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Racial profiling is the use of an individual’s race or ethnicity by law enforcement personnel as a key factor in deciding whether to engage in enforcement (e.g. stop and search or arrest). The practice is controversial and is illegal in many jurisdictions. It should not be confused with offender profiling, which is an investigative tool.
The concept of racial profiling has been defined in many ways, including:
The existence of racial profiling dates back to slavery. In 1693, Philadelphia’s court officials gave police legal authority to stop and detain any Negro (freed or slaved) seen wandering around on the streets. This discriminatory practice continued through the Jim Crow era and now in the twentyfirst century, racial profiling is prevalent across cities in the U.S.
In 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Armstrong that racial profiling is constitutional in the absence of data that "similarly situated" defendants of another race were disparately treated, overturning a 9th Circuit Court ruling that law enforcement must proceed on "the presumption that people of all races commit all types of crimes - not with the premise that any type of crime is the exclusive province of any particular racial or ethnic group", waving away challenges based on the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the right to be safe from search and seizure without a warrant (which is to be issued "upon probable cause"), and the Fourteenth Amendment which requires that all citizens be treated equally under the law. To date there have been no known cases in which any U.S. court dismissed a criminal prosecution because the defendant was targeted based on race. This Supreme Court decision doesn't prohibit government agencies from enacting policies prohibiting it in the field by agents and employees.
In his February 27, 2001 address to a Joint Session of Congress, President George W. Bush declared: "Racial profiling is wrong, and we will end it in America. In so doing, we will not hinder the work of our nation's brave police officers. They protect us every day -- often at great risk. But by stopping the abuses of a few, we will add to the public confidence our police officers earn and deserve."
In June 2001 the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a component of the Office of Justice Programs of the United States Department of Justice, awarded a Northeastern research team a grant to create the web-based Racial Profiling Data Collection Resource Center. It now maintains a website designed to be a central clearinghouse for police agencies, legislators, community leaders, social scientists, legal researchers, and journalists to access information about current data collection efforts, legislation and model policies, police-community initiatives, and methodological tools that can be used to collect and analyze racial profiling data. The website contains information on the background of data collection, jurisdictions currently collecting data, community groups, legislation that is pending and enacted in states across the country, and has information on planning and implementing data collection procedures, training officers in to implement these systems, and analyzing and reporting the data and results.
In June 2003 the Department of Justice issued its Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agenciesm forbidding racial profiling by federal law enforcement officials.
Several U.S. states now have reporting requirements for incidents of racial profiling. Texas, for example requires all agencies to provide annual reports to its Law Enforcement Commission. The requirement began on September 1, 2001, when the State of Texas passed a law to require all law enforcement agencies in the State to begin collecting certain data in connection to traffic or pedestrian stops beginning on January 1, 2002. Based on that data, the law mandated law enforcement agencies to submit a report to the law enforcement agencies' governing body beginning March 1, 2003 and each year thereafter no later than March 1. The law is found in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure beginning with Article 2.131. Additionally, on January 1, 2011, all law enforcement agencies began submitting annual reports to the Texas State Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Education Commission. The submitted reports can be accessed on the Commission's website for public review.
In April 2010, Arizona enacted SB 1070, a law that would require law-enforcement officers to verify the citizenship of individuals they stop if they have reasonable suspicion that they may be in the United States illegally. The law states that “Any person who is arrested shall have the person’s immigration status determined before the person is released”. United States federal law requires that all undocumented immigrants who remain in the United States for more than 30 days are to register with the U.S. government and to have all registration documents with them at all time. Arizona made it a misdemeanor crime for an undocumented immigrant 14 years of age and older to be found without carrying these documents at all times.
According to SB 1070, law-enforcement officials may not consider “race, color, or national origin” in the enforcement of the law, except under the circumstances allowed under the United States and Arizona constitutions. In June 2012, the majority of SB 1070 was struck down by the United States Supreme Court, while the provision allowing for an immigration check on detained persons was upheld.
In December 2010, Fernando Mateo, then president of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, made some pro-racial profiling remarks in the case of gun-shot taxi-cab driver: "You know sometimes it’s good that we are racially profiled because the God’s-honest truth is that 99 percent of the people that are robbing, stealing, killing these drivers are blacks and Hispanics." "Clearly everyone knows I’m not racist. I’m Hispanic and my father is black. ... My father is blacker than Al Sharpton."
Critics of racial profiling argue that the individual rights of a suspect are violated if race is used as a factor in that suspicion. Notably, civil liberties organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have labeled racial profiling as a form of discrimination, stating, "Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, nationality or on any other particular identity undermines the basic human rights and freedoms to which every person is entitled."
