There are several controversial issues surrounding racial profiling and the various problems that are encountered as a result of it. One issue is whether or not racial profiling exists. Most law enforcement departments refuse to undergo a study and they deny that racial profiling exists. These problems, coupled with the status of literature regarding this topic at this point, are more unreliable than scientific. In addition, the topic is controversial because the United States believes that it has rid itself of prejudice and racism, and to open the topic of racial profiling by law enforcement personnel is admitting that its possible the nation is backsliding. As a result, the events of September 11th stepped up the pace of racial profiling by law enforcement and grew to include new groups of people.
Racial profiling is a topic that is seen across the nation in the media. Racial profiling has often been referred to as the apparition occurrence because so far departments across the nation clearly deny its existence. The topic is a growing one in light of the September 11, 2001 attacks on America. Racial profiling has been a top news story since that attack but it was an issue for many years before that.
The equal protection clause can be found in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. It simply states that, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States…nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” In other words, this meant that the Constitution would become ‘color-blind’. State laws would no longer be allowed to treat whites and blacks differently. The Supreme Court relied heavily upon the “separate but equal” doctrine to determine when a state law violated the equal protection clause.
This is also how the Supreme Court would determine what is considered to be discrimination. In order to prove that a state is guilty of discrimination there must be an overwhelming amount of evidence supporting the claim. This was evident in the case of Washington vs. Davis, where the Court ruled against two blacks who claimed that the hiring practices of the D.C. Police Department were discriminatory towards racial minorities. The Supreme Court said that the hiring practices did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Equal Protection is described as “the right of all persons to have the same access to the law and courts and to be treated equally by the law and courts, both in procedures and in the substance of the law”. It is similar to the right to due process of law, but in particular applies to equal treatment as an aspect of fundamental fairness. The most famous case on this subject is Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) in which Chief Justice Earl Warren, for a undivided Supreme Court, ruled that “separate but equal” educational facilities for blacks were essentially unequal and unconstitutional since the segregated school system did not give all students equal rights under the law. It will also apply to other inequalities such as difference in pay for the same work or unequal taxation. The principle is stated in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution: “No State shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
One of the hardest things to argue in this intense topic is whether or not it exists. There is not a law enforcement agency in the nation that has stepped up to the plate and acknowledged that it does indeed profile using racial criteria. It is something that New York City’s Law Enforcement Department has been accused of over and over again, while the chiefs and mayors unwaveringly deny the rumors. It is something that the media use entire segments trying to prove with the cases that are claimed to have happened because of it (Colb, 2000). Numerous studies over the past few years have proven what many have known for decades: law enforcement agents at all levels consistently use race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion when choosing which individuals should be stopped and searched. Discriminatory racial profiling is a widely recognized problem in communities across the country.
States are beginning to recognize the need to address this discriminatory practice. The practice of racial profiling occurs when law enforcement officers target suspects on the basis of race, national origin, ethnicity, or religion. Racial profiling is not just an issue of who gets stopped, but why they are stopped, and how they are treated. In 1999, the federal government and New Jersey came to an exceptional agreement that state troopers would no longer use race as a factor in highway traffic stops. This agreement came about after an investigation of police records revealed that African Americans and Latinos drove three-fourths of the cars searched on state highways.
One might wonder how police balance their enforcement knowledge against the potential for discrimination based on stereotyping, or what’s commonly called “racial profiling”? It’s a complex, provoking issue, but by starting to look at police training may help to figure out the source. For law-enforcement personnel, training and experience are critical. Training comes from many sources. It begins with the initial training academy, and continues with ongoing updates known as in-service training.
Additional formal training happens when a field-training officer (a police officer’s first street partner) assists with law enforcement’s version of “on-the-job training.” Somewhere along the progression, “informal” training begins. It takes place anywhere and everywhere, and continues throughout a career. And just like in any job, officers learn to cut corners, streamline processes and get the job done. The end result can be a more efficient employee or one who omits necessary steps in the processes.
On one front, police brutality occurs when an officer has difficulty judging the need to utilize force. An officer’s career depends on police-survival skills that can make the difference for continued existence. Knowing when to go for your gun or when to issue a verbal command is a learned skill. It requires good training, time on the job, and repeated exposure to incidents. Equally, a crucial part of this is the guidance and influence of senior officers, not to mention the officer’s own motivations of fear, physical abilities and the like.
There are many factors that influence an officer’s decisions when it comes to discriminatory issues and law enforcement. The manor, in which an officer is socially experienced, in both professional and personal settings, plays a major role. Bringing about the stereotype of young African-American men as criminals can come from both of these tracts. Like everyone else, police must unlearn this bias and judge people based on their actions alone. The big difference is that police, at times, have power over our freedom. Racial profiling of African-Americans and Latinos is rampant at all levels of law enforcement today. For example, approximately 72 percent of all routine traffic stops on an interstate in the Northeast were of African-American drivers, despite the fact that African-Americans make up only about 17 percent of the driving population, according to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union.
In the aftermath of September 11, racial profiling of Arabs and South Asians has increased very much so. Since the terrorist attacks, individuals who appear to be of Arab or South Asian descent have been targeted for special inquiry. For example, many have been asked to leave airplanes for no reason other than their appearance. In the case of Arab look a likes on airplanes, many have been asked to remove their turbans, a violation of their religious practices.
Few state or federal agencies collect data on the incidence of racial profiling. The U.S. Department of Justice only recently issued voluntary guidelines that states should follow, producing in 2000, A Resource Guide on Racial Profiling Data Collection Systems.
This document provides an overview of the nature of racial profiling, a description of data collection and its purpose, current activities in California, New Jersey, and North Carolina, and policy recommendations. Collecting accurate data is a critical first step toward eliminating the practice of racial profiling and bridging the lack of trust between law enforcement agencies and communities of color.
Developing and implementing data collection systems will help to eliminate intentional and unintentional profiling and restore trust in law enforcement agencies. States that require law enforcement officials to collect information regarding the race, ethnicity, gender and age of each driver stopped by police will also help. The reporting requirements also include noting what actions (citation, warnings, tickets) were taken, and, if a vehicle search was conducted, whether it was based upon consent, probable cause, or reasonable suspicion of a crime.
The potential for abuse of power in most law enforcement departments exists for several reasons. Incorporated with the lack of literature regarding the topic at this point, most law enforcement departs refuse to undergo a study and they deny that racial profiling exists, the controversial issues in regards to prejudice and racism, and the added events of September 11th; racial profiling by law enforcement grew to include new groups of people. However, many police departments are aggressively addressing these issues with added training and stiffer sanctions for violating a citizen’s civil rights. Through the years, the learned patterns of criminality, real or perceived, have given us the institution of profiling. The unlearning of these patterns may take just as long.