ACLU Letter to the House Urging Members to Co-Sponsor the End Racial Profiling Act of 2004

Document Date: February 19, 2004

Re: The End Racial Profiling Act of 2004

Dear Representative:

The American Civil Liberties Union strongly urges you to co-sponsor the End Racial Profiling Act of 2004. Despite the efforts of some states, local, and federal law enforcement agencies to address racial profiling within their departments, the practice persists and has become more pervasive over the last few years, particularly for the Arab American community. The proposed legislation would define racial profiling, institute data collection systems to identify and track racial profiling, which would help repair frayed relations between police and minority communities, and make grants available to police departments for in-car video cameras, police training and portable computer systems.

Racial profiling occurs when law enforcement relies on race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion in selecting which individuals to subject to law enforcement investigations. This practice not only violates our nation’s basic constitutional commitment to equality before the law, but it violates international principles aimed at eliminating racism.

Every year, thousands of minorities experience the humiliation of being stopped while driving, flying, or even walking simply because of their race, ethnicity or religion. These individuals are not stopped because they have committed a crime, but because of an erroneous assumption that they have committed a crime, simply because of their appearance. The practice fuels and confirms the belief in minority communities that the criminal justice system and national security policies are unfair and undermine the trust between the police and the communities they serve.

Law enforcement based on general characteristics such as race, religion and national origin, rather than on the observation of an individual’s behavior, is not only an inefficient technique; it is an ineffective strategy for ensuring public safety. The strength of this argument has been borne out over and over again by data that has been collected by individual police departments throughout the country in response to ACLU lawsuits and the public’s demands for answers and police accountability.

There is incontrovertible proof that racial profiling does not, in fact, give the police an advantage in fighting crime. The premise upon which it was based – that certain ethnic minorities are more likely than whites to be in violation of the law – is simply wrong. Racial profiling is actually a distraction from effective policing because police officers are focusing on the wrong suspect. When Timothy McVeigh, a white Gulf War veteran, exploded a bomb outside the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, law enforcement immediately began to focus its investigation on Islamic suspects.

Further, studies consistently show that “”hit rates”” – the discovery of contraband or evidence of other illegal conduct – among minorities stopped and searched by the police are lower than “”hit rates”” for whites who are stopped and searched. The findings of numerous studies throughout the country have resulted in police officials recognizing that racial profiling, while it is still practiced broadly, is ineffective and should be rejected. The International Association of Chiefs of Police, the world’s oldest and largest nonprofit membership organization of police executives, has adopted a resolution condemning racial profiling:

“”We must ensure that racial and ethnic profiling is not substituted for reasonable suspicion in traffic stops and other law enforcement activities. The best way to ensure the trust of citizens and the courts, and to protect our officers from unfair criticism, is to develop an anti-profiling policy that delineates approved techniques for professional traffic stops, and makes a clear statement that profiling is not one of those techniques.””[1]

Americans overwhelmingly reject racial profiling. According to a national 1999 Gallup poll, the majority of those surveyed both black and white believes that racial profiling is a widespread problem. More significantly, 81 percent said that they disapprove of the practice. Study after study around the country reveals that profiling by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies is widespread. The pervasive nature of the practice is well documented. Data collected in New Jersey, Maryland, Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Massachusetts show that African-Americans and Latinos are being stopped for routine traffic violations in excess of their representation in the population or even the rate at which such populations are accused of criminal conduct.

“”Racial Profiling – Texas Traffic Stops and Searches,”” a report released by the Texas Criminal Justice Reform Coalition in February 2004 analyzed data from 413 Texas agencies. According to the report, approximately 6 of every 7 law enforcement agencies reported searching blacks and Latinos at higher rates than Anglos following a traffic stop. The report also found that approximately 3 of every 4 law enforcement agencies reported stopping blacks and Latinos at higher rates than Anglos.

The Justice Department guidelines distributed in June 2003 are insufficient to address racial profiling in this country. The guidelines do not apply on the state and local level, where the vast majority of profiling occurs; nor do they require data collection, which is essential to identifying and stopping profiling. In addition, there is no enforcement mechanism. Federal legislation is key to ending racial profiling in this country.

We believe that this legislation is the first step in effectively eliminating racial profiling. Your co-sponsorship and support are crucial to the End Racial Profiling Act 2004 becoming law.


Laura W. Murphy
Washington Legislative Office

LaShawn Y. Warren
Legislative Counsel
Washington Legislative Office

[1] IACP Resolutions: Condemning Racial and Ethnic Profiling in Traffic Stops (1999); Condemnation of Bias-Based Policing (2001).