ACLU, Urban League Urge Support for Racial Profiling Legislation in St. Louis

Affiliate: ACLU of Missouri
February 24, 2000 12:00 am

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ST. LOUIS, MO — At a news conference today, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Urban League, and other community groups joined State Representative Russell Gunn support of his proposed legislation requiring state and local law enforcement officials to collect data on the racial composition of people pulled over for suspected traffic violations.

The bill, expected to be introduced by Rep. Gunn of St. Louis this week, is viewed by proponents as a large step toward ending the discriminatory practice of racial profiling.

“Data collection is the best way to document the problem of racial profiling and will ultimately allow us to work to end this practice,” said Matt LeMieux, Executive Director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “Racial profiling has been statistically documented across the country, and the reports we receive suggest that the practice occurs in Missouri as well. Data collection will allow us to see where the problems lie and work collectively to reach solutions.”

Racial profiling has been described as practices that “equate race with criminality and use it in the absence of and in lieu of probable cause.” The ACLU of Eastern Missouri has received numerous complaints of racial profiling by police.

Just last week, LeMieux noted, the St. Louis Police Board of Commissioners adopted a policy prohibiting St. Louis police officers from stopping motorists based solely on race, and calling for corrective measures such as training and data collection to be implemented. Shortly after its approval by the Board, the president of the St. Louis Police Officers association criticized the resolution as unnecessary and motivated by political correctness. Yet complaints received by the ACLU of Eastern Missouri and statistics documented nationwide tell a different story.

A 1999 report issued by the national ACLU, Driving While Black: Racial Profiling on Our Nation’s Highways documented traffic stop patterns in four Ohio cities and concluded that blacks are roughly twice as likely to be ticketed as all other citizens. Similar results were found in Illinois and California, where the ACLU has been actively collecting data on traffic stops. This report, coupled with ACLU-led litigation in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and California has forced an increasing number of law enforcement agencies to review how traffic stops are being conducted. Numerous law enforcement agencies nationwide now voluntarily collect data during traffic stops.

Last year, lawmakers in North Carolina and Connecticut passed legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to collect data during traffic stops. This year, at least 25 states have legislation pending that would require data collection.

Common threads among these complaints include:

  • stops made for minor traffic violations like brake lights, changing lanes without a using a turn signal, or not making a complete stop at a stop sign, in which the person is questioned and possibly searched before being released. These are offenses for which non-minorities are rarely stopped, and may be used as pretext to question or search a motorist.
  • stops made for no stated reason, in which the person is detained, questioned or searched and released without ticket.
  • legitimate stops (such as speeding) in which the driver is detained for a long time and questioned or searched instead of just being issued a ticket and released.
  • motorists who get arrested for offenses like “resisting arrest,” “not cooperating,” or “failure to comply” without some other charge. This suggests the lack of legitimate probable cause.
  • stops that involve extensive, or improper/irrelevant personal questions, such as “do you have a job,” “where are you going,” “how did you get the money to buy this car,” etc.

Frequent targets of racial profiling include black males, those in nice cars or drivers in typically white neighborhoods. For example, one African-American military officer was stopped on I-44 for what the trooper claimed was a broken brake light. When the man showed that the brake light worked, the trooper then said he was pulled over for swerving into the next lane. After detaining and questioning him for some time, the man was released. Similarly, a black man who questioned being pulled over in South St. Louis was given no reason, pulled out of his car, handcuffed, and detained while police searched his car and interrogated the man about his personal life. After an hour, he was released without explanation. In another instance, an African-American woman headed to work at the University of Missouri-St. Louis in her Acura who was pulled over near campus and asked, “Do you have a job,” “Do you know what kind of car you are driving,” and other humiliating questions before being released. The ACLU also cited the case of a local man detained for more than three hours for a simple speeding ticket.

The national ACLU maintains a special “Arrest the Racism” webpage at to monitor and report on incidents of racial profiling. Those who believe they have been victims of racial profiling can report incidents through the web page or by calling a toll-free number, 1-877-6-PROFILE.

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