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Racial Profiling

Abstract: Racial profiling is considered by many to be the largest problem in our criminal justice system today. Racial profiling is common defined as the improper practice of selecting potential criminal suspects because of their race or ethnicity. Seeded in the roots of racism, racial profiling stretches broadly over the entire nation. And since the men in blue have views too, their possible belief in racism can come to power with their badge. With black males having a 51% probability of lifetime arrest compared to the 14% probability for white males you have to wonder if black males are doing more crimes, or if they are just targeted more. It may not always be easy to prove a racial profiling case, but to say it doesn’t exist would be like saying racism doesn’t exist. And as a result of this, minorities are traveling less often, not leaving the house as much, and even going as far as to compute traffic stops into their travel time.

Although not many people can think of a specific example of racial profiling, this is usually due to the lack of media attention in most cases. Most people have heard of the case of Amadou Diallo, a black man slain at his doorway by police, which for some reason was questioned to be a case of racial profiling at all. But the fact is that there are many other cases and complaints made against law enforcement officials, mostly involving traffic stops of minorities. The following are examples of cases and complaints made to the American Civil Liberties Union, which are posted on their web site, of racial profiling from various newspaper sources around the country:

“ On December 4, 1999 around midnight, Narvella Berthia and Sylvia James of Oakland had just dropped off a friend after a gospel concert at the Paramount Theater. The police stopped the women with guns drawn. “We were in a Lexus that they thought was stolen,” Berthia reported at a community meeting. “I’m still seeing a therapist because of that.”

Source: Oakland Tribune, March 31, 2000

Ray Marshall, an attorney from San Francisco, was stopped in 1997 as he crossed the Bay Bridge one night after work in his Mercedes. The officer told Marshall he hadn’t made a complete stop at the intersection to the on-ramp. The officer then asked him a series of intrusive questions, which ranged from how long did he own the car to where he bought it, how much he paid for it, and where he lived. They were personal questions, “which I thought were disturbing and not relevant to whatever violation I might have committed,” Marshall said. “It happens, in my estimation, on a regular basis to, if not yourself, a relative or someone that you know,” Marshall said. “When it does happen you feel powerless. You don’t want to have a confrontation that could escalate it, but at the same time there is a high level of frustration, guilt and resentment.”

Source: San Francisco Examiner, March 27, 2000

In October of 1997, San Diego Chargers football player Shawn Lee was pulled over, and he and his girlfriend were handcuffed and detained by police for half an hour on the side of Interstate 15. The officer said that Lee was stopped because he was driving a vehicle that fit the description of one stolen earlier that evening. However, Lee was driving a Jeep Cherokee, a sport utility vehicle, and the reportedly stolen vehicle was a Honda sedan.

(Originally published as “Driving While Black Examined in San Diego” in the San Diego Union Tribune on December 13, 1997.)

Dr. William Woods, an African American based at Lake Forest Hospital in Chicago, has been the victim of racial profiling on numerous occasions. During a hearing before the city council concerning the prevalence of racial profiling in Highland Park, a liberal North Shore suburb, Dr. Woods testified that, “Things got so bad I didn’t want to leave the house at 2 a.m. to deliver a baby. I’ve been stopped several times, and once I had guns pulled on me en route to a music lesson.”

Source: Chicago Sun-Times, January 11, 2000

Maryland In January 2000, William Austin, an African American firefighter, endured a 2-hour search by ten officers from the Prince George County, Maryland police department and drug units. When an officer looked through Mr. Austins wallet, he commented, “We got a drug dealing fireman.” The officer then proceeded to handcuff Mr. Austin. The officers searched his truck, under the truck and the engine. A dog was repeatedly placed in the truck to sniff for drugs. Mr. Austin asked the officer what they were doing and was told to “Get on your f***in‚ knees.” No drugs were found in Mr. Austin’s truck.

Source: Complaint filed with the ACLU, January 2000

In 1997, Charles and Etta Carter, an elderly African-American couple from Pennsylvania, were stopped by Maryland State Police on their 40th wedding anniversary. The troopers searched their car and brought in drug-sniffing dogs. During the course of the search, their daughter’s wedding dress was tossed onto one of the police cars and, as trucks passed on I-95, it was blown to the ground. Ms. Carter was not allowed to use the restroom during the search because police officers feared that she would flee. Their belongings were strewn along the highway, trampled and urinated on by the dogs. No drugs were found and no ticket was issued by the state trooper. The Carter’s eventually reached a settlement with the Maryland State Police.

(Originally published in “Race-Profiling Again Attacked,” by Catherine Brennan in the Daily Record, Volume 212, No. 4).

Representative Russell Gunn (D-St. Louis County), who is a member of the House Black Caucus, says that all his life Missouri police have pulled him over for racial reasons. Several years ago he was pulled over near Jefferson City for going five miles over the speed limit. “I said to the officer, you saw a black man driving a Cadillac and you decided to stop me until you found out I was a legislator.’ Oh no, that’s not so,’ the officer said. I said, than how can you justify stopping me when other cars have passed you and I passed you and you stopped me?’ He could not justify it,” said Gunn.

Source: MSNBC News, March 16, 2000

The ACLU of Eastern Missouri has documented numerous cases of racial profiling in that state. 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 the police searched his car and interrogated him about his personal life. After an hour, he was released without explanation.

