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Racial Profiling Essay


What is racial profiling? The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defines racial profiling as “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” (2005). Do not confuse racial profiling with criminal profiling; criminal profiling is usually practiced by police in which they use a group of characteristics that are associated with crime to target individuals (ACLU, 2005). Examples of racial profiling include using ones race to target specific drivers for traffic violations and pedestrians for illegal contraband; another prime example is the targeting of Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians since 9/11 in regards to minor immigrant violations without any connection to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon (ACLU, 2005). Without a doubt, racial profiling occurs on a daily basis all over the world; however let’s focus on racial profiling in the United States and specifically right here in our homeland, Michigan.

Background & History

When did racial profiling first begin? Even though racial profiling still exists today, it is not a recently new phenomenon. Racial profiling can date back to the 1700s when slavery was a common way of life for many African Americans. Like present-day racial profiling, one’s skin color is what has made them subject to discriminatory treatment from law enforcement (Rushing, K., 2013). In South Carolina, white men policed the black slaves on plantations and hunted for escaped slaves; this was referred to as “slave patrol”. Most slaves were not free, and if they were they had to carry freedom papers or a pass to prove that they had permission to be off of the plantation (Rushing, K., 2013). If a black person was found to have run away they were beaten, whipped or even killed as the consequence. Even into the 20th century, after slavery, blacks were again forced into another form of involuntary servitude called convict leasing; this is where they were leased to work for private companies, whether it be on plantations or railroads and coal mines (Rushing, K., 2013). Regardless of what the 14th amendment states in the Constitution, laws were still broken and applied differently to blacks and whites. This became a major issue when the War on Drugs began in 1982. Reagan wanted to stop drug use and sales with ruthless sentencing laws; they focused on urban black neighborhoods to promote anti-drug efforts. Although the prison population tripled there were substantial racial disparities; in 2010 the US Bureau of Justice Statistics indicated that black males had an imprisonment rate that was nearly seven times higher than white men (Rushing, K., 2013). And the rate of incarceration among black women was almost three times that of white women; a Human Rights Watch study in 2009 showed that blacks are arrested at much higher rates than whites even though they commit drug offense at comparable rates (Rushing, K., 2013). Racial profiling isn’t specifically focused on drug offenses but focuses on any form of crime being committed by any person who isn’t of white decent.

There are many notorious instances where racial profiling has occurred including bicycling while black and brown in Eastpointe, Michigan, walking while black and brown in New York City, and gang database racial profiling in Orange County, California. In Eastpointe, 21 young black youths were stopped by police because they were riding their bicycles through a white suburb. The ACLU joined the suite against Eastpointe, Michigan, to represent the youths. They argued that the “bicyclists were stopped in this predominantly white suburb of Detroit because of their race and not because they were doing anything wrong” (ACLU, 2005). In 1996 a memo sent to the Eastpointe City Manager had a statement from the former police chief that he instructed his officers to investigate any black youths riding through Eastpointe subdivisions. Through extensive searching of police logs, it was found that Eastpointe had over 100 incidents between 1995 and 1998 just like this one (ACLU, 2005). In New York City’s police department report in December 1999, the stop and frisk practices showed to be greatly based on race. In NYC, blacks make up 25.6% of the city’s population, Hispanics 23.7% and whites are 43.4% of NYC population. However, according to the report, 50.6% of all persons stopped were black, 33% were Hispanic, and only 12.9% were white. As you can see, more than half of the individuals who were stopped were black, 62.7% to be exact (ACLU, 2013). In Orange County, California Latinos, Asians and African Americans were more than 90% of the 20,221 men and women in the Gang Reporting Evaluation and Tracking System (ACLU, 2013). Clearly this database record shows racial profiling occurred when the total population in the database made up less than half of Orange County’s population. This is when the California Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the ACLU stepped in. One other instance of racial profiling I’d like to discuss occurred in Maricopa County, Arizona. A court ruled in May 2013 that “sheriff Joe Arpaio’s routine handling of people of Latino descent amounted to racial and ethnic profiling”; according to CNN, the sheriff’s office had a history of targeting vehicles with those having darker skin, examining them more strictly and taking them into custody more often than others (CNN, 2014). Judge Murray Snow ordered a monitor to oversee retraining in this office and to create a community advisory board to prevent further racial profiling; retraining and monitoring the sheriff’s office will cost the county $21,943,107 over the next year and a half (CNN, 2014). As you can see from the information above, racial profiling is still an issue in present America. In today’s policing environment especially, race relations is one of the most important issues and challenges; to the point of state legislatures contemplating bans on racial profiling, mandate data collection, require police officer training, make funds available for video cameras in police cars and other measures to help put a stop to racial profiling (Portis, E., 2001).


a. Why racial profiling is an issue
b. What problems have resulted from racial profiling
i. Death
c. What problems have occurred because of racial profiling
II. Racial Profiling & the Law
a. Past/Present laws on racial profiling in Michigan
i. House Bill 4927- Racial sensitivity training & retrain officers guilty of racial profiling, along with instructing Michigan’s attorney general’s office to investigate stop & search patterns (Police Foundation, 2005).

b. Past/Present court cases in Michigan

c. Public attention
i. Racial profiling costing Arizona $22 million – to retrain officers and monitor the retraining (CNN, 2014). III. Conclusion
a. Solutions to racial profiling
i. Retraining police departments

American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU]. (2014). Racial Profiling: Definition. Retrieved February 21, 2014 from: https://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/racial-profiling-definition CNN US. (2014). Racial profiling costs Arizona county $22 million. Retrieved February 21, 2014 from: http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/03/us/racial-profiling-payments/ Portis, Ervin. (2005). Racial Profiling: The State of the Law. Retrieved February 20, 2014 from: http://www.ethicsinstitute.com/pdf/Racial%20Profiling%20State%20Laws.pdf Rushing, Keith. (2013). Dissecting the Long, Deep, Roots of Racial Profiling in America. Retrieved February 20, 2014 from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/keith- rushing/dissecting-racial-profiling_b_2740246.html

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