ACLU of Illinois Announces Full Support for Legislation to Study Racial Profiling
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CHICAGO — On a day when most Americans take time to celebrate important advancements in civil rights under the leadership of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today announced its support for legislation aimed at addressing the pervasive problem of racial profiling.
Racial profiling occurs when police target members of one or more minority groups for traffic stops and vehicle searches at a disproportionately high rate, under the misguided view that members of these groups are more likely engaged in criminal activity. In recent months, compelling evidence of racial profiling has emerged across the country, leading President Clinton to order federal law enforcement agencies to begin collecting information about the race of all persons they stop or search.
To remedy the problem of racial profiling in Illinois, the ACLU is endorsing a proposal, Senate Bill 1324 filed last week by state Senator Barack Obama (D-Chicago), requiring all law enforcement agencies in the state to gather and report data about the race and ethnicity of all motorists they stop for traffic violations – whether police issue a citation or warning. The information about traffic stops would be collected at the county level and reported to the Illinois Secretary of State, whose office will analyze the data for trends and make a report about evidence of racial profiling to the General Assembly.
“There is no longer be any debate about the existence of racial profiling in Illinois and across the nation,” said Edwin C. Yohnka, spokesperson for the ACLU. “This proposal simply establishes a measure of accountability within the state’s law enforcement agencies. All any officer is asked to do is gather one more piece of information – the race of a motorist – each time they make a traffic stop.”
In announcing organizational support for S.B. 1324, the ACLU noted that a number of states already have initiated procedures for collecting data on the race or ethnicity of motorists stopped and searched by police.
New Jersey and Maryland agreed recently to collect data on the race of those stopped by police under consent decrees with the U.S. Department of Justice. Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina and Connecticut all are collecting this data voluntarily or because of a legislative act. Other states, including Florida, Tennessee and Utah, are considering legislation this year to mandate the collection of similar data. Finally, some cities — including San Diego and San Jose — have begun to keep this data on a citywide basis.
This national movement, when considered in conjunction with a number of recent news stories, court filings and developments, underscores the immediate need for collecting information about the race and ethnicity of motorists stopped and searched in Illinois:
- Evidence developed in the ACLU’s lawsuit charging the Illinois State Police’s drug interdiction unit with racial profiling demonstrates that Hispanics comprise less than 8 percent of the Illinois population (and take fewer than 3 percent of the personal vehicle trips in the state), and yet comprise approximately 30 percent of the motorists stopped by ISP drug interdiction units over a five-year period for discretionary offenses (including failure to signal a lane change or driving one to four miles above the posted speed limit).
- Evidence from the same lawsuit shows that although African-Americans comprise only 24 percent of the population in Cook County, they were targeted for 63 percent of all vehicle searches conducted by ISP drug interdiction officers in the County over a four-year period.
- Current and former police officers in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park reported earlier this month that racial profiling was a widespread practice in that suburb, resulting in the retention of an independent investigator to consider the matter and public complaints from several prominent African American residents of the Highland Park.
- A December 1999 Gallup Poll found that 59 percent of the American population believes that racial profiling iswidespread and nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of all African-American men ages 18-34 report having been stopped by police while driving simply because of their race.
“The best and most compelling statistical, anecdotal and sworn evidence available leads to one distressing conclusion – namely, that racial profiling is part of established law enforcement practices in Illinois and elsewhere,” Yohnka said. “We believe the people of Illinois deserve to know that the law enforcement agencies their tax dollars support do not engage in racially motivated practices.
“S.B. 1324 holds these agencies accountable, based not on anecdotes but upon reliable, comprehensive information,” he added. ” Most importantly, the simple act of passing such a statute will cause many agencies to re-evaluate their practices – whether implicit or explicit – to guard against ongoing practices of racially profiling.”
The ACLU of Illinois filed suit on behalf of several motorists who were victims of racial profiling by the Illinois State Police. The case, Chavez v. Illinois State Police, is on appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
More information on the ACLU’s Campaign Against Racial Profiling can be found at: http://archive.aclu.org/profiling.
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