A poll conducted by the Gallop group and published in the journal Public Administration Review (Ward, 2002, p. 726) shows that 59% of adults surveyed agreed that "…some police officers stop motorists of certain racial or ethnic groups" simply because the officers guess that those certain groups "are more likely than others to commit certain types of crime." Of the African-Americans that were surveyed, 78% agreed with that statement; 56% of the Caucasians agreed; and 80% of both groups agreed that it is an unfair practices (Ward, 726).
Ward references a study called "The Ohio Study" (conducted by David Harris in 1999) that used municipal court records from the metropolitan regions of Akron, Dayton, Toledo and Columbus. This study indicated that over a two-year period, African-Americans were "twice as likely to receive tickets as non-blacks, whites or Hispanics (Ward, 726). Another research survey was conducted in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ward continues. This one was performed by John Lamberth, who put together a "statistical analysis of the racial distribution of traffic stops in New Jersey. He came up with a research design that would determine the rate at which black Americans were stopped "compared with the percentage of blacks driving the same stretch of road" (Ward, 727).
This research required careful counting of cars on the road, and a sharp eye to determine if the driver was black, or other riders in the car were black. This took "teams of observers" on both sides of the freeway (called a "turnpike" in New Jersey). What the volunteer researchers did was merge their cars onto the freeway between certain guide points; they set their cruise control to 5 MPH above the speed limit, and from that point, they "watched cars that passed them or that they passed and noted the race of the drivers as well as whether the driver exceeded the speed limit."
What they found was that black and white drivers "violated traffic laws at the same rate," however, 73.2% of those cars stopped and arrested on that same stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike were driven by African-Americans, or had black passengers, Ward explains (727). That would seem to be clear evidence that at least in this instance, there was racial profiling.
African-American drivers have long complained that they are "routinely stopped and detained" just because law enforcement officers believe that blacks tend to be involved in more criminal activity than whites.
In fact the African-American community became so unified in their protests against being stopped simply because of the color of their skin, that in 2001, President George W. Bush directed his Attorney General, John Ashcroft, to "…review the use by federal law enforcement authorities of race as a factor in conducting stops, searches and other investigative procedures" (Ward, 727). Bush was showing -- to the African-American community, and to the nation -- that he really cared about the issue. He was clearly motivated to determine how the federal government could possibly "…work in cooperation with state and local law enforcement in order to assess the extent and nature of any such practices" (Ward, 727).
Ashcroft, a conservative, was moved by the facts and explanations he heard from citizens who testified in Congress about racial profiling. The testimony, Ashcroft said (quoted by Ward on page 727), "galvanized an opinion of mine from the sort of philosophic to the tragic. I had long believed," Ashcroft continued, that to treat people "based solely on their race was in violation of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution" (Ward, 727).
Janet Reno was Attorney General under the Bill Clinton administration. After the Clinton era Reno -- and as a retired federal official (Cabinet member) -- said that "…the perception of too many Americans is that police officers cannot be trusted." That trust between citizens and law enforcement -- in particular in minority communities -- "…is so essential to effective policing" that when it breaks down, it is hurtful for folks who believe they are being singled out from others because of the ethnicity.
In his "Summary and Conclusions" section, Ward suggests that data collection laws need to be put into place, and moreover, relying on information from law enforcement "…may not be the best way to establish whether racial profiling is widespread" (734). Relying on self-reported data that are then to become part of an empirical investigation may defeat the purpose of the data collection in the first place.
Meanwhile, an article in the journal Police Practice and Research (Scheb, et al., 2009, p. 75), reports on an investigation of some 130,683 traffic stops made by police officers in the Knoxville (Tennessee) Police Department between January 2001 and December 2004. Scheb writes that until recently, a great deal of the evidence of racial profiling was "anecdotal in nature," and there was not a lot of statistical data backing up claims by minorities that they have been harassed by unjustified police stops. However many states were taking steps to determine the extent to which there was racial bias in traffic stops.
By 2007, the authors continue, "The great majority of states, including Tennessee, had undertaken efforts to collect data on motor vehicle stops" (76). In 2000, the General Accounting Office took on