Racial Profiling

Racial Profiling

The ACLU's Campaign Against Racial Profiling fights law enforcement and private security practices that disproportionately target people of color for investigation and enforcement. We represent individuals who have been victims of racial profiling by airlines, police, and government agencies. Our work also encompasses major initiatives in public education and advocacy, including the creation of essential resources, lobbying for the passage of data collection and anti-profiling legislation, and litigation of airline and highway profiling cases.


Racial profiling is a practice that presents a great danger to the fundamental principles of our Constitution. Racial profiling disproportionately targets people of color for investigation and enforcement, alienating communities from law enforcement, hindering community policing efforts, and causing law enforcement to lose credibility and trust among the people they are sworn to protect and serve. We rely on the police to protect us from harm and to promote fairness and justice in our communities. The despicable practice of racial profiling, however, has led countless people to live in fear and created a system of law enforcement that casts entire communities as suspect.

Racial profiling continues to be a prevalent and egregious form of discrimination in the United States. This unjustifiable practice remains a stain on American democracy and an affront to the promise of racial equality. Since September 11, 2001, new forms of racial profiling have affected a growing number of people of color in the U.S., including members of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities. The Obama administration has inherited a shameful legacy of racial profiling codified in official FBI guidelines and a notorious registration program that treats Arabs and Muslims as suspects and denies them the presumption of innocence and equal protection under the law.

Equally troubling has been the federal government’s encouragement of unprecedented raids of immigrant (particularly Latino) communities and workplaces by local law enforcement in cooperation with federal agencies. These policies have unjustly expanded the purview of and undermined basic trust in local law enforcement, alienated immigrant communities, and created an atmosphere of fear anti-immigrant rhetoric has led to a dramatic increase in hate crimes against and racial profiling of Latinos.

These policies and practices have wrought destruction on individuals, families and communities, tearing them apart through unjust detentions, deportations, raids and more.

The ACLU’s work on racial profiling encompasses major initiatives in public education and advocacy, including lobbying for passage of data collection and anti-profiling legislation, and litigation on behalf of individuals who have been victims of the practice by airlines, police and government agencies.

Additional Resources

What Happens in Arizona Stops in Arizona (2010 resource): On April 23, 2010, Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed into law a discriminatory and un-American law that will require police officers in Arizona to ask people for their papers based only on some undefined "reasonable suspicion" that they are in the country unlawfully. We believe this law, which invites racial profiling in the worst way, is unconstitutional, and we are challenging the law with a coalition of other civil rights groups.

The Persistence of Racial and Ethnic Profiling In the United States: A Follow-Up Report to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (2009 PDF) The historic fight against discrimination and racial bias in the United States continues and has perhaps become more challenging in the 21st century. Racial disparities continue to plague the United States and curtail the enjoyment of fundamental human rights by millions of people who belong to racial and ethnic minorities.

Racial Profiling: Definition (2005 resource): "Racial Profiling" refers to the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual's race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.

Stories About Racial Profiling (2003 resource): Racial profiling occurs when the police choose to question, investigate or arrest an individual because of racially motivated preconceptions. People are therefore considered guilty without trial and are unjustly interrogated by the police simply because of the color of their skin or their national origin.

Department of Justice Statistics Show Clear Pattern of Racial Profiling (2007 press release): The American Civil Liberties Union said today that a newly released Department of Justice report on racial profiling shows an alarming racial disparity in the rate at which motorists are searched by local law enforcement.

About the Campaign Against Racial Profiling (2008 resource): The Racial Justice Program's Campaign Against Racial Profiling fights law enforcement and private security practices that disproportionately target people of color and Muslims for investigation and enforcement.  

Most Popular

ACLU of New Jersey Files Turnpike Racial Profiling Lawsuit (2007 press release) The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today filed a lawsuit on behalf of Willie Nevius, an African American driver who was improperly stopped by police and searched on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Government Settles ACLU's Racial Profiling Lawsuit Against TSA, Agrees to Alter Agency Procedures Nationwide (2003 press release) The American Civil Liberties Union today announced an unprecedented settlement in a racial profiling lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that will-for the first time ever-require an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to substantially alter its policies and training procedures.

Sheriff Arpaio Sued Over Racial Profiling Of Latinos In Maricopa County (2008 press release) Today, five individuals and Somos America, a Latino community-based coalition, sued Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office (MCSO) and Maricopa County, charging that they or their members were unlawfully stopped and mistreated by law enforcement because they are Latino. The class action lawsuit - which builds upon a complaint filed last December - is before the U.S. District Court in Arizona.

LAPD Provides Disappointing Response to Racial Profiling Report (2009 press release) The Los Angeles Police Department has provided a disappointing and inadequate response to a report that found racially biased policing in its ranks, a coalition of community groups told the Los Angeles Police Commission today.

Sanctioned Bias: Racial Profiling Since 9/11 (2004 PDF) This report is the latest in a series issued by the ACLU on government actions since 9/11 that threaten fundamental rights and freedoms and fail to make us safer. The ACLU opposes all racial, religious and ethnic profiling, whether in the context of routine law enforcement, or domestic counterterrorism.

No Security in "Secure Communities" (2010 blog) Yesterday, a New York Times op-ed blasted President Obama's ramp-up of the "Secure Communities" program, an information-sharing program between federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement agencies. Under Secure Communities, local jails run all arrestees’ fingerprints through not only criminal databases, but also immigration databases, in an effort to deport convicted drug traffickers, gang members, and other violent criminals. This screening happens even if the local prosecutor decides there’s no basis for a criminal charge. The problem is: Secure Communities has led to racial profiling.

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