ACLU Video Starring Elon James White Reminds People Of Their Constitutional Rights When Stopped By Police

January 17, 2011 11:49 am

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day An Important Reminder of Ongoing Problem Of Racial Profiling

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today released a video of nationally acclaimed comedian Elon James White using humor to convey how best to respond when stopped by police, and to drive home the rights that all Americans have during any encounter with law enforcement officers.

The video, based on the ACLU’s know-your-rights card “What to Do if You’re Stopped by Police, Immigration Agents or the FBI” is being released on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which presents a good opportunity to reflect on the myriad ways people of color across the nation continue to experience racial discrimination.

“White brilliantly uses humor to make this vital information accessible in a way few other people could,” said Dennis Parker, Director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “But the use of comedy should not shroud the reality that racial profiling remains a serious nationwide problem. We rely on the police to keep us safe and treat us all fairly. But the practice of relying on an individual’s apparent race, ethnicity, national origin or religion rather than on evidence of criminal activity when deciding whom to stop, search or arrest is at odds with our shared American values of fairness and justice, and betrays the fundamental promises of equal justice under the law and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Though normally associated with African Americans and Latinos, racial profiling also affects Native Americans and, increasingly in the years since 9/11, Arabs, Muslims and South Asians. Recent data, including reports by a number of ACLU state affiliates, documents the persistence of racial profiling in communities throughout the country, despite the fact that analyses of traffic stops and searches show that people of color are no more likely, and in fact are often less likely, to have drugs or weapons than whites. Several government agencies have documented the ineffectiveness of relying on race as a proxy for criminal activity.

“Racial profiling is not only a direct affront to American values. It is an ineffective law enforcement tool that wastes police officers’ time and taxpayer dollars and is detrimental to public safety,” said Andre Segura, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “It diverts police attention away from more effective law enforcement techniques and cultivates resentment in targeted communities and makes people in those communities less likely to cooperate in investigations.”

In the video, White articulates a number of best practices to be used when involved in an encounter with law enforcement officials, aimed at ensuring that people’s constitutional rights are upheld. “There are some things that you want to say out loud, like clearly, like really let the officer know exactly what you mean…‘I am remaining silent!’ Just say it immediately and then just shut up,” White says in the video.

White also offers advice to people who are or are perceived to be non-citizens. “Please note, these rules apply even if you don’t have your papers, okay? If you don’t have your papers you still have these weird things called your constitutional rights, you know, even though some people try to pretend like you don’t,” White says in the video.

A Brooklyn, NY-based comedian, White is writer and host of the award-winning web series This Week in Blackness, a satirical look at race, politics and pop culture in a so-called “post-racial” America. White has been a featured commentator on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann, VH1’s “Black to the Future,” and “The Great Debate. His commentary on race and politics has been featured on, Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, Giant Magazine, Alternet and The Root.

The video is available online at:

ACLU’s know-your-rights card is available online at:

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