Responding to such criticisms are local community[dubious ] groups who seek to collect data, analyze trends and how they might correspond to public perceptions of profiling, and solicit ideas aimed at diminishing cultural and racial biases.[clarification needed]
Between 2003 and 2014 the New York Police Department operated the Demographics Unit (later renamed Zone Assessment Unit) which mapped communities of 28 "ancestries of interest", including Arab and Albanian: Plain-clothed detectives were sent to public places such as coffee shops, mosques and parks to observe and record the public sentiment, as well as map locations where potential terrorists could "blend in". In its 11 years of operation the unit did not generate any information leading to a criminal charge. A series of publications by the Associated Press during 2011-2012 gave rise to public pressure to close the unit, and it was finally disbanded in 2014.
Some believe that inner city residents of Hispanic communities are subjected to racial profiling because of theories such as the “gang suppression model”. The “gang suppression model” is believed by some to be the basis for increased policing, the theory being based on the idea that Latinos are violent and out of control and are therefore “in need of suppression”. Based on research, the criminalization of a people can lead to abuses of power on behalf of law enforcement.
Research through random sampling in the South Tucson, Arizona area has established that immigration authorities sometimes target the residents of barrios with the use of possibly discriminatory policing based on racial profiling. Author Mary Romero writes that immigration raids are often carried out at places of gathering and cultural expression such as grocery stores based on the fluency of language of a person (e.g. being bilingual especially in Spanish) and skin color of a person. She goes on to state that immigration raids are often conducted with a disregard for due process, and that these raids lead people from these communities to distrust law enforcement.
The attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11 have led to targeting of some Muslims and Middle Easterners as potential terrorists and, according to some, are targeted by the national government through preventive measures similar to those practiced by local law enforcement. The national government has passed laws, such as the Patriot Act of 2001, to increase surveillance of potential threats to national threat as a result of the events that occurred during 9/11. It is argued that the passage of these laws and provisions by the national government leads to justification of preventative methods, such as racial profiling, that has been controversial for racial profiling and leads to further minority distrust in the national government. One of the techniques used by the FBI to target Muslims was monitoring 100 mosques and business in Washington DC and threatened to deport Muslims who did not agree to serve as informers. The FBI denied to be taking part of blanket profiling and argued that they were trying to build trust within the Muslim community.
The events of 9/11 also led to restrictions on immigration laws. The government imposed stricter immigration quotas to maintain national security at their national borders. In 2002, men over sixteen years old who entered the country from twenty-five Middle Eastern countries and North Korea were required to be photographed, fingerprinted, interviewed and have their financial information copied, and had to register again before leaving the country.
When confronted with accusations of racial profiling the police claim that they do not participate in it. They claim that they use numerous factors (such as race, interactions, and dress) to determine if a person is involved in criminal activity.
They further claim that the job of policing is far more imperative than to concerns of minorities or interest groups claiming unfair targeting.
Racial profiling not only occurs on the streets but also in many institutions. Much like the book Famous all over Town where the author Danny Santiago mentions this type of racism throughout the novel. Racial profiling is huge in law enforcement, where this type of behavior can risk the lives of innocent people. In a trusted source it is said "It is argued that, given the assumption that criminals are currently being punished too severely in Western countries, the apprehension of more criminals may not constitute a reason in favor of racial profiling at all."(Ryberg) It has been stated in a scholarly journal that for over 30 years the use of racial and/or demographic profiling by local authorities and higher level law enforcement's continue to proceed. NYPD Street cops use racial profiling more often, due to the widespread patterns. They first frisk them to check whether they have enough evidence to be even arrested for the relevant crime. "As a practical matter, the stops display a measurable racial disparity: black and Hispanic people generally represent more than 85 percent of those stopped by the police, though their combined populations make up a small share of the city’s racial composition."(Baker)
A few examples of racial profiling by police may include:
Racial profiling is also used as a basis of discrimination for employment, services, housing, etc., or to give preferential treatment to an individual or group of people because of their race or ethnicity.
On September 14, 2001 three days after the September 11th attacks, an Indian American motorist and three family members were pulled over and ticketed by a Maryland state trooper because their car had broken taillights. The trooper interrogated the family, questioned them about their nationality, and asked for proof of citizenship. When the motorist said that their passports were at home, the officer allegedly stated, "You are lying. You are Arabs involved in terrorism." He ordered them out of the car, had them put their hands on the hood, and searched the car. When he discovered a knife in a toolbox, the officer handcuffed the driver and later reported that the driver "wore and carried a butcher knife, a dangerous deadly weapon, concealed upon and about his person." The driver was detained for several hours but eventually released.
