Ending Racial Profiling Essay, Research Paper
Ending Racial Profiling
The federal government should end racial profiling by requiring policemen and other law enforcement officers to keep detailed records of each individual they stop to question or search. These records should include the person?s race; the reason stopped; how long the car was detained; and whether a ticket was issued, the car searched, or any illegal goods or weapons were found when the traffic stop was made. Racial profiling is the police practice of stopping and searching African-American and Hispanic drivers at rates far disproportionate to their numbers on the road. I personally, have repeatedly been an innocent victim of racial profiling in the city in which I reside and while visiting other cities in the United States. Famous African-American men such as Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. of Tennessee, Wesley Snipes, Blair Underwood, Christopher Darden, and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume have also been stopped by police, allegedly for no other reason than the color of their skin. Robert L. Wilkins, a Harvard-educated Washington attorney, was traveling along U.S. Interstate 68 in 1992, returning from his grandfather?s funeral, when a Maryland state trooper pulled the families rented Cadillac over for speeding. When the trooper asked to search the car and its contents, Wilkins refused. But the trooper set loose a drug-sniffing dog to comb the car?s exterior, including the windshield, the hubcaps, and the taillights while Wilkins and his family stood in the rain. No drugs were found. The Wilkins family was completely humiliated. They were humiliated. They were later awarded a $95,000 settlement from the Maryland State Police, as well as an agreement by the agency to keep records to help prevent discrimination (Jones 38-40).
Statistics on racial profiling are controversial, but in a recent study, Temple University Professor John Lamlberth determined that about 75 percent of the motorists and traffic violators along one stretch of U.S. Interstate 95 were white, but 80 percent of searches were of minorities. The attitude of certain high-ranking law enforcement officials also helps to compound the problem. For instance, New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman fired the state police superintendent; Carl Williams for saying that while he did not condone racial profiling, minorities were responsible for most of the country?s illegal drug trade (Cannon 72).
Statistics confirm that African Americans-particularly young black men-commit a dramatically disproportionate share of street crime in the United State. This is a sociological fact, not a figment of a racist media (or police) imagination. In recent years, victims report blacks as perpetrators of around 25 percent of violent crimes, although blacks constitute only about only about 12 percent of the nation?s population.
Statistics such as these make it seem as if racial profiling is not the result of bigotry, and that the factual claim upon which the practice rests is sound. But, racial profiling is still wrong because racial distinctions are and should be different from other lines of social stratification. That is why, since the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, courts have typically ruled-based on the 14th Amendment?s equal protection clause-that mere reasonableness is an insufficient justification for officials to discriminate on racial grounds. In such cases, courts have generally insisted on applying ?strict scrutiny?-the most intense level of judicial review-to government actions. Under this tough standard, the use of race in governmental decisions making may be upheld only if it serves a compelling government objective and only if it is ?narrowly tailored? to advance that objective (Kennedy 70-74).
Racial profiling should be ended even if the generalizations on which the technique is based are supported by empirical or factual evidence. There are actually many contexts in which the law properly forbids us from playing racial odds even when doing so would advance legitimate goals. For example, public opinion surveys have established that blacks distrust laws enforcement more than whites. Thus, it would be rational-and not necessarily racist-for a prosecutor to use ethnic origin as a factor in excluding black potential jurors. And, because demographics show that in the United States, whites tend to live longer than blacks, it would be perfectly rational for insurers to charge blacks higher life-insurance premiums. However, the law forbids both practices, and it should forbid racial profiling (Kennedy 70-74).
The fact that racial profiling insults and humiliates blacks is not the primary reason is should be ended. A number of cases have led to altercations, slayings, and national protests. In Chicago recently, two unarmed Black motorists were slain after traffic altercations. One was former Northwestern University football player Robert Russ, who was killed shortly before his graduation after he reportedly refused to get out of his car following a short chase. According to the police version, the officers broke the back window of Russ? car and pointed a gun inside. The police said Russ grabbed the gun and tried to wrestle it away from the officer, and gun fired.
A second Chicago case involved La Tonya Haggerty, a young computer analyst who was a passenger in a car with a man who had been pulled over. Haggerty, who was about to announce her engagement and who had a bright future before her, was shot and killed as she sat in the car. A police report said she was shot because the officer thought her cell phone was a gun. A witness said the woman had her hands up and was getting out of the car when she was shot. In both instances the victims were in unarmed cars and the policemen approached the victims with their weapons drawn (Kinnon 62-66).
Several recommendations have been made as to ways to end racial profiling. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) make the following recommendations: (1) an end to the use of pretext stops as a crime-fighting tactic, (2) passage of remedial legislation in every state, and (3) collection of city-by-city traffic stop data on a voluntary basis.
The NAACP recommends withdrawing federal funds from police departments with high levels of unresolved brutality cases, or police departments that have been slow to react to complaints. The organization also suggests creation of police/civilian review boards to review not only profiling but also stop-and frisk procedures and strip searches of Black women, and additional federal funds for data collection on profiling, stop and frisk procedures and police brutality (Kinnon 62-66).
Some of these suggestions may be effective in ending racial profiling; especially the NAACP?s suggestion of withdrawing federal funds from certain police departments. Hitting anyone where it hurts-in the pocket- is almost always effective. But, police departments may tend go to the opposite extreme of being too lenient out of fear of losing funds. And, collecting the city-by-city traffic stop data on a voluntary basis is very similar to my suggestion of ending racial profiling, however, I believe that if this is done voluntarily, it will not be done at all. Leaving it up to individual states is not a good idea, either because some states with heavy African-American populations would probably enact such legislation to prevent racial profiling, whereas other states would feel it unnecessary to do anything about the practice.
If the federal government passed legislation that required law enforcement officers to keep traffic data, the practice of racial profiling would end because nothing is as convincing as written record, and nothing is as powerful as the authority of the law.
President Bill Clinton referred to racial profiling as ?a morally indefensible and deeply corrosive practice? that should be banned (Kinnon 62-66). It undercuts a good idea that needs more support from both society and the law: Individuals should be judged by public authorities on the basis of their own individual conduct and not on the basis of racial generalization. Race-dependent policing retards the development of bias-free thinking; indeed, it encourages the opposite (Kennedy).
As a reasonable person I firmly believe that even if the suggestions I recommend to end racial profiling are enacted and routine racial profiling is profiling is prohibited, the practice will not cease quickly. I have been in a courtroom before and I know that if an officer says he did not base his actions on race, a judge would hate to disagree with his statement. Racism is a deeply entrenched disease that is almost incurable. A new rule prohibiting racial profiling might be made just to be broken, but it could set a new standard for legitimate government. And no matter the outcome, something needs to be done about this unfair problem of racial profiling.
Cannon, Angie. ?DWB: Driving While Black? U.S. News &World Report
March 15, 1999: 72.
Jones, Joyce. ?Policing the Police? Black Enterprise June 2000: 38-40.
Kennedy, Randall. ?You Cant? Judge a Crook by His Color.? Utne Reader January- February 2000: 70-74.
Kinnon, Joy Bennett. ?DWB Driving While Black.? Ebony September 1999: 62-66