By Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) - 04/16/12 11:33 PM EDT
Racial profiling — the targeting of individuals because of race, ethnic identity, national origin or religion — has no place in our nation. The recent, tragic and avoidable shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager in Florida, has focused national attention on the need to ensure minority communities are protected from hate crimes and racial profiling, a practice that is ineffective in crime prevention, undermines effective law enforcement and erodes civil rights.
April 18 is ERPA Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill — a day on which those committed to furthering civil and human rights will be lobbying members of Congress to support the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), S. 1670. As the author of the bill, I am pleased that such organizations as the Rights Working Group, the NAACP, the ACLU and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights support the bill and are working to ensure that minority communities are truly protected from racial profiling.
Racial profiling demonizes whole communities. Following the death of Trayvon Martin, I met with members of Maryland’s faith and civil rights communities and heard about repeated incidents in which racial profiling had been used to target minorities for suspicion.
I was particularly moved by an incident recounted by an African-American young woman who recently graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law. She told me of an incident when she was a young teenager in which she and her father were driving to a college basketball game. Their car was stopped and pulled aside; her father sent her into the game without him and it was a considerable amount of time before he joined her. She said he never talked about what happened, but she knew — he was pulled aside and questioned simply because of the color of his skin.
We must put an end to such targeting based on race or ethnic identity. I am pleased that the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are investigating all the circumstances surrounding Martin’s shooting death, including the investigation that was conducted by local authorities.
My state of Maryland has had problems with racial profiling. In the 1990s, the ACLU brought a class-action lawsuit against the Maryland State Police for illegally targeting African-American motorists for stops and searches along Maryland’s highways. The parties ultimately agreed that “the need to treat motorists of all races with respect, dignity and fairness under the law is fundamental to good police work and a just society … (and) that racial profiling is unlawful and undermines public safety … .”
But Maryland is not alone; other states have had even more serious incidents of racial profiling. In Arizona, after a three-year investigation, the Department of Justice found that Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County repeatedly arrested Latinos on unreasonable traffic stops, raided businesses when Latinos were gathered outside and failed to investigate more than 400 cases of sexual assault and child molestation, often involving Latino victims.
Racial profiling is not an effective policy and often saps scarce law enforcement resources that could be utilized more effectively. Minority communities know all too well the anger and frustration of being singled out because of their race, religion or ethnic origin. One of the major reasons racial profiling doesn’t work is because it corrodes public trust and makes it less likely that affected communities will voluntarily cooperate with law enforcement and community policing efforts.
S. 1670 builds on the Justice Department’s current “Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies” issued in 2003 under the George W. Bush administration. The guidelines were a major step forward, but they do not have adequate provisions for data collection, do not have the force of law and do not have an enforcement procedure against state and local agencies who engage in the practice.
It is time that we make clear that racial profiling has no place in law enforcement or anywhere in our nation.
Cardin is a member of the Senate Budget and Foreign Relations committees.