ACLU of Ohio Calls on Police and Local Communities to Stop Profiling

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
August 15, 2006 12:00 am

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False Accusations Illustrate Pitfalls of Profiling Ethnic Groups

MARIETTA, OH – The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today cautioned law enforcement officials and local communities against allowing fears of terrorism to justify ethnic and racial profiling. The statement comes after a week of speculation that two Lebanese-American men arrested in Marietta may have been involved in terrorism because of “suspicious” activities. Yesterday, both men were cleared of all terrorism charges.

“This is a textbook example of why racial and ethnic profiling is a bad idea,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Jeffrey Gamso. “These men had no ties to terrorism, but because they are Arabic their actions were under increased scrutiny from law enforcement and the community. Resources that could have been used to effectively fight crime were wasted.”

On Tuesday, August 8, the two men, residents of Dearborn, Michigan, were taken into custody in Marietta after a store owner called and reported that they seemed suspicious and had bought a large number of TracPhones. When police pulled over the two men, they found large amounts of money and TracPhones, which officials said could be used to detonate roadside bombs. The men said they were purchasing and reselling the phones in order to make money, according to news reports.

“Law enforcement would be better served by working with Muslim and Arabic communities so that if someone does know of a terrorism plot, they will trust police enough to come forward with information,” Gamso said. “Under the current system of relying on an individual’s suspicions, police are often spinning their wheels following leads that do not pan out and putting fear into communities that could instead have information to prevent another terrorist attack.”

In the wake of the so-called “War on Terror” federal and state governments have tried repeatedly to institute programs that rely on citizens to report “suspicious” activity. Such programs have been shown to be dangerously distracting, focusing on innocent people who generate suspicion from the untrained public based on skin color or dress rather than unusual behavior.

Most recently, the Ohio Department of Homeland Security introduced “See Something, Say Something.” The program is modeled on the ill-fated federal program Operation TIPS, which was shut down because the program proved to be inefficient and ineffective in preventing terrorism.

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