Statistical data demonstrates, that although policing practices and policies vary widely across the United States, a large disparity between racial groups in regards to traffic stops and searches. However, whether this is due to racial profiling or the fact that different races are involved in crime in different rates, is still highly debated. Based on academic search, various studies have been conducted regarding the existence of racial profiling in traffic and pedestrian stops. For motor vehicle searches academic research showed that the probability of a successful search is very similar across races. This suggests that police officers are not motivated by racial preferences but by the desire to maximize the probability of a successful search. Similar evidence has been found for pedestrian stops, with identical ratios of stops to arrests for different races. Because of the controversial nature of this topic various studies yielded different results. The studies have been published in various Academic Journals aimed towards Academic professionals as well practitioners such as law enforcers. Some of these journals include, Police Quarterly and the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, so that both sides of the argument are present and evaluated. Of those gathered the most noted study refuting racial profiling was the conducted using the veil of darkness hypothesis stating that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for officers to discern race in the twilight hours. The results of this study concluded that the ratio of different races stopped by New York cops is about the same for all races tested. Some of the most referenced organizations, who offer evidence on the existence of racial profiling, noted are The American Civil Liberties Union, which has conducted studies various major U.S. cities, and RAND. In a study conducted in have Cincinnati, Ohio it was concluded that “Blacks were between three and five times more likely to (a) be asked if they were carrying drugs or weapons, (b) be asked to leave the vehicle, (c) be searched, (d) have a passenger searched, and (e) have the vehicle physically searched in a study conducted. This conclusion was based on the analysis of 313, randomly selected, traffic stop police tapes gathered from 2003 to 2004.
In a particular study, Higgins, Gabbidon, and Vito studied the relationship between public opinion on racial profiling in conjunction with their viewpoint of race relations and their perceived awareness of safety. It was found that race relations had a statistical correlation with the legitimacy of racial profiling. Specifically, results showed that those who believed that racial profiling was widespread and that racial tension would never be fixed were more likely to be opposed to racial profiling than those who did not believe racial profiling was as widespread or that racial tensions would be fixed eventually. On the other hand, in reference to perception of safety, the research concluded that one’s perception of safety had no influence on public opinion of racial profiling. Higgins, Gabbidon, and Vito acknowledge that this may not have been the case immediately after 9/11, but state that any support of racial profiling based on safety was “short-lived”.
One particular study focused on individuals who self-identified as religiously affiliated and their relationship with racial profiling. By using national survey data from October 2001, researcher Phillip H. Kim studied which individuals were more likely to support racial profiling. The research concludes that individuals that identified themselves as either Jewish, Catholic, or Protestant showed higher statistical numbers that illustrated support for racial profiling in comparison to individuals who identified themselves as non-religious.
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, according to Johnson, a new debate concerning the appropriateness of racial profiling in the context of terrorism took place. According to Johnson, prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks the debate on racial profiling within the public targeted primarily African-Americans and Latino Americans with enforced policing on crime and drugs. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon changed the focus of the racial profiling debate from street crime and “driving while Black” to terrorism and “flying while Arab.” According to a June 4–5, 2002 FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll, 54% of Americans approved of using “racial profiling to screen Arab male airline passengers.” A 2002 survey by Public Agenda tracked the attitudes toward the racial profiling of Blacks and people of Middle Eastern descent. In this survey, 52% of Americans said there was “no excuse” for law enforcement to look at African Americans with greater suspicion and scrutiny because they believe they are more likely to commit crimes, but only 21% said there was “no excuse” for extra scrutiny of Middle Eastern people.
However, using data from an internet survey based experiment performed in 2006 on a random sample of 574 adult university students, a study was conducted that examined public approval for the use of racial profiling to prevent crime and terrorism. It was found that approximately one third of students approved the use of racial profiling in general. Furthermore, it was found that students were equally likely to approve of the use of racial profiling to prevent crime as to prevent terrorism-33% and 35.8% respectively. The survey also asked respondents whether they would approve of racial profiling across different investigative contexts. It was found that 23.8% of people approved of law enforcement using racial profiling as a means to stop and question someone in a terrorism context while 29.9% of people approved of racial profiling in a crime context for the same situation. It was found that 25.3% of people approved of law enforcement using racial profiling as a means to search someone’s bags or packages in a terrorism context while 33.5% of people approved of racial profiling in a crime context for the same situation. It was also found that 16.3% of people approved of law enforcement wire tapping a person’s phone based upon racial profiling in the context of terrorism while 21.4% of people approved of racial profiling in a crime context for the same situation. It was also found that 14.6% of people approved of law enforcement searching someone’s home based upon racial profiling in a terrorism context while 18.2% of people approved of racial profiling in a crime context for the same situation.
The study also found that white students were more likely to approve of racial profiling to prevent terrorism than nonwhite students. However, it was found that white students and nonwhite students held the same views about racial profiling in the context of crime. It was also found that foreign born students were less likely to approve of racial profiling to prevent terrorism than non-foreign born students while both groups shared similar views on racial profiling in the context of crime.
Accusations of racial profiling of visible minorities who accuse police of targeting them due to their ethnic background is a growing concern in Canada. In 2005, the Kingston Police released the first study ever in Canada which pertains to racial profiling. The study focused on in the city of Kingston, a small city where most of the inhabitants are white. The study showed that black skinned people were 3.7 times more likely to be pulled over by police than white skinned people, while Asian people were less likely to be pulled over than whites or blacks. Several police organizations condemned this study and suggested more studies like this would make them hesitant to pull over visible minorities.
Canadian Aboriginals are more likely to be charged with crimes, particularly on reserves. The Canadian crime victimization survey does not collect data on the ethnic origin of perpetrators, so comparisons between incidence of victimizations and incidence of charging are impossible. Although aboriginal persons make up 3.6% of Canada's population, they account for 20% of Canada's prison population. This may show how racial profiling increases effectiveness of police, or be a result of racial profiling, as they are watched more intensely than others.
In February 2010, an investigation of the Toronto Star daily newspaper found that black people across Toronto were three times more likely to be stopped and documented by police than white people. To a lesser extent, the same seemed true for people described by police as having "brown" skin. This was the result of an analysis of 1.7 million contact cards filled out by Toronto Police officers in the period 2003 - 2008.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission states that "police services have acknowledged that racial profiling does occur and have taken [and are taking] measures to address [the issue], including upgrading training for officers, identifying officers at risk of engaging in racial profiling, and improving community relations" (Griffiths, 2008, p. 311). Ottawa Police addressed this issue and planned on implementing a new policy regarding officer racially profiling persons, "the policy explicitly forbids officers from investigating or detaining anyone based on their race and will force officers to go through training on racial profiling" (CTV News, 2011). This policy was implemented after the 2008 incident where an African-Canadian woman was strip searched by members of the Ottawa police. There is a video showing the strip search where one witnesses the black woman being held to the ground and the having her bra and shirt cut ripped/cut off by a member of the Ottawa Police Force which was released to the viewing of the public in 2010 (CTV News, 2011).
Mexico has been criticized for its immigration policy. Chris Hawley of USA Today stated that "Mexico has a law that is no different from Arizona's", referring to legislation which gives local police forces the power to check documents of people suspected of being in the country illegally. Immigration and human rights activists have also noted that Mexican authorities frequently engage in racial profiling, harassment, and shakedowns against migrants from Central America.
As of February 2012 there has been a first court ruling concerning racial profiling in German police policy. It had at first been declared legal for police to make skin color and "non-German ethnic origin" criteria for the selection of persons who will be asked for identification in spot-checks for illegal immigrants. However, in subsequence to the ruling it was decided legal for a subject of such a spot-check to compare such policy to that of the SS in public. A higher court later declared the earlier decision to be void and the racial profiling to have been unlawful and in violation of anti-discrimination provisions in Art. 3 Basic Law and the General Equal Treatment Act of 2006.
In the Nazi period, racial/ethnicity profiling was commonplace. The ethnicity/religion, such as Judaism was noted on mandatory identity documents. Certain groups were obligied to wear visible marks such as the star of David on their clothes. Disobedience could be checked through the identity document.
Jeff Shantz. 2010. Racial Profiling and Borders: International, Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Lake Mary: Vandeplas).
Ronald Weitzer and Steven Tuch. 2006. Race and Policing in America: Conflict and Reform (New York: Cambridge University Press).
Ryberg, Jesper. "Racial Profiling And Criminal Justice." Journal Of Ethics 15.1/2 (2011): 79-88. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Apr. 2012.
Ruiz, James, Jason W. Julseth, and Kathleen H. Winters. "Profiling, Cajun Style: The FBI Investigation?." International Journal Of Police Science & Management 12.3 (2010): 401-425. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Apr. 2012.
Baker, Al. "Judge Declines to Dismiss Case Alleging Racial Profiling by City Police in Street Stops." The New York Times. Nytimes.com, 31 Aug. 2011. Web. 26 Apr. 2012. <www.nytimes.com>.
Jeff Shantz. 2010. Racial Profiling and Borders: International, Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Lake Mary: Vandeplas).
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