ACLU of PA Renews Call for Passage of Legislation to Address Racial Profiling

May 29, 2001 12:00 am

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PHILADELPHIA–The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania today renewed its call for the passage of legislation that would seriously address the problem of racial profiling.

In testimony today before the state’s House Democratic Policy Committee, Larry Frankel, Executive Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, urged lawmakers to heed the words of President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft by passing strong legislation that would comprehensively prohibit the practice of racial profiling in the state.

“”The ACLU of Pennsylvania believes that this Commonwealth should join the growing number of states that have enacted legislation to address the problem of racially discriminatory enforcement of traffic laws,”” Frankel said.

“”We know that it will take a long time to eradicate the injustice caused by racial profiling. There is just no excuse for further procrastination.””

In his testimony, Frankel observed that the issue of racial profiling has been thoroughly studied by the legislature. He noted that the ACLU of Pennsylvania had testified at several hearings in the last three years.

Frankel reviewed the work of the ACLU representing victims of racial profiling and he discussed one major lawsuit that had been filed in Pennsylvania. Frankel also described the efforts of the national ACLU and its affiliates to address this issue in the arena of public opinion.

The ACLU testimony follows.


MAY 29, 2001


Good afternoon members of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee. My name is Larry Frankel and I am the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. I want to thank you for inviting me to present testimony on the issue of racial profiling.

Let me begin by explaining what I have attached to my testimony. The first attachment is a copy of the testimony I presented at a public hearing of the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crimes and Corrections on the problem of racial profiling. That hearing was held on December 14, 1999. The second attachment is a chart prepared by Pam Prasarttongosoth who works for the ACLU of Southern California. That chart provides detailed information on laws from nine states that call for the collection of data so that those states can determine whether they have a problem with racial profiling.

As I am sure all of you know, both President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft have called for an end to racial profiling. President Bush in a memorandum to the Attorney General dated February 28, 2001, stated:

I hereby direct you to review the use by Federal law enforcement authorities of race as a factor in conducting stops, searches, and other investigative procedures. In particular, I ask that you work with the Congress to develop methods or mechanisms to collect any relevant data from Federal law enforcement agencies and work in cooperation with State and local law enforcement in order to assess the extent and nature of any such practices.

I further direct that you report back to me with your findings and recommendations for the improvement of the just and equal administration of our nation’s laws.

Attorney General Ashcroft has spoken about racial profiling. At a press conference on March 1, 2001, he described racial profiling in simple terms: “This is as big a problem as you can get.” When asked what he plans to do if Congress does not act on this issue, Attorney General Ashcroft said: “I will simply launch a study of my own.”

The ACLU has been active on a national and local level in calling for an end to racial profiling. We have supported many bills addressing this issue. We have suggested that racial profiling be made illegal, that data on traffic stops be collected and that citizens be given a private right of action so that they can seek monetary damages for injuries they suffer as a result of discriminatory enforcement of our traffic laws.

The ACLU has also gone to court over this issue. Several years ago, here in Pennsylvania, we filed a lawsuit because African-American drivers were being stopped in Tinicum Township. That case resulted in Tinicum Township paying $250,000 to motorists who had been wrongfully stopped because of their race. An ACLU case in Maryland resulted in six years of court monitoring of police traffic stops. Recently the ACLU of Rhode Island filed a lawsuit on behalf of a man who was illegally stopped in his car and suffered chest pains after being detained at gunpoint. The ACLU has also been involved in litigation over racial profiling in New Jersey, Illinois, Oklahoma and California.

The ACLU is also educating the public about the problem of racial profiling. The front page of my testimony is a reproduction of an advertisement that has run in various publications around the country. The ACLU has also produced a special report, Driving While Black: Racial Profiling on our Nation’s Highways. We have created a public service announcement that has been heard all across the country. We have sponsored community meetings to raise the general public’s awareness of this issue. These meetings provide a forum for people who have been subjected to racial profiling to tell their stories. They also create greater support for state and federal legislation.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania believes that this Commonwealth should join the growing number of states that have enacted legislation to address the problem of racially discriminatory enforcement of traffic laws. We think that bills, like House Bills 998, 999, 1000, 1001, and 1002, introduced by Representative Harold James, should be acted upon without further delay. We know that it will take a long time to eradicate the injustice caused by racial profiling. There is just no excuse for further procrastination.

At the same time, the ACLU of Pennsylvania cautions the members of the General Assembly against enacting laws which would make the failure to wear a seat belt a primary traffic offense. Such laws are ripe for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Certainly, this Commonwealth should first be addressing the insidious pattern and practice known as racial profiling before it provides law enforcement with even more power to inflict injustice on motorists based on their race.

In closing, I would like to express the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s strong support for federal legislation as well as state legislation to address racial profiling. It is our understanding that a new bill, the “End Racial Profiling Act of 2001” is about to be introduced in Congress. That legislation would concretely define racial profiling and declare it illegal. It would give victims of racial profiling the right to sue. It would also allow the Attorney General to mandate the collection of data on police stops and would require the Attorney General to report on the results of data collection studies.

We believe that there is a significant role for both the federal and state government when it comes to ending discrimination. All of our elected officials should be doing as much as possible to end the unjust practice of racial profiling. We urge both Congress and the General Assembly of Pennsylvania to move forward and begin taking concrete steps to end this discriminatory practice.

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