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Racial Profiling Essay

On February 4, 1999, Amadou Diallo, an unarmed 22 year-old immigrant from New Guinea, West Africa, was shot and killed in the narrow vestibule of the apartment building where he lived. Four white officers, Sean Carroll, Kenneth Boss, Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy fired 41 bullets, hitting Diallo 19 times. All four were members of the New York City Police Department’s Street Crimes Unit, which, under the slogan, “We Own the Night,” used aggressive “stop and frisk” tactics against African- Americans at a rate double that group’s population percentage.

A report on the unit by the state attorney general found that blacks were stopped at a rate 10 times that of whites, and that 35 percent of those stops lacked reasonable suspicion to detain or had reports insufficiently filled out to make a determination. Thousands attended Diallo’s funeral. Demonstrations were held almost daily, along with the arrests of over 1,200 people in planned civil disobedience. In a trial that was moved out of the community where Diallo lived and to Albany in upstate New York, the four officers who killed Diallo were acquitted of all charges (“The Diallo” online).

Racial Profiling is any police or private security practice in which a person is treated as a suspect because of his or her race, ethnicity, nationality or religion. This occurs when police investigate, stop, frisk, search or use force against a person based on such characteristics instead of evidence of a person’s criminal behavior. It often involves the stopping and searching of people of color for traffic violations, known as “DWB” or “driving while black or brown. ” (Meeks 17). After 9/11, racial profiling has become widely accepted as an appropriate form of crime prevention.

People were sought after based solely on the fact that they were of Arab descent. But racial profiling did not start with September 11th – racial profiling has been around for ages. Tracy Maclin, a professor at Boston University School of Law, says that racial profiling “can trace its historical roots [back] to a time in early American society when court officials in cities like Philadelphia permitted constables and ordinary citizens the right to ‘take up’ all black persons seen ‘gadding abroad’ without their master’s permission. ” (Meeks 164).

The term “profiling” first became associated with law enforcement’s nterference in drug trafficking during the late 1970s. In 1985, the Drug Enforcement Administration instituted Operation Pipeline, an intelligence-based assessment of the method by which drug networks transported bulk drugs to drug markets, and began training local and state police in applying a drug courier profile as part of highway drug interdiction techniques. Under Operation Pipeline, police were trained to apply a profile that included evidence of concealment in the vehicle, indications of fast, point-to-point driving, as well as the age and race characteristics of the probable drivers.

In some cases, the profiling technique was distorted, so that officers began targeting black and Hispanic male drivers by stopping them for technical traffic violations as a pretext for determining whether or not drivers were carrying drugs (Weitzer 133). A 1998 Department of Justice investigation of these practices raised awareness of this issue and defined racial profiling as the practice of singling out members of racial or ethnic groups for relatively minor traffic or petty criminal offenses in order to question and/or search them for drugs, guns, or other contraband (“History” 1).

In 1999, the American Civil Liberties Union launched a nationwide campaign against racial profiling, entitled “Arrest the Racism: Racial Profiling in America. ” This campaign included research, phone hotlines to report incidents, online complaint forms, advertising campaigns that included radio, television, print and billboards, advocacy for legislation, and a communications program synchronized with litigation efforts across the country. This campaign has inspired a movement against racial profiling by local, state and national organizations.

Community organizations have been involved in advocating for legislation, increasing visibility of their racial profiling concerns, and encouraging police departments to begin data collection. More than 20 states have passed legislation prohibiting racial profiling and/or mandating data collection on stops and searches, hundreds of individual jurisdictions have voluntarily begun to collect data, and several jurisdictions are collecting data on racial profiling as a result of federal or state court settlements or consent decrees.

In February 2001, during an address to a joint session of Congress, President George W. Bush said of racial profiling, “It is wrong and we will end it in America. ” (“History” 1) California, alone, has enacted legislation which mandates sensitivity training, but there is currently no legislation mandating data collection. In 1999, Governor Gray Davis vetoed legislation that would have required law enforcement agencies to collect data to show whether people of color are stopped by police at disproportionate rates. Bills that would have prohibited racial profiling and required data collection either died on inactive file or had important content removed before being passed.

