An essay on the reasons to stop the use of racial profiling.
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Stereotyping and discrimination based simply on a difference in race are two things which are continually discouraged and condemned throughout our legal system, yet are promoted by even the Supreme Court when used by law enforcement in the practice of racial profiling. Police officers nationwide badger pedestrians, make traffic stops, and unjustly search citizens daily sometimes with their only reason being the color of the person’s skin. It is this practice, racial profiling, which encourages law enforcement officials to discriminate against the very citizens they are hired to protect and to be suspicious of all people that might fit the “drug courier” profile. Basically, when applied to the police’s practice or racial profiling, this means that suspicious people are either black or Hispanic. Racial profiling does more harm daily than is worth the handful of justified arrests it leads to. The nationwide victimization it creates, the ways in which police abuse its application, and the general racial ignorance it uses as its basis make racial profiling an unjustified method of law enforcement. Racial profiling, though permitted by the Supreme Court and lawmakers, must be stopped before it is taken any further than it already has been.
Racial profiling is not just a problem in the minority neighborhoods of New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles, but rather is a disease that is plaguing our entire nation. Blacks and other minorities, joined by white activists, have been decrying the situation for many years, but have just now begun to be acknowledged as lawsuits are brought against police departments and dragged through the appellate court system, including the Supreme Court. Though some victims of racial profiling may win monetary settlements from these lawsuits, the courts still affirm and justify the use of the discriminatory practice.
The statistics of racial profiling across the nation are astonishing. In the 1999 Report Crises of the Anti-Drug Effort, Chad Thevenot of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation records that “76 percent of the motorists stopped along a 50-mile stretch of I-95 by Maryland’s Special Traffic Interdiction Force (STIF) were black.” This number is quite disparaging when Thevenot informs that “Blacks constitute 25 percent of Maryland’s population, and 20 percent of Marylanders with driver’s licenses.” Also, according to an Associated Press computer analysis of car searches between January and September of 1995, and as testified by a state police official, 94 percent of motorists stopped in New Jersey were black. The 2000 census reveals that only 13.6 percent of New Jersey’s population is African-American. Reported racial profiling incidents by those that are victims to it often include police detaining them for over an hour on the side of the road, the dismantling of their vehicle looking for drugs, and physical and verbal abuse by the officers. Also, incidents in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Alabama have ended in the police officers killing the drivers and their passengers, while none of these victims were armed or were carrying drugs, (ACLU, internet).
The Supreme Court has even extended racial profiling beyond law enforcement and into politics. In the 2001 case of Hunt v. Cromartie, the Court’s majority overturned a North Carolina appellate court’s decision that disallowed racially gerrymandering a congressional district. The Court’s opinion cited that between 95 and 97 percent of the African-American population votes overwhelmingly Democratic and are less likely to “cross-over,” or vote Republican, than whites of the same party. Therefore, as the Court justifies, a legislature can draw an irregular congressional district based on race if its intent is to “create a safe democratic district.” If a bank were to partake in a similar lending practice, that is create an irregular enclave around which they would lend less money due to the disproportionate number of black residents in that enclave, that practice would be ruled unconstitutional under the Community Reinvestment Act. The bank would be forced to end this practice, but the Court has ruled that the government can continue its racial gerrymandering actions, (Kemp, Internet).
The police continually abuse the application of racial profiling and often turn it into a practice of simply stopping blacks or Hispanics because they think that the blacks or Hispanics are trafficking drugs. Police are even trained by their own departments and interlocking systems to pull over black drivers, and especially those driving certain cars. An Associated Press newswire sent out on March 16, 1999 published a manual used to train over 300 officers a year at the Public Agency Training Council of Indianapolis. The manual instructed officers to specifically look for and pull over Jamaicans and Ethiopians, identified by their cars, as those groups “have been known to operate and transport narcotics in the following types of vehicles: Toyota Corollas and Celicas, Datsun 210, BMWs and Volvos.” The manual also instructs police to be extremely wary of those vehicles that display the Ethiopian flag or contain its colors, red yellow and green, and those vehicles with Jamaican paraphernalia, bumper stickers, and slogans.
Police also abuse their powers when making traffic stops as well. In one of the more shocking incidents, Nelson Walker, a Liberian man attending college in North Carolina, and his two passengers were stopped on Maryland’s I-95 by two state troopers who alleged that he wasn’t wearing a seat belt. In the two hours that ensued, Walker and his passengers were detained on the side of the road while police searched for drugs in their car, eventually dismantling door panels, seat panels, and the sunroof during the search. Finding nothing, the officers handed Walker a screwdriver, and saying “You’re gonna need this,” left the three men on the side of the road next to their dismantled vehicle, (Sullivan, B2). More shocking is the fact that black police officers in unmarked cars are pulled over by white fellow officers, who are shocked to find out the results of their stop and quickly leave the scene. In one stop of a Metro-Dade, Florida police officer, Orange County sheriff’s deputies wrestled Major Aaron Campbell to the ground, hit him with pepper spray, and arrested him despite his self-identification as an officer, (Washington Times, A12).
Racial profiling uses a general ignorance as its basis, and it is this ignorance that leads police to commit these foul acts against the people they are paid to serve. Recently, many Americans have called out, asking for an end to racial profiling and saying that they no longer trust police officers. Senators Russ Feingold, Jon Corzine, and Hillary Clinton along with Representative John Conyers have introduced S. 989/H.R. 2074 as the “End Racial Profiling Act of 2001.” This law would, among other things, concretely define racial profiling and make it illegal, give victims the right to sue the violating police departments, and mandate, fund, and report the collection of traffic stops data by the Attorney General. Also proof of America’s distaste for racial profiling is a Reuters report in the New York Times on March 16, 1999, which states that “an overwhelming majority of people fear and distrust police,” and that only a quarter of New Yorkers feel that police treat blacks and whites evenly. This report came in the wake of the police murder of Amadou Diallo, a New York man shot 42 times in front of his apartment by police looking for a robbery suspect. Diallo was not the suspect and he was unarmed, (New York Times, A1).
When presented with the countless stories of helpless victims detained on the sides of America’s highways, their dignity and rights stripped from them and their belongings strewn around their dismantled vehicles, one must pause and think of the causes for these atrocities. It does not take long to figure out that none of these victims are white. Blacks and Hispanics in our nation are continually stopped by police and state troopers simply because the color of their skin dictates suspicion of drug trafficking. Countless stories have surfaced of police searching late-model cars owned by minorities because they wonder “how in the world did you pay for this?” Racism and corruption run afoul in these stories, which sometimes even end in the murder of an unarmed driver because he is black and stepped out of his car. The problem is not indigenous to the high-crime areas of our nation’s largest cities, but is widespread. It strips the victim of his pride and self-worth; some of the very qualities that make us feel human. The predator of racial profiling must be stopped before it takes on our entire nation as its prey.
Kemp, Jack. “Supreme Court Makes Racial Profiling the Law of the Land.” May 1, 2001. http://www.townhall.com/columnists/jackkemp/jk20010501.shtml.