Racial Profiling

Racial Profiling


Racial profiling is an unjust, irrational practice that uses racial generalizations as a factor to determine when it is acceptable for police to stop and search one’s property.  It targets people of color for investigation and enforcement at a disproportional rate because of an unreal threat police feel people of color pose to society. Based on racist beliefs that people of color are more likely to commit crime, police use false accusations to justify their violation of the victim’s rights.  Although the practice has been in place as long as the US criminal justice system, it has only recently been acknowledged as a serious problem in our society.

This practice stems from our society’s unjust depiction of people of color.  When asked to picture a typical criminal, it is in the ‘common sense’ belief that this individual will be a person of color, despite the fact that most inmates in our prison system are white.  The theory of “driving while black” has been statistically proven to increase one’s chances of getting pulled over for minor driving infractions, which supports the fact that racial profiling is still very much a problem today. Additionally, Muslim American have been targeted by racial profiling at significant rates following 9/11, due to the horrible stereotype that any Muslim individual may pose of a terrorist threat.  Laws to prevent immigration are being considered, despite the blatant violation of one’s right.  However, with the help of various organizations, racial profiling is being addressed as a serious issue.  Hopefully in the near future, it can be eradicated from our society.

Historical Background

Historically, there have been many organizations and people willing to stand up against racial profiling despite the limited progress made.  In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified which states that “No State shall… deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” which would have made racial profiling illegal.  However it did not stop the practice, it just encouraged the police to be more discrete with their racist actions.

In 1944, the racial profiling resistance faced a major setback.  In Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court found that ethnic profiling was not unconstitutional in times of national emergency.  This ruling was found in the support of the 110,000 Japanese Americans who were held in involuntary internment due to national origin during World War II.

Decades later, evidence of racial profiling was found in response to a lawsuit dealing with the Jersey Turnpike and the unlawful treatment of drivers of color.  Ninety one thousand pages of police reports were released, documenting a “consistent pattern of racial profiling.” It was found that black drivers made up 70% of the drivers searched, while they only made up 17% of the population.  It was also released that white drivers had a higher chance of carrying contraband but were searched way less frequent.  This case illustrated the racist actions being carried out by New York and New Jersey police, bringing attention to the inequality being practiced. [1]

Contemporary Movements/Organizations

Today, there are various organizations that are working to eliminate racial profiling practices from society.  The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or the NAACP is a civil rights organization that has been around for decades, with the mission to “ensure political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons, and to eliminate race-based discrimination.”   Their most recent issue of interest involves persuading Florida legislation to have the immigration bills HB 7089 and SB 2040 rejected.  Bill HB 7089 would allow police to question suspects about immigration status, which would essentially encourage evident discrimination.  The NAACP joined with other organizations such as the Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Japanese American Citizens’ League to write a letter to Florida legislation, asking them to reject the bills.  The letter states that every individual in the United States is guaranteed “the ability to walk down the street, to drive one’s car down the road, or to enter into our own homes without fear of arrest or interference” under the Constitution.  The NAACP is known for their monitoring equal opportunities in society and this is the perfect example of their fight. [2]

The Students Coalition Against Racial Profiling (SCARP) is another example of an organization that is hoping to eliminate racial profiling.  This group is run by students who have experienced brutal racial profiling and have created this organization in protest.  It started when a group of thirty African American and Latino students were walking down the streets of Brooklyn New York, on their way to a wake of a fellow classmate, when the New York Police Department arrested the students.  Not only were they arrested, but they were detained overnight without any food and charged with disorderly conduct despite not having committed any crime.  In response to this brutality, SCARP has formed to fight the blatant racism of the NYPD and end the disrespect people of color are facing.  The organization leads various protests that support any effort to stand up against racial profiling. [3]

The People’s Organization For Progress is a community based association that works for a greater unity of the community through racial, social and economic justice.  The POP’s main goal is to better the conditions of the people around them by eliminating racism, poverty, degradation and injustice through marches, demonstrations, rallies, and other progressive activities.  On October 25, 2001, the POP held a press conference to speak out about Racial Profiling and Police Brutality in particular, in support of the families of Earl Faison and other victims subjected to racial profiling.  Faison was one man who died after being beaten and tortured by New Jersey police.  Five officers were charged with violation the civil rights of the victims.  POP also held a march in the honor of Faison and the others involved.  The organization uses these demonstrations to educate their community about the unlawful acts being practiced by the police and give a voice to the victims who cannot defend themselves. Their goal to improve the social and legal conditions of their community is evident through all the demonstrations they organize. [4]

Targeted Elements of Racism

  • Institutional Racism
  • Cultural Racism
  • Overt Racism
My Recommendations/Analysis

Racial profiling is such an important issue in the United States because it violates the Constitutional rights given to the citizens of America and takes away their feeling of safety.  We are supposed to be able to rely on the police force and our government to protect us from harm and provide justice for all people.  However, people of color who feel targeted by the police, due to the color of their skin or their country of origin, are no longer provided with the security of the justice system.  Thousands of cases of police brutality go without being reported because of the fear the victims face.  Without proper representation or protection, it is impossible to feel safe.  In addition, racial profiling is a deliberate form of discrimination which violates the Fourteenth Amendment who is supposed to grant all citizens of the United States equal benefits to all laws. [5]  I find it disgusting that racial profiling is such a widespread practice that is almost getting more popular. With the recent debate over Arizona’s and Florida’s immigration laws, providing cops with the permission to ask from proof of citizenship of almost any car on the road seems absurd.  Racial profiling is an illegal practice but is being permitted in order to prevent further immigration.  I think it is appalling that these bills were even written.

Although few police officers would be willing to admit to being racist, it is their racist views surfacing when they are participating in racial profiling.  I think in order to decrease the number of cops with such disturbing views, there should be some sort of psychological-like survey given to applicants of the police force to determine any hidden prejudices that one might have.  It would help to provide the state with a better sense of who is protecting our people and would help to prevent any potential profiling.  Applicants who score high in the racist categories should be turned away from the force or given some sort of intervention.

I think racial profiling is born in our society’s depiction of colored people in the media.  People have a very biased opinion of who a criminal is, or what a drug dealer looks like and these are the ideas that motivate one to profile a particular driver.  Through further education and a more rounded media image of people of color, it might provide individuals with a more realistic view of who commits the crime in the United States.  No particular racial group is more dangerous or more prone to crime.  I think it is important for everyone to know that it is being of our society’s racial inequality that practices such as racial profiling exist.

Organizations such as SCARP and the NAACP are so important because they spread education and knowledge about the immoral practices of police beating young people of color and it grabs the media’s attention.  These cases need to be brought to court and the perpetrators need to be charged with a strict sentence, in order to discourage further behavior.

Scholarly References

[1] http://civilliberty.about.com/od/lawenforcementterrorism/tp/History-of-Racial-Profiling.htm

[2] http://www.naacp.org/press/entry/naacp-civil-rights-organizations-call-on-florida-legislators-to-reject-raci#

[3] http://ourdemandforjustice.org/site/2009/06/12/trial-for-teacher-that-stood-up-for-his-students-come-show-support/

[4] http://www.njpop.org/news/pop102401.shtml

[5] http://www.14thamendmentsummary.com/

Click to access raceprof.pdf


Related News Articles

Related Organizations

  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
  • People’s Organization for Protest (POP)
  • Nation Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
  • Student’s Coalition Against Racial Profiling (SCARP)
  • Refugees Against Racial Profiling (RARP)

Other Related Links

  • Race & Place: The Ecology of Racial Profiling of African American Motorists by Albert J. Meehan & Michael C. Ponder (book) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07418820200095291
  • Perceptions of Racial Profiling: Race, Class and Personal Experience (article) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2002.tb00962.x/pdf
  • Bob Dylan’s “The Hurricane”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YngpWylqQ3A
  • Brotherhood on Corruption: A Cop Breaks the Silence on Police Abuse, Brutality, and Racial Profiling by Juan Antonio Juarez (book)
  • Flying While Muslim: Racial Profiling Post:9/11  (movie)
  • 4chosen (movie)

by Meghan Chatellier

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