Source: ACLU press release, February 24, 2000

On April 23, four young men – three African-Americans and one Hispanic – in route to a basketball clinic in North Carolina, were shot after their van was stopped for speeding and suspected drug trafficking. The men contend that they were not speeding, but were stopped because of their race. The incident is still under investigation.

(Originally published in “The Offense: ‘Driving While Black’,” by Hugh B. Price in Crisis, July 1998) ”

By these complaints and testimonies of these minorities, it is hard to deny the existence of racial profiling by the men in blue, across the nation today.

As I stated before, it is usually fairly hard to prove to be the victim of racial profiling. Evidence of discriminatory intent in addition to discriminatory effect has to be proved. With victims usually claiming a violation of their 4th Amendment, or Equal Protection Clause under the 14th Amendment, rights. The 4th Amendment prohibits the unlawful search and seizure of people’s property. And the Equal Protection Clause prohibits any state to deny any person equal protection of the laws. These rights include protection in dealing with issues like racial profiling. The Supreme Court has determined that traffic stops, in most cases, do not violate 4Th amendment rights, as long as the officers action was “reasonable.” And of course the perception of “reasonable” varies by person. So this leads most people to pursue their case under a violation of there Equal Protection Clause rights. With most cases also being pursued in civil courts. Also Article 5 of the Code of Conduct for law enforcement officials put in place Dec. 17th, 1979, states: “ No law enforcement official may inflict, instigate, or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment of another.” Under that torture is defined as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by or at the instigation of a public official on a person.” Many victims would agree that they felt they were being treated this way. These things in place to protect people from things like this usually come down to people’s perception of them, and of the events told in court. And this is why things are trying to be done in legislation to make things clearer, with more clear-cut procedures on pursuing these cases.

Some consider the laws we have now enough to outlaw and discourage such practices such as racial profiling. Others believe that we need more specific measures in dealing with these problems. Not so much in creating more protective laws, but in the ways law enforcement officials handle and document situations like traffic stops. One example of a legislator pushing something like this is Representative John Conyers, a democrat from Michigan. On April 15th, 1999 Conyers introduced house bill 1443, The Traffic Stops Study Act. This bill would require the Attorney General to review existing data on racial profiling, and would require police officers nationwide to record more detailed information on their traffic stops. Details like specific physical characteristics of people, specific information on the intention of the stop, and the result of the stop. Unfortunately this bill and its Senate counterpart pushed by Senator Frank Lautanberg, a democrat from New Jersey, were turned down with skepticism. The skeptics argued that police were already required to fill out detailed paper work on each traffic stop they made. Most police cars also have a video camera that tapes all of the events of each stop. Also that at the data would fail to show a true discriminatory intent. Another fault of the bill is that it just focused on traffic stops, and not other forms of racial profiling. Hopefully something will be done soon with the studies of African Americans being stopped at a disproportional rate in New York City, Maryland, Dallas, and Los Angeles. But in the meantime cities like Philadelphia, Seattle, and Houston are making progress in developing or implementing programs to eliminate the racial profiling in traffic stops. I personally agree with the 3-step policy of organization, police training, and data collection, for best results in dealing with an issue like this.

There are also people who believe there is a reason and basis for racial profiling. After all, black U.S. citizens commit violent crime at a rate of 4 to 8 times more than that of the white rate, and Hispanics having 3 times the white rate. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has even argued that because crime victims more frequently identify African Americans and Latinos as suspects, police are more likely to target these groups for searches. These white cops supposedly practicing racial profiling may also be upset by the fact that of the 1,700,000 interracial crimes of violence involving black and whites, 90% of these crimes are committed against whites by blacks. The U.S. Department of Health has also reported that blacks are making up over 6 times the rate of the amount of drug related emergency room admissions over whites. Blacks also do 3 times the amount of crime compared to whites for crime as a whole. Some people just also say that the media just focuses on the cases with supposed racial profiling too much. Although there is no justifying racial profiling, these facts could lead officers to do their job with the wrong mindset.

It is easy to see, racial profiling with its counterpart racism, is a sneaky underlying snake, that makes an appearance when it’s victims are powerless, and is not always easy to see or evaluate. And it is never predictable who, or which officers in this case, will be acting with these intentions. So the complaints of minorities will go on as being against the word of the officer’s, which usually doesn’t get anyone anywhere. And unless something is done, minorities will have to wait for racism to completely leak out of society, which it is slowly doing as time goes on. Until then the creditability of police officers to minorities will be questioned. Which can lead into things like minority jurors to be less likely to believe the testimonies of officers in court. When something finally does change, then the national public respect for our criminal justice system will be met, bringing true equality to all U.S. citizens that much closer.

Works Cited

Lipper, Gregory M. “Racial Profiling” Harvard Journal on Legislation summer 2001. 18 Oct. 2001

Taylor, Jared; Whitney, Glade. “Crime and Racial Profiling by U.S. Police: Is There an Empirical Basis?” The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies winter 1999. 18 Oct. 2001

Carrick, Grady. “Professional Police Traffic Stops: Strategies to Address Racial Profiling.” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Nov. 2000. 18 Oct. 2001

Holland, Brooks. “Safeguarding Equal Production Rights: The Search For an Exclusionary Rule Under the Equal Protection Clause.” American Law Review summer 2000. 18 Oct. 2001

Arrest the Racism- Tales of Driving While Black American Civil Liberties Union. 7 Oct. 2001

O Conner, Tom. Sexism and Racism in Policing NCWC. 8 Oct. 2001

Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 5 Nov. 2001

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