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General News    H3'ed 7/1/09

Racial Profiling is Still Pervasive

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According to a report out today by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Rights Working Group (RWG), widespread racial profiling by law enforcement agents as a result of Bush-era policies remains a pervasive problem throughout the United States. The report, which was submitted today to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) states that government policies are a major cause of the disproportionate stopping and searching of racial minorities by law enforcement agencies.

Chandra Bhatnagar, a staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program and the main author of the report, said that "racial profiling remains a widespread and pervasive problem throughout the U.S., impacting the lives of millions of people in the African American, Asian, Latino, South Asian, Arab and Muslim communities ... the U.S. government must take urgent, direct action to rid the nation of the scourge of racial and ethnic profiling and bring this country into conformity with both the Constitution and international human rights obligations."

Today's release of the ACLU report came in response to a last-minute Bush administration submission to CERD in January 2009 that was plagued by omissions, deficiencies and mischaracterizations. According to the ACLU, in both its initial report to CERD in April 2007 and the follow-up submission in January, the Bush administration relied on the Justice Department's 2003 "Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agents" to support claims the government was taking steps to eliminate racial profiling. However, the ACLU report claims that document doesn't cover profiling based on religion or national origin, doesn't apply to state or local law enforcement agencies and doesn't include any mechanisms for enforcement or punishment for violating the recommendations. It also contains a blanket exception to the recommendations in cases of "national security" or "border integrity."

The well researched and documented report states that as a result of U.S. reliance on the vague Justice Department guidance and other Bush policies, people of color have been disproportionately victimized through various government initiatives including FBI surveillance and questioning, special registration programs, border stops, immigration enforcement programs and the creation of "no fly lists."

Margaret Huang, Executive Director of RWG, is quoted as saying, "instead of curbing racial profiling, the over-broad national security and border integrity exceptions in the Justice Department guidance have actually promoted profiling and created justification for state and local law enforcement agents to racially profile those who are or appear to be Arab, Muslim, South Asian or Latino ... We hope the Obama administration will fix the failed policies of the Bush administration and live up to its commitment to end racial profiling in the United States."

Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder stated that ending racial profiling is a "priority" for the Obama administration and that profiling is "simply not good law enforcement." Today's report from the ACLU and RWG calls on the Obama administration to fix Bush administration policies that led to pervasive racial profiling. The ACLU report also calls on Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), which would compel all law enforcement agencies to bar racial profiling, create and apply profiling procedures and document data on stop, search and arrest activities by race.

Today's release states that CERD is expected to consider the U.S. government's follow up submission, the submission of the ACLU and RWG and the submissions of other civil and human rights organizations in its August session. CERD will then issue recommendations to the U.S. government regarding its human rights obligations under the treaty. The report defined CERD as an independent group of experts that oversees compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a treaty signed and ratified by the U.S. in 1994. All levels of U.S. government are required to comply with the treaty's provisions, which require countries to review national, state and local policies and to amend or repeal laws and regulations that create or perpetuate racial discrimination.

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Lawrence J. Gist II is a dedicated pro bono attorney and counselor at law, adjunct professor of legal studies at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, CA, a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Indigenous Knowledges, and a veteran (more...)
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