It’s Time to Pass a Law to End Racial Profiling

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"Racial profiling is deeply rooted in our country’s history of racial inequity and segregation.  It’s time to end this discrimination by passing ERPA without delay."

By Sameera Hafiz, Policy Director, Rights Working Group

This blog was cross posted from The Hill's Congress Blog.

Mahari Bailey, a 27-year-old black Philadelphia attorney, was stopped by police four times while driving his Range Rover in Philadelphia between 2008 and 2010. In each case, police asked to search his car. Bailey refused each time, was never charged with a crime but joined a lawsuit alleging widespread racial profiling out of frustration that these stops seemed to be based solely on his race.

Angel Castro-Torres, 23, a Latino immigrant living in Georgia, won a settlement in a civil lawsuit against two officers in Cobb County, Ga., who stopped him while riding his bicycle because he looked Latino. The officers beat Castro-Torres, breaking bones in his face after questioning him about his immigration status.

Amardeep Singh, a Sikh American, was used to going through additional searches every time he has taken a flight after 9/11. But on a recent trip he was asked to hold his 18-month-old son Azaad so a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent could search the boy and his book bag.  Singh wondered how he’d explain these pat-downs to Azaad once he becomes old enough to question what’s happening to him.

Both houses of Congress are considering bills that would seek to prevent Bailey, Castro-Torres, Singh and millions of people of color who face the possibility of being profiled from facing such discriminatory treatment based on their racial, religious, ethnic identity, gender or national origin.

Last week, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and 37 other members of Congress introduced the End Racial Profiling Act of 2011 (ERPA), H.R. 3618--a bill that would prohibit racial profiling by law enforcement at the local, state and federal levels on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, and gender.  ERPA is a companion bill to S 1670, introduced by Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and nine others in the Senate in October.

Support from people impacted by the problem--particularly communities of color--is substantial. The End Racial Profiling Act should be passed without delay.

Before the September 11th terrorist attacks, an earlier version of ERPA had significant bi-partisan congressional support. 

The greater likelihood of African American motorists being pulled over by law enforcement while driving than whites became part of the national dialogue around race in the 1990s.

Racial profiling also garnered great national attention following the killing of Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant who was shot 19 times by New York police officers who had no probable cause for stopping him on his Bronx street.

More than a decade ago national concern and outrage about the problem prompted federal action.

In the late 1990s, President Clinton directed federal law enforcement agencies to collect data on the race and ethnicity of those they stopped. In February 2001, President George W. Bush called for passage of legislation to prohibit racial profiling.

But following the September 11 attacks, support for ERPA dropped significantly.  After September 11, the government adopted many policies based on mistaken theories that religious identity or national origin makes a person more likely to engage in terrorism.

Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern and South Asian Americans, as well as noncitizens of those backgrounds, became more likely to face discriminatory profiling and bias, suffering unwarranted stops, interrogations and surveillance. 

When police engage in racial profiling they damage the trust developed with communities of color, making it more unlikely that these communities will feel secure in contacting them. 

For Latinos racial profiling became a growing problem after 9/11, as the federal government increasingly relied on partnerships with state and local police to enforce immigration law. A 2011 Warren Institute reportshowed Latinos are disproportionately targeted through the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities program, which involves local and state law enforcement agencies in enforcing immigration law. Although Latinos are approximately 77 percent of the undocumented population, 93 percent of those arrested through Secure Communities are Latino. The disproportionate arrests of Latinos indicates that discrimination is being practiced through Secure Communities.

In addition to banning racial profiling, ERPA would create training programs to guard against racial profiling and civil rights abuses. The bill would mandate data collection and monitoring, create a procedure for investigating and responding to complaints of victims of racial profiling and create a private right of action that would enable victims of racial profiling to seek redress.

Racial profiling is deeply rooted in our country’s history of racial inequity and segregation.  It’s time to end this discrimination by passing ERPA without delay.