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Police and Racial Profiling
Racial profiling, the practice by law enforcement of targeting people for police and security stops based on their race or ethnicity, has become a topic of concern and debate across the country. Many refer to this practice as DWB -- "driving while black," however, many other minorities feel that they too are singled out unnecessarily by law enforcement in public areas due simply to the color of their skin (Porter Pp). Numerous studies suggest that law enforcement does appear to practice racial profiling (Banks Pp).
In 1999 the foundations of law enforcement were shaken after New Jersey state police commanders admitted to using "drug-courier profiles" to stop motorists on the state's main turnpikes, the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway (Edelstein Pp). New York, as well, was spotlighted in the media concerning the beating and sodomizing of Abner Louima by Police Officer Justin Volpe and the police shooting of Amadou Diallo on the front steps of his Bronx apartment building (Edelstein Pp). These two incidents, along with several others, gained nationwide attention to the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities (Edelstein Pp).
In 1998, two New Jersey State troopers stopped a vehicle containing three African-American males and one Hispanic male (Porter Pp). The officers then fired into the vehicle, critically wounding two of the men, and handcuffed and pushed the men into a ditch until paramedics arrived (Porter Pp). According to the officers, they had opened fire because the driver had tried to back the vehicle over them, and had initially pulled the van over for speeding, however, the police department later admitted that the officers' patrol car was not equipped with radar (Porter Pp). Charging that they had been singled out due to the race, the men filed a civil suit against the officers, and the two troopers were suspended and indicted on charges of attempted murder and falsifying records to conceal racial profiling (Porter Pp). Moreover, charges against twenty-one people the same troopers had arrested at previous times were dismissed (Porter Pp).
In 1997, Laurence Boze, a past president of the National Bar Association, the largest national association of predominately African-American lawyers and judges, was en route to a convention when he was pulled aside for security screening at Baltimore-Washington International airport (Porter Pp). Although he identified himself with proper identification, the security officers searched his bags in full view of other travelers and detained him for more than thirty minutes at the gate (Porter Pp). In the 1997 USA Today article, "Profiling of Fliers Raises Racial Issue," by Keith Alexander, Boze said, "I fit neither a terrorist profile nor a drug trafficker profile ... I was just FWB (flying while black)" (Porter Pp).
In 1998 the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, issued a report, "Driving While Black: Racial Profiling on Our Nation's Highways," which concluded there was "strong and compelling evidence, of both an anecdotal and statistical nature, that racial profiling on the nation's roads and highways is indeed a nationwide problem" (Porter Pp). The report cited police statistics, case studies from twenty-three states, and media reports to show the existence of racial profiling (Porter Pp). According to the report, along a particular stretch of I-95 in Maryland, African-Americans made up approximately seventy-five percent of motorists stopped and searched, while only twenty percent of those searched were white (porter Pp).
The Orlando Sentinel in Florida reported that it reviewed tapes of roughly 1,100 police stops and found that although African-Americans and Hispanics made up only five percent of drivers on Brevard County's part of I-95, they accounted for more than seventy percent of motorists who were stopped by law enforcement (Porter Pp).
In 1999, the New Jersey attorney general's office released a the police department's own statistics which showed that on one part of the New Jersey Turnpike, African-American and Hispanic drivers were five times more likely to be stopped than white motorists (Porter Pp).
In 1993 a class action suit was brought against the Maryland State Police on behalf of Robert Wilkins, an African-American attorney who was stopped and searched by state police for "no apparent reason" (Porter Pp). As part of the settlement in Wilkins v. Maryland State Police the state was required to begin collecting and reporting data regarding the race and ethnicity of all motorists stopped and searched (Porter Pp). Lower courts have said procedures that depend on subjective evaluations are a mechanism for discrimination, however, in a 1996 decision, Whren v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that an officer's subjective judgment need not be reasonable as long as a technical violation of a traffic code occurred (Porter Pp). According to the ACLU report, the Whren decision gave law enforcement virtually unlimited authority to stop and search any vehicle they chose (Porter Pp).
Governmental agencies in both New Jersey and New York reacted to the 1999 incidents by promising to investigate and rectify minority concerns (Edelstein Pp). The New Jersey police commissioner resigned and his successor promised to eliminate race-motivated traffic stops, while in New York,
the Louima and Diallo incidents prompted measures such as the appointment of a task force to evaluate racism in law enforcement and the transformation of the controversial Street Crimes Unit from a plainclothes force to a uniformed one (Edelstein Pp). It was during this time that the federal judiciary was curtailing or eliminating many of the resources available to criminal defendants in fighting racial profiling in the courts, such as the Whren Court that validated one of the most common methods by which racial profiles are put into effect -- the pretext stop (Edelstein Pp).
Pretext stops, which occur when police officers ostensibly stop motorists for traffic violations but are in fact motivated by the desire to obtain evidence of other crimes, are a frequently used means of investigating suspected drug couriers on the highways and are often conducted in conjunction with race-based courier profiles.
Although Whren reaffirmed that racially-motivated traffic stops were invalid, it "espoused a standard that would effectively ban examination of such motives" (Edelstein Pp).
Moreover, a Second Circuit decision expanded the permissible use of race in law enforcement investigations in the October 1999 decision of Brown v. City of Oneonta, when the Second Circuit held that in an area with few minority residents, a description consisting solely of race and gender is not equivalent to a racial profile and, therefore, could be used to justify an investigatory stop. Thus, acting on a description provided by an elderly white robbery victim, the police were constitutionally permitted to stop every black male in town in their search for the culprits (Edelstein Pp).
The Whren Court agreed "that the Constitution prohibits selective enforcement of the law based on considerations such as race," however, by removing the subjective motivation of the arresting officer from the Fourth Amendment calculus, it effectively stripped defendants of their ability to establish that unlawful considerations such as race played a part in the decision to stop and arrest them (Edelstein Pp). Therefore, if a law enforcement officer followed a black motorist for several miles before observing him violate a stop sign, the decision in Whren "would not permit the trial court to inquire any further once the objective traffic violation was established" (Edelstein Pp). Thus, the Whren decision legitimizes stops of motor vehicles by law enforcement for any reason (Edelstein Pp).
Although the Supreme Court gave short shrift to the defendant's argument that "total compliance with traffic and safety rules is nearly impossible," courts and scholars alike have noted that "in the most literal sense, no driver can avoid violating some traffic law during a short drive, even with the most careful attention" (Edelstein Pp).
Thus, the Whren doctrine "makes any citizen fair game for a stop, almost any time, anywhere, virtually at the whim of the police.... Simply put, ...
[the Fourth Amendment] no longer applies when a person drives a car." In practical terms, an officer's subjective motivation in conducting a traffic stop can no longer be the subject of federal constitutional inquiry -- and even though
race-based stops remain constitutionally
impermissible, this is of little benefit to defendants who now have no mechanism for proving that such motivation exists (Edelstein Pp).
Although preliminary data indicate minority motorists are searched more often than white motorists, the hit rates for whites are generally higher than hit rates for drivers of color (Lundman Pp). Using data profided by sixty-five Minnesota police departments during 2002, researchers at the University of Minnesota Law School's Institute on Race and Poverty reported that police "searched Blacks, Latinos, and American Indians at greater rates than White drivers, and found contraband as a result of searches of Blacks, Latinos, and American Indians at lower rates than in searches of White drivers" (Lundman Pp). Yet, investigations of the New Jersey Turnpike show a pattern of profiling and substantial evidence that stops and searches were highly disproportionate based on race (Rudovsky Pp).
There are countless incidents of racial profiling. In Reynoldsburg, Ohio,…[continue]
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