Two years ago, I was walking down Broadway Avenue by 136th Street with my brother and a friend, who, like me, are Hispanic. We had come out of the deli in this neighborhood densely populated by blacks and Hispanics and were on our way to my apartment. Without warning, a police officer in plainclothes put his hand on my shoulder and shoved me toward a gate. Immediately thereafter, two other officers displayed their badges to my brother and friend and shoved them against the same gate. For a few seconds, I thought of whether or not I should ask the officers, who were all white, why they were searching us. I remembered stories from people in the neighborhood of prior encounters with police officers. Those people told me that it seemed as if asking the officers questions threatened their authority. I felt that the officers abused their authority by stopping us without any legitimate reason to do so. I decided to ask the officer who was searching me why we were being searched. The officer’s response was simple, yet thought-provoking: “You guys fit a description of a call we got earlier regarding a burglary, and you guys seem far from your house.”The truth is that my apartment was just two blocks away, and the only description they offered was that the alleged perpetrators were young. Aside from being young, we were all of color, and I began to think that this was the reason we were being held. Minutes after, two unmarked cop vehicles pulled up in front of where we were being searched and approximately six more white police officers approached us. The police officers talked amongst themselves while we were being held against the gate. Finally, one officer told us we were free to go. Upon walking away, I reflected on what had just happened. The police officers had thrown us against the gate and humiliated us in public, all because we were Hispanic.
It was then that I began thinking about the unfair discriminatory practices that law enforcement officers engage in. Racial profiling in law enforcement has been one of the most controversial issues in the United States. Minorities often claim that they are discriminated against at the hands of police officers. Every day, hundreds of minorities get stopped, searched, and questioned because of the way they look, or more precisely, the color of their skin. Racial profiling is an unfair practice that leads to the discrimination of individuals; therefore, it should be stopped.
In “Driving While Brown: A Proposal for Ending Racial Profiling in Emerging Latino Communities,” Anthony E. Mucchetti, a lawyer and graduate of Harvard Law School, defines racial profiling as “the detention, interdiction or other disparate treatment of an individual [by police] solely on the basis of the racial or ethnic status of such individual” (2). Often, law enforcement officers target minorities because of the color of their skin. The officers rely solely on the individual’s race to establish probable cause to stop and search such individual. This practice by police officers is a violation of the individual’s rights.
The growing Latino population in areas dominated by whites often faces discrimination and a lack of legal help and representation; thus, Latinos are subject to a high amount of racial profiling in these predominately white areas because of a fear of change in the community (Mucchetti 4). Policymakers in these communities fail to pass legislation that outlaws racial profiling altogether. State and Federal governments should pass legislation that requires police officers to write down the number of minorities that are stopped and searched (Mucchetti 25-26). Such a requirement will provide data that will help determine whether police officers are continuing to unfairly target minorities. Requiring police officers to write down the reasons as to why they stopped and searched someone, especially when such person is a minority, is a step toward eliminating racial profiling. Monthly, or maybe even weekly, reviews of records maintained by police officers could then help determine whether minorities are being detained lawfully. This practice would assist officials to develop some type of training that will help to prevent unlawful arrests.
Some may argue that racial profiling is effective in combating crime. Many people believe that minorities, such as blacks and Hispanics, are more likely to commit crimes. This assumption causes some minorities to be labeled as suspicious. However, the assumption that Hispanics and blacks commit a higher number of crimes is refuted by factual data. In “Driving While Black (DWB): Examining as a Tool in the War on Drugs,” Illya Lichtenberg, professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice Studies, provides data for the percentages of drug arrests among races in Maryland: Caucasians accounted for 26.3 percent of drug arrests; African Americans accounted for 25.3 percent of drug arrests; Hispanics accounted for 14.2 percent of drug arrests; and Asians accounted for 34.6 percent of drug arrests (52-53). Although the percentages between African Americans and Caucasians are similar, the African American and Hispanic percentages are still lower than the percentages for Caucasian and Asian. This data supports the claim that racial profiling is unfair. Moreover, Hispanics have a much lower percentage of drug arrests than Caucasians; yet, Hispanics are racially profiled at a much higher rate. Therefore, the argument that the use of race in stopping individuals is effective is false.
Little has been done to address the issue of racial profiling in law enforcement. In June of 2003, the Department of Justice released a fact sheet on racial profiling, stating that the use of race to apprehend individuals was prohibited. The Department of Justice also distributed guides among federal authorities banning racial profiling, except in circumstances where the victim or complainant characterizes the suspect by race or ethnicity. However, even if such suspect were characterized by race or ethnicity, the police should not have the authority to stop, search, and question every individual of a particular race. Allowing such practice fails to address the issue of racial profiling in law enforcement. Another study conducted by the Department of Justice in 2009 revealed that Hispanics were more likely to be stopped and searched and were less likely to be found in possession of anything illegal (Muchetti 13). Furthermore, various states and local authorities have not passed policies or legislation banning racial profiling. Some states have not even given the issue the attention it deserves. Former President George W. Bush once said that racial profiling is “wrong and we will end it in America” (Muchetti12). However, the truth of the matter is that the data obtained and current events suggest that racial profiling is still prevalent in our society.