A large number of individual jurisdictions are collecting data either voluntarily, through court settlements, or through federal consent decrees. S. B. 205, which amended the California Penal Code section 13519. 4, entitled Racial and Cultural Diversity Training, defines racial profiling as “the practice of detaining a suspect based on a broad set of criteria which casts suspicion on an entire class of people without any individualized suspicion of the particular person being stopped. ” This legislation outlines the inappropriateness of racial profiling, and mandates cultural awareness training for civil servants.

The federal code which is used to address racial profiling and other questionable procedures is Title 42, U. S. C. , Section 14141, which makes it unlawful for state or local law enforcement agencies to allow officers to engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of rights protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States. This law is commonly referred to as the Police Misconduct Statute. This law gives the Department of Justice the right to reprimand and/or sanction law enforcement agencies that use policies or practices which support a pattern of misconduct by officers.

The action taken by the department is directed against the agency as a whole, not against individual officers. Although efforts have been made to ban the use of racial profiling as a law enforcement tool, no jurisdiction in the U. S. has addressed the problem in a way that is both effective and all-inclusive. Currently, twenty-nine states have passed laws concerning racial profiling, but state and federal protections against this problem continue to be extremely lacking.

Further, some states are even passing legislation that supports racial profiling, such as Arizona’s new SB 1070, which aims to curb the problem of illegal entry into the U. S. While immigration issues continue to be a problem in the U. S. , this law basically allows law enforcement officials to stop any citizen randomly to verify their legal residence in the country. Police practices that are viewed as racially motivated will ultimately lead to more frequent and severe interactions with law enforcement, and eventually leads to a distrust of the police. This is an unhealthy position, as law enforcement practices aren’t effective when you are fearful of those whose job is to protect and serve the citizens (Blumer 4).

There is not much research available that addresses the question of why racial differences exist in citizens’ relations with the police. Part of the explanation can be found in the group-position thesis, which is discussed in the research by Bob Hutchings 64), and states: “the group-position thesis focuses on inter-group competition over material rewards, status, and power. Racial attitudes which reflect individual-level feelings and beliefs also mirror a collective sense of group cohesion, unlike other racial groups.

These perceptions include (1) perceived threats: dominant group members’ fears that their group is at risk of losing privileges or resources to competing racial groups, and (2) perceived advantages: minority group members’ beliefs that their group interests will be enhanced by challenging the prevailing racial order. The group-position thesis has been used to explain inter-group racial attitudes. ” The thesis further outlines the entitlement of dominant groups to resources, and the attraction to institutions that serve their interests; an example of this would be the attraction of the White race to the criminal justice system.

The police are often seen as allies by the “dominant ethnic group”, especially in deeply divided societies where the police can be used as an instrument for suppressing “subordinate groups” (Bobo &ump; Hutchings 70). This relationship between the police and dominant groups is less obvious in more democratic societies, but the authors state that even in these societies, the superior group builds strong relations with the police. In the United States, white people’s support for the police has traditionally been strong and, at the same time, whites tend to see racial minorities as inclined to criminal or violent behavior. In the 2000 General Social Survey, for example, half of whites viewed blacks as ‘violence-prone’. ”(Weitzer &ump; Tuch 1021) For whites who follow these views, there is a tendency to condone police suspicion and disparate treatment of minorities as “rational discrimination” (Weitzer 153). These attitudes may be more strongly held by some whites than by others, but the group-position thesis predicts that these views are fairly common throughout the white population (Bobo &ump; Hutchings 72).

Racial profiling has been occurring throughout our nation, and even the world, for as far back as any of us can remember. Racial profiling stems from racism, and fear of people who are different, ethnically and culturally, than the person making the judgments. Sadly, it spreads even further than that, and clouds the judgment of the people who are in positions of authority, even when they come from the same ethnic background.

Racism, classism, sexism and all the other –isms combine to create trends such as these, which affect more than just the person being judged; it affects their families, friends, neighborhoods, communities, etc. Like all other issues that deal with the problem of –isms, the only way to change the dominant perception is to change the way people are programmed throughout life and their experiences. Until that day, no legislation or rule is going to change the way people feel about the minority, or perceived lower class, group.

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