Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Profiling of African Americans by Law Enforcement

This is a student's reaction essay, the sort of thing where a student spends an hour just writing whatever they like about an issue connected with social welfare and policy:

    Racial profiling has long been a problem in our society. In many ways we have become better within the past twenty years or so. Unfortunately, our society still has a long way to go as you will see from the examples within this paper of the racial profiling that African Americans still endure today by law enforcement.

    Racial profiling can be defined “as an act of enforcement by police officers that are more motivated by racial bias of any reasonable suspicion or probable cause that may exist under the circumstances. It is also referred to as the practice of targeting African Americans for traffic stops because the officer(s) seem to believe that blacks are more likely to engage in some kind of criminal activity” (Grant & Byers, 2009). This practice of racial profiling is not only done by police officers, but also by various others forms of law enforcement. “Law enforcement agent includes a person acting in a policing capacity for public or private purposes. This includes security guards at department stores, airport security agents, police officers, or, more recently, airline pilots who have ordered passengers to disembark from flights, because the passengers' ethnicity aroused the pilots' suspicions. Members of each of these occupations have been accused of racial profiling.” (ACLU, 2005).

Those committing racial profiling are more numerous than most would expect. Most individuals would only expect police officers and those working in airports to racially profile. We can see now that this is not the case. Those of the African American race do not only experience racial profiling in their cars on our highways by law enforcement, but also while on a simple shopping excursion. “The targeting of shoppers/business patrons of color for suspicion of shoplifting by private security and other employees has disproportionately affected both working and prominent African-American women. TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey said she was refused buzz-in entry to a store even after seeing white women admitted and making a second attempt. After calling from a pay phone and being assured the store was in fact open, a third try failed as well” (ACLU, 2005).

This is blatant racial profiling. Many prominent individuals are stopped, searched, or suspected of crimes based solely on their color of their skin. The article written by Harris states that no matter what a minority races status of life, transportation, or their willingness to abide by the law is they are subject to being stopped by police and their race used as “evidence” against them. (Harris, 1999). Another article also mentioned this same situation; they referred to it as racial vulnerability.  “As a result of racial vulnerability, a black man is more likely to have several encounters with police. During these encounters, the officer(s) may ask the man to show his identification for proof, have him explain where he is traveling to and from, and the officer(s) also may ask if he uses, distributes, or even manufactures any drugs.” (Grant & Byers, 2009).

Racial profiling largest stage is on our roads. On the interstates and highways of the United States is where some of the largest violations of minorities’ rights are violated. Many wonder if this is such a big problem, why is it continuing. Surely our laws provide some protection. In a way they do. “One of the core principles of the Fourth Amendment is that the police cannot stop and detain an individual without some reason – probable cause, or at least reasonable suspicion – to believe that he or she is involved in criminal activity. But recent Supreme Court decisions allow the police to use traffic stops as a pretext in order to "fish" for evidence. Both anecdotal and quantitative data show that nationwide, the police exercise this discretionary power primarily against African Americans and Latinos.” (Harris, 1999). The law enforcement of our nation often abuse this practice. They will stop and search anyone based on their color to “fish” for evidence as Harris put it. Most often the law enforcement officials are not “fishing” for evidence because they believe that individual to have some sort of contraband because of their actions. Rather they search them and “fish” for evidence because they are racially profiling them. 

Racial profiling does not just affect those believed to be committing crimes based on their skin color. It also affects those trying to assert basic human rights such as voting in a presidential election. “Untold numbers, estimated to be in the thousands, were not given affidavit ballots that would preserve their votes pending resolution of any qualification issues. Even the state NAACP president was denied one until she stated her willingness to be jailed over the issue.

Most serious were the hundreds of reports, in African-American communities, of state police harassment of voters at polling places and traffic checkpoints, where they lined up cars, checking driving papers and inspecting vehicles. Racial profiling at its worst, this tactic appeared to be designed to delay and intimidate voters of color.” (ACLU, 2005). These individuals were purposely targeted because of the color of their skin. Many were denied their American right to vote. This was in the 2000 presidential election. Less than 12 years ago members of the African American race were being treated very similar to how they were treated when they first received the right to vote. In this election they were not terrorized by the Klu Klux Klan but by our own law enforcement officers.

    The age of an individual being racial profiled by our law enforcement is one thing that law enforcement officers do not discriminate on. Young or old they may stop you simply because of the color of your skin. Some youth in Michigan learned this first hand. " In April, 2001, the ACLU joined a suit against Eastpointe, Michigan , representing 21 young African-American men who were stopped by the police while riding their bikes there. The ACLU argued that the bicyclists were stopped in this predominantly white suburb of Detroit because of their race and not because they were doing anything wrong. In a 1996 memorandum to the Eastpointe City Manager, the former police chief stated that he instructed his officers to investigate any black youths riding through Eastpointe subdivisions. Police searched many of young men and, in some cases, seized and later sold their bicycles. Police logs and reports in Eastpointe have identified over 100 incidents between 1995 and 1998 in which African-American youth were detained.” (ACLU, 2005).

The state police of Maryland took no pity on an elderly African American couple when they pulled them over and searched them extensively. “In Maryland, in 1997, Charles and Etta Carter, an elderly African American couple from Pennsylvania, were stopped by Maryland State Police on their 40th wedding anniversary. The troopers searched their car and brought in drug-sniffing dogs. During the course of the search, their daughter's wedding dress was tossed onto one of the police cars and, as trucks passed on I-95, it was blown to the ground. Mrs. Carter was not allowed to use the restroom during the search because police officers feared that she would flee. Their belongings were strewn along the highway, trampled and urinated on by the dogs. No drugs were found and no ticket was issued.” (Harris, 1999). Law enforcement officers treated these elderly couple like criminals. They had done nothing wrong, had done nothing to instigate the stop other than ‘driving while black’.

    How long will we as a society stand for this? To what point will we watch individuals be treated in such a vile, unconstitutional manner? Many of these people are hardworking, good, honest people who are being judged and violated with searches of their property simply because of the color of their skin. As we all know an individual’s race does not make them a criminal. We need to instill this idea in our children and fellow human beings. Everyone deserves a fair shake in life. 

Grant, K., & Byers, T. (2009). Missouri western state university. Retrieved from http://clearinghouse.missouriwestern.edu/manuscripts/403.php
In Text (Grant & Byers, 2009)

Harris, D. (1999, June 7). American civil liberties union. Retrieved from http://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/driving-while-black-racial-profiling-our-nations-highways
In text (Harris, 1999)

ACLU. (2005, Nov. 23). American civil liberties union. Retrieved from http://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/racial-profiling-definition
In text (ACLU, 2005)

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