In New York, police officers unfairly target blacks and Hispanics. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, police officers stopped 685,000 people in 2011. Blacks and Hispanics made up 87 percent of those stopped, and whites made up 9 percent of those stopped (Long 1). The New York Police Department attempts to justify these actions by claiming that the policies practiced decrease the crime rate in New York. However, the insignificant change in crime rate is not enough to justify the humiliation and discrimination of minorities. It is not acceptable that blacks and Hispanics are stopped and frisked at a much higher rate than whites. It is troubling to know that the number of young black men that were stopped and frisked by police last year was higher than the number of young black men that live in the city (Long 1). A high percentage of those stopped and searched were not arrested, and often the officers had no legitimate reason to stop and search such persons.
Additionally, racial profiling leads to negative interactions between law enforcement and civilians. Minorities often refuse to cooperate with police officers on unrelated matters because of the hatred toward the justice system. Bill de Blasio, a New York City public advocate, asserts that “it is impossible to have real; lasting security if there is a rift between the community and the police” (Long 1). The rift between the community and the police already exists due to the discriminatory acts of police officers against the minority community. Thus, reducing racial profiling would increase the confidence between law enforcement and the community.
The issue of profiling also plays out at the U.S. border, where the fight against undocumented immigration takes place. Since the United States shares its border with Mexico, Border Patrol agents unfairly stop and search Hispanic individuals without probable cause to do so. William M. Carter, Assistant Professor of Case Western University School of Law, claims that the “Ninth Circuit held that the Border Patrol agents’ decision to stop an individual solely because of his Hispanic appearance violated the Fourth Amendment” (1). Pursuant to the Fourth Amendment, it is a right of the people to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. In Arizona, law enforcement officers are given the authority to detain anyone who they believe is illegally residing in the United States. Through the use of racial profiling, current Arizona law allows Hispanics and Mexican-Americans to be unfairly burdened and taxed in order to combat illegal immigration (William 283). With respect to the circumstances in Arizona, Hispanics are unfairly singled out because of the color of their skin.
There are several approaches to reduce racial profiling. In Arkansas, a group of Hispanic plaintiffs sued the Rogers Police Department because of racial profiling. The case ended in a settlement agreement in which the officers agreed to put an immediate stop to racial profiling and take necessary steps toward the prevention of racial profiling. One of the steps taken was implementing a requirement for all officers to undergo training to respect the rights of all members of the Rogers community (Muchetti 28-29). The Courts should exercise judicial power to protect minorities, and have the voices of minorities heard through litigation. Settlements like the one in Arkansas are steps toward achieving a society free of racial profiling. State and local legislators should commence drafting and passing laws to reduce the amount of racial profiling in law enforcement. Certainly, state and federal policies have to be reviewed in order to determine in what ways the issues of racial profiling can be addressed.
Racial profiling can also lead to disastrous situations, as reflected by the Trayvon Martin case. Many have alleged that Mr. Martin was targeted and followed by a neighborhood watch volunteer because he was a young black man. This case should serve as a wake-up call to those who claim that racial profiling is in no way a negative policy or one that extends beyond law enforcement. It is an injustice for a person of colored skin to be unfairly targeted as a result of racial profiling. The public humiliation endured because of racial profiling can affect a person’s self-esteem. The United States of America is a diverse country that opens its doors to people from various nations and backgrounds. Those people, often of color and different races, enter the United States with trust in the Government and its powers. America upholds the right to equality under the law. However, thousands of Americans are treated unequally because of the color of their skin. It is imperative that the government address the issue of racial profiling in law enforcement and beyond, so that America can truly live up to the ideal of the land of the equal and the free.
Carter Jr., William M. “A Thirteenth Amendment Framework for Combating Racial Profiling.”
Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 39.1 (2004): 17-93. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Apr. 2012.
“Fact Sheet Racial Profiling.” Department of Justice. Department of Justice, 13 June 2003. Web.
Lichtenberg, Illya. “Driving While Black (DWB): Examining As a Tool In The War Drugs.” Police Practice & Research 7.1 (2006):49-60. Academic Search Complete.Web. 8 Apr. 2012.
Long, Colleen. “Some New York Officials Say Stop-and-Frisks Are Unfair” New York Law Journal, 10 May 2012. Web. 15 May 2012.
Muchetti, Anthony E. “Driving While Brown: A Proposal For Ending Racial Profiling in Emerging Latino Communities.” Harvard Latino Law Review 8. (2005): 1-32. Academic Search Complete.Web. 7 Apr. 2012.
William, India D. “Arizona Senate Bill 1070: State Sanctioned Racial Profiling?” Journal of the Legal Profession 36.1 (2011): 269-284. Academic Search Complete.Web. 13 Apr. 2012.