New State Study Confirms Rampant Racial Profiling in Rhode Island; ACLU, Community Groups Call for "Concrete Action"

July 1, 2003 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, RI- Responding to a report released today by the state’s attorney general confirming that police continue to stop drivers based on their skin color, the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island and a coalition of civil rights groups called for concrete action to address the now thoroughly documented problem of racial profiling in the state.

“”The ACLU will be monitoring all police departments in the state to see what action they take to deal with this incontrovertible evidence of widespread racial profiling,”” said Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “”We also hope to prepare a comprehensive legislative package that will ensure that victims of racial profiling have meaningful legal remedies available to them.”

Passed in 2000, Rhode Island’s “”Driving While Black”” law required all police departments within the state to collect data for two years on traffic stops as part of the attorney general’s study to determine whether racial profiling is taking place.

The Rhode Island Traffic Stop Statistics Act Final Report released today found that a majority of law enforcement agencies in the state disproportionately stopped and searched racial minorities, even though contraband was much more likely to be found when white drivers were searched. The report also rejected the explanations offered by police departments that attempted to justify the disparities, finding that the racial differences persisted even when other factors were accounted for.

At a news conference today at the State House, the coalition of rights groups called on law enforcement agencies to acknowledge the reality and seriousness of the problem of racial profiling and called on the attorney general to take concrete action by investigating police departments where significant disparities existed.

“”This report is a vindication of the concerns expressed by the minority community for years, but that were shrugged off as mere ‘perceptions’ of bias by police,”” said Onna Moniz-John, a member of the Traffic Stop Statistics Act Advisory Committee, a group set up to advise experts hired to conduct the state’s racial profiling study. “”This report shows we were right – we have been unfairly targeted by police departments for harassing stops and searches.””

“”The attorney general has released this report without a plan of action for follow-up or investigation of the findings,”” Moniz-John added. “”He says he hopes that the report will be a ‘starting point,’ and will ‘stir discussion,’ but we expect a more substantive and meaningful response. The time for discussion is over – it is time for action.””

Moniz-John also said that local police chiefs should immediately begin investigations to determine whether any individual officers were engaged in race-motivated stops and to halt any general enforcement practices that resulted in this discrimination. Those investigations should be reported to the attorney general and made public so that the community can be kept informed of what actions are being taken to address the problem, she said.

King Downing, Coordinator of the national ACLU’s Campaign Against Racial Profiling, added that “”you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Data collection needs to continue to be sure that the attorney general and the police departments do what they say they’re going to do.”” Downing, who was invited to monitor the situation in Rhode Island by the local ACLU, urged victims of racial profiling in Rhode Island and elsewhere to contact the ACLU’s national hotline, 1-877-6PROFILE.

Other groups that participated in today’s news conference include The Urban League of Rhode Island, RI Commission for Human Rights, Center for Hispanic Policy and Advocacy, RI Civil Rights Roundtable, Providence Human Relations Commission and Progreso Latino.

A copy of the state Attorney General’s report is available online at:

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