ACLU Applauds Executive Order on Race Profiling

June 9, 1999 12:00 am

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Wednesday, June 9, 1999

WASHINGTON — President Clinton’s initiative requiring federal law enforcement officials to collect data on the race and gender of people they stop to question or arrest is an important first step in ending the national disgrace of racial profiling, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

The President’s surprise announcement came during day one of a two-day Justice Department conference on “Police Integrity/Trust Building,” attended by officials in law enforcement and representatives of the civil rights community, including ACLU leaders from New York, California and Washington.

“The President has stated in no uncertain terms that racial profiling is morally indefensible,” said Ira Glasser, Executive Director of the ACLU. “Now is the time for officials in law enforcement to stop denying that the problem exists and start working on how to end the practice.”

“This is not about rogue police officers, it’s about a rogue policy,” Glasser added. “And we say to our leaders in law enforcement: don’t mend it, end it.”

But while documentation of the problem is an important first step, Glasser said, the President could go even further by issuing an executive order requiring all recipients of federal funds — including state and local law enforcement agencies — to collect this data. That recommendation was one of 10 the ACLU made in a letter sent late last week to Attorney General Janet Reno and released to the public earlier today.

The ACLU recommendations were focused in three areas — racial profiling, funding and police training. They include:

  • Requiring agencies that receive federal funding for highway drug interdiction to agree to collect and report comprehensive race data on who they stop and who they search. The ACLU also recommends that the agencies be required to agree to implement mandatory measures designed to prevent, identify and remedy abusive practices and violations of the Fourth Amendment.

  • Providing at least $5 million in new funding for the police accountability efforts of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The ACLU also calls for full funding to fulfill the Justice Department’s obligation to collect and report comprehensive data on the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers and for at least $5 million to fund improved recruitment efforts of minority and female officers.

  • Taking a leadership role in developing and supporting effective programs aimed at confronting the “code of silence” — the tendency for police to protect their own, even in the most egregious of circumstances. The ACLU said that the Justice Department should also work to provide “whistle blower” protection for police officers who report internal racial and sexual harassment concerns.

Just last week, the ACLU issued a new report on the problem of racial profiling. The report — Driving While Black: Racial Profiling On Our Nation’s Highways — cited statistics gathered by the ACLU in the course of legal challenges in several states and media stories from around the nation in making the case that skin color is being used as a substitute for evidence and a ground for suspicion.

Laura Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office and a participant in today’s conference, said that despite years of ACLU action on the issue, many of the law enforcement officials she encountered today were still in denial about the scope and magnitude of racial profiling.

While applauding the President’s executive order, Murphy said that without passage of a federal law, an executive order could easily be reversed by a future administration.

“Ultimately what is called for here is a fundamental focus on the civil rights crises created by our criminal justice system,” Murphy said. “Ending racial profiling is just the beginning.”

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