ACLU Report To United Nations Documents Racial Profiling In Rhode Island And Across Country

June 30, 2009 12:00 am

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Widespread racial profiling by law enforcement agents remains a pervasive problem in Rhode Island and throughout the United States, according to a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Rights Working Group (RWG). Government policies are a major cause of the disproportionate stopping and searching of racial minorities by law enforcement agencies, according to the report, which was submitted to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

“Racial profiling remains a widespread and pervasive problem throughout the U.S., impacting the lives of millions of people in the African American, Asian, Latino, South Asian, Arab and Muslim communities” said Chandra Bhatnagar, staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program and the main author of the report. “The U.S. government must take urgent, direct action to rid the nation of the scourge of racial and ethnic profiling and bring this country into conformity with both the Constitution and international human rights obligations.”

The 88-page report, “The Persistence of Racial and Ethnic Profiling in the United States” includes information about racial profiling in Rhode Island. It cites the most recent analysis of traffic stops data from the RI State Police, which found a pattern of “racial and/or ethnic differences” among motor vehicle stops and searches. The report also cites the documented problems associated with Governor Carcieri’s 2008 executive order encouraging local police departments to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law. The report notes that members of a state panel appointed by the Governor to monitor the order concluded that it created widespread fear among immigrants in the state. The report also cites the state legislation proposed by two dozen community groups, but stalled in the legislature due to opposition by police, designed to comprehensively address racial profiling in Rhode Island in light of these problems.

The document responds to a last-minute Bush administration submission to CERD in January 2009, which relied on the Justice Department’s 2003 “Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agents” to support claims the government was taking steps to eliminate racial profiling. However, that document doesn’t apply to state or local law enforcement agencies, doesn’t include any mechanisms for enforcement or punishment for violating the recommendations, and contains a blanket exception to the recommendations in cases of “national security” or “border integrity.” As a result, people of color have been disproportionately victimized through various government initiatives including FBI surveillance and questioning, special registration programs, border stops, immigration enforcement programs and the creation of “no fly lists.

CERD is an independent group of experts that oversees compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a treaty signed and ratified by the U.S. in 1994. All levels of U.S. government are required to comply with the treaty’s provisions, which require countries to review national, state and local policies and to amend or repeal laws and regulations that create or perpetuate racial discrimination.

The ACLU and RWG’s report to CERD is available online at:

RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today: “This detailed report is valuable in documenting the widespread nature of racial profiling throughout the country. Although Rhode Island is not unique, the report should serve as a clarion call to public officials in our state about the importance of taking decisive action on this critical issue. Passage of comprehensive legislation to address the problem is essential if we are serious about protecting racial and ethnic minorities in Rhode Island from discrimination. It would be refreshing if, a few years from now, a report to the United Nations pointed to our state as a model in dealing with this deep-seated problem.”

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