CA Civil Rights Groups Praise Strong New Racial Profiling Bill

February 28, 2001 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES – The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups today heralded the introduction of new piece of legislation that will move California forward in its effort to curb the pernicious practice of racial profiling in traffic stops, an issue that persists throughout California.

“California is one of the most diverse states in the nation,” said Robert Chang, an ACLU of Southern California board member, “yet every day, we Californians suffer the effects of racially biased policing.”

“It is hypocritical for a state that has outlawed the use of race in the context of public education, employment, and contracting to sit quietly and allow the use of race by police for traffic stops and searches,” Chang added.

The bill, known as AB 788, was introduced by two Southern California Assembly members, Marco Firebaugh, of the South Gate area, and Jerome Horton, of Inglewood.

While a small percentage of the state’s law enforcement agencies already collect data, fewer than three percent include the information civil rights groups see as a necessary baseline for meaningful analysis: the race of the motorist stopped, the reason for the stop, whether a search was conducted whether drugs or other evidence of illegal activity was found, and whether a citation was issued.

“Without the mandatory collection of statewide data,” said Elizabeth Guillen, Legislative Counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, “it is impossible to track, monitor, or prove discrimination by the police. Nobody should be misled into believing that the voluntary data collection efforts of a handful of agencies is going to solve the problem.”

Racial profiling in California is practiced in various forms against many communities, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Pacific Islanders. Police departments in Orange County, to cite an example that has come to light recently, have targeted Latino residents, threatening to investigate their citizenship status.

The ACLU of Southern California said it has received reports that Asian Pacific Islanders in the vicinity of the University of California at Irvine are frequently subjected to race-based traffic stops.

“The idea that race-based policing is necessary to protect public safety ignores that African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Pacific Islanders are also members of the public. And members of our communities aren’t feeling very safe because of racial profiling,” said the ACLU’s Chang.

The bill tackles race based traffic stops from several angles by :

  • Requiring statewide data collection in traffic stops for a period for at least five years, with yearly reporting, a 5-yr. statewide report, and data standards that include the race of the motorist, the reason for the stop, whether a search was conducted, whether drugs or other evidence of illegal activity was found, and whether a citation was issued.

  • Setting new data standards for local law enforcement agencies that use state funds to collect data voluntarily, including requiring that they collect data on the items outlined above.

  • Creating a strong new definition of racial profiling, clarifying that race may not be used “in any fashion” or “to any degree” in determining who is stopped, except in the case of a specific suspect description.

  • Creating an incentive for law enforcement officers and agencies to comply with the racial profiling prohibition by establishing a cause of action for individuals who experience racial profiling.

The measure defines racial profiling as “the consideration in any fashion and to any degree the race or national or ethnic origin of drivers or passengers in deciding which vehicles to subject to any motor vehicle stop or in deciding upon the scope or substance of any enforcement action or procedure in connection with or during the course of a motor vehicle stop.”

“One might think that defining racial profiling is unnecessary, because everyone knows what it is,” said Michelle Alexander, Director of the Racial Justice Project of the ACLU of Northern California. “But surprisingly, law enforcement agencies in California continue to insist that they can use race as a factor in deciding whom to stop and search. This bill clarifies what should be obvious – namely, that race may never be relied upon when an officer makes decisions regarding whom to stop, detain, interrogate or search – unless there is a specific suspect description.”

The ACLU is working in coalition with civil rights groups throughout the state, including the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, NAACP chapters, United Farm Workers, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, the Asian Law Caucus, union groups and numerous other organizations to pass the bill.

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