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Racial Profiling

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Racial Profiling Literature Review

Racial profiling occurs when race is used by law enforcement or private security officials, to any degree, as a basis for criminal suspicion in non-suspect specific investigations according to Goldberg (1999). With that said, 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.

Although there is no single, universally accepted definition of "racial profiling," we're using the term to designate the practice of stopping and inspecting people who are passing through public places -- such as drivers on public highways or pedestrians in airports or urban areas -- where the reason for the stop is a statistical profile of the detainee's race or ethnicity.

Amnesty International released its report on Racial Profiling in October 2004. The report boldly states that when law enforcement uses race, religion, country of origin, and ethnic or religious appearance as a proxy for criminal suspicion it undermines national security. Racial profiling is so pervasive that it has impacted nearly 32 million people in the United States - approximately the population of Canada.

my motivation for writing this paper is show that racial profiling: a) is a systematic tool used to unlawfully target selected individuals in society subjecting them to undeserved intrusions, b) how racial profiling and racial disparity go hand in hand and how c) racial profiling has hurt efforts to forge better race relations post September 11th. It my opinion, it has been a hindrance to better race relations and has not been effective in the alleged war on terror to single out potential terrorists.

While incidents of racial profiling are widely deplored today, there is little said about the actual root cause of the phenomenon. According to Harris (2002) the standard explanations for racial profiling focus on institutional racism, but that idea runs contrary to the sea change in social attitudes that has taken place over the last four decades. On the contrary, the practice of racial profiling grows from a trio of very tangible sources, all attributable to the War on Drugs, that $37 billion annual effort on the part of local, state, and federal lawmakers and cops to stop the sale and use of "illicit" substances. The sources include the difficulty in policing victimless crimes in general and the resulting need for intrusive police techniques; the greater relevancy of this difficulty given the intensification of the drug war since the 1980s; and the additional incentive that asset forfeiture laws give police forces to seize money and property from suspects. Since the notion of scaling back, let alone stopping, the drug war is too controversial for most politicians to handle, it's hardly surprising that its role in racial profiling should go largely unacknowledged.

Unmotivated searches like this are daily occurrences on our nation's highways, and blacks and white liberals have been decrying the situation for several years. Many conservatives, on the other hand, dismiss such complaints as the exaggerations of hypersensitive minorities. Or they say that if traffic cops do in fact pull over and search the vehicles of African Americans disproportionately, then such "racial profiling" is an unfortunate but necessary component of modern crime fighting.

The practice of racial profiling has been a prominent topic for the past several years. In his February address to Congress, President George W. Bush reported that he'd asked Attorney General John Ashcroft "to develop specific recommendations to end racial profiling. It's wrong, and we will end it in America." The nomination of former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman as head of the Environmental Protection Agency was challenged on the basis of her alleged complicity in racial profiling practices in the Garden State. Whitman had pioneered her own unique form of "minority outreach" when she was photographed frisking a black crime suspect in 1996. Copies of the photo were circulated to senators prior to her confirmation vote. (By the same token, in February 1999, Whitman fired State Police Superintendent Carl A. Williams after he gave a newspaper interview in which he justified racial profiling and linked minority groups to drug trafficking.) More recently, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's non-voting member of Congress, has tried to introduce legislation that would withhold federal highway dollars from states that have not explicitly banned racial profiling.

Although some observers claim that racial profiling doesn't exist, there is an abundance of stories and statistics that document the practice. One case where law enforcement officers were particularly bold in their declaration of intent involved U.S. Forest Service officers in California's Mendocino National Forest last year. In an attempt to stop marijuana growing, forest rangers were told to question all Hispanics whose cars were stopped, regardless of whether pot was actually found in their vehicles. Tim Crews, the publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, a biweekly newspaper, published a memo he'd gotten from a federal law enforcement officer. The memo told park rangers "to develop probable cause for stop...if a vehicle stop is conducted and no marijuana is located and the vehicle has Hispanics inside, at a minimum we would like all individuals FI'd [field interrogated]." A spokeswoman for Mendocino National Forest called the directive an "unfortunate use of words."

The statistics are equally telling. Consider Crises of the Anti-Drug Effort, 1999, a report by Chad Thevenot of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation,

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