize the Attorney General to provide funding to help police agencies collect data.

In a letter sent to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ashcroft called on Congress to consider racial profiling legislation within six months. If Congress does not act, Ashcroft said, he would instruct the Justice Department to begin its own study of available data.

The ACLU said that in addition to calling on his former colleagues to act, Ashcroft should continue studies begun during the Clinton Administration of data collected by federal law enforcement agencies. In addition, the ACLU said that the Ashcroft Justice Department should also continue other steps begun by the Clinton Administration to ensure that law enforcement agencies around the country are treating minorities fairly.

“The Clinton Administration, after a great deal of browbeating by the civil rights community, finally had started to take the necessary and appropriate steps to end the mistreatment of people of color in the criminal justice system,” King said. “We now call on the Bush Administration to continue this work and fulfill its promises that no American will be treated differently on account of his or her skin color.”

One other politically charged issue, King said, is overwhelming evidence of racial disparities in the imposition of the federal death penalty. A Justice Department report issued last fall found that most of those facing federal capital prosecutions have been either African America, Hispanic, Asian, Native American or of Pacific Island origin. Of those on federal death row, 81 percent are people of color.

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