Racial Profiling Endangers Justice 

Racial Profiling Endangers Justice 
Posted by FoM on February 14, 2000 at 17:00:40 PT
By Rep. Asa Hutchinson
Source: Roll Call Online
The United States honors the principle that all individuals are equal in the eyes of justice. Unfortunately, certain practices - such as racial profiling - threaten that premise. Not only does racial profiling undermine the credibility of our justice system, it is a morally bankrupt practice and our laws should be reformed to reflect this reality. 
Racial profiling is using race as a factor in determining whom to place under suspicion or surveillance. It has most generally been used in traffic stops, border searches and airport detentions. There are two questions to address on this issue: The first is whether racial profiling is an effective law enforcement practice. The second, as I have indicated, is whether it is morally or legally justifiable. The answer to both questions is no.In the mid 1970s, the Drug Enforcement Administration began compiling factors common to individuals in narcotics trafficking. Seven primary characteristics were developed to help identify individuals who may be engaged in airport drug smuggling. These factors range from traveling under an assumed name to purchasing the airline ticket with cash. Race was not a factor in this profile and the federal courts have upheld the profile as sufficient grounds to establish reasonable suspicion for an investigatory offense. The potential for abuse arises when an officer includes race as part of the criminal profile. In one instance, a DEA agent stopped and questioned a man who flew from Los Angeles to Kansas City, Mo. The agent had received intelligence reports that black gangs from Los Angeles were bringing drugs to the Kansas City area. The suspect was on a flight originating in Los Angeles, he paid for his ticket in cash, checked no luggage, appeared nervous and went straight to a taxi upon landing. When the officer was asked to justify the stop, the officer cited these factors but added that he took into account the fact that the young man was black. The federal courts upheld the officers' action and established the rule that race may be considered as one factor in deciding when to stop and question an individual as long as it is not the only factor considered. (It should be noted that it is always appropriate for race to be used as an identifying characteristic of a particular suspect in a particular case. This is different than criminal profiling, in that a specific suspect is not sought but a group is identified as likely being engaged in criminal activity.)While the federal courts' imprimatur on using race as a factor may appear to help law enforcement in the short term, in reality, it is severely damaging in the long term. Respect and community confidence are essential to effective law enforcement. The knowledge among racial minorities - whether Hispanic, Asian, black or any other minority - that race can be used as a factor in police decisions generates a flood of hostility, erodes community support and destroys police credibility.Racial profiling is not a benefit to law enforcement and it should not be defended on the basis of expediency. It alienates minorities and creates a distrust of the system that leads to witnesses who will not cooperate, community leaders who protest and juries who fail to convict because of rage and anger.The answer to the problem of racial profiling should not be limited to proposed federal legislation requiring officers to record the race of citizens they contact. This response does not attack the issue at its core and presents its own challenges. There is legitimate concern that data collection could lead to more actions based on race. And some might use any unbalanced racial statistics to try to undermine legitimate law enforcement efforts in the ongoing battle against crime and illegal drugs.The better answer is two-fold. First, we should improve the training of our law enforcement officers so that decisions of whom to stop and question can be based on non-race related factors that legitimately justify an investigatory stop. Second, the law should be changed to prohibit race from being used as a basis for police activity in the same way that the law prohibits race from being used to disqualify a prospective juror. We all agree that justice should be blind to race. Making sure that communities are confident that this is the case will go a long way to restoring confidence in one of the founding principles of our democracy - equal justice.Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) is a member of the Judiciary Committee.Published: February 14, 2000Copyright  1999 Roll Call Inc. CannabisNews Articles On Racial Profiling:
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Comment #1 posted by Nadine Washington on July 29, 2001 at 21:32:56 PT:
I really enjoyed reading this article and will pass this on to my fellow classmates. I am preparing a report on Racial Profiling for my Human Relations course. This article has given me a whole new light on this very delicate subject.
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