On Monday, July 9, a dozen Wisconsinites went to U.S. Senator Herb Kohl’s office to discuss the problem of racial profiling. They shared stories about their experiences living in Southeastern Wisconsin and described their concerns with race-based traffic stops and other actions by law enforcement they felt were discriminatory.
ACLU of Wisconsin members were among those who visited Kohl’s office to ask for his support of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA). The End Racial Profiling Act of 2011 (S. 1670 and H.R. 3618) would prohibit and attempt to ban racial profiling based on race, religion, ethnicity and national origin at the federal, state and local (including tribal) levels. The House version of ERPA includes gender as a protected category.
Followers of the Forward for Liberty blog may have already read our statements about how Milwaukee residents deserve professional policing after controversial allegations of illegal strip searches came to light. It is our position that racial profiling creates second-class citizens in Milwaukee and anywhere in Wisconsin where race is a factor in police stopping people on the street or in their cars. We worked to encourage the state legislature to pass a law requiring police to keep data on the race and ethnicity of people pulled over in traffic stops, but that law was quickly repealed by Governor Walker last year.
Some of the advocates who visited Kohl’s office are a part of the Face the Truth campaign which is an effort by the Rights Working Group to get meaningful action taken to stop discriminatory policing across the nation. The campaign is being endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union along with a coalition of over 100 national, state and local civil liberties, human rights, civil rights, immigrants’ rights and racial justice organizations.
Here is more about racial profiling from the Rights Working Group’s website:
What is racial profiling?
Racial profiling is the use of race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin by law enforcement agents as a factor in deciding whom to investigate, arrest or detain, except where these characteristics are part of a specific suspect description. It is a degrading practice, is pervasive across the United States and continues largely unchecked, violating constitutional and international human rights:
- African American, Native American and Latino/Hispanic individuals are stopped and searched much more often by law enforcement, for example, when “driving while black or brown” than whites;
- Since September 11, 2001, members of Arab, Muslim, and South Asian communities have increasingly and disproportionately been placed under surveillance, searched, interrogated and detained in the name of “national security” and have often times been labeled “terrorism suspects” when in reality many have only been charged with misdemeanors or minor immigration violations, if they have been charged at all;
- In recent years, law enforcement has singled out members of a third population under the guise of immigration enforcement—disproportionately harassing, interrogating, physically abusing and detaining individuals perceived to be Latino or Hispanic, including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.
By focusing on arbitrary factors unrelated to criminal activity rather than on specific indicators of criminal behavior or specific information about a criminal suspect, law enforcement agents decrease the hit rate on catching criminals. They also lose the trust of community members who believe agents to be biased or unjust. As a result, community members become less likely to assist with criminal investigations or seek protection from police when they themselves are victimized, which makes everyone less safe.
What has been done recently to stop racial profiling?
The U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance prohibiting the use of race and ethnicity by federal law enforcement agencies in 2003 but this guidance is not enforceable, it does not address profiling based on religion or national origin, it does not cover surveillance activities, and it leaves gaping loopholes that allow racial profiling for “national security” purposes and at U.S. borders. The Department of Justice should revise these guidelines and apply them to anywhere federal agents act in partnership with state or local law enforcement agents and to any agency that receives federal funds.
The Secure Communities program and the Criminal Alien Program were established by former President George Bush in 2008 and expanded under President Obama. These programs involve state and local police in the enforcement of federal immigration laws and have formally (and informally) resulted in pre-textual arrests of people whom the police perceive to be “foreign,” including citizens and lawful permanent residents; police stop these individuals for other alleged, often minor offenses, as a pretext for checking immigration status. Programs like these should be eliminated if they result in racial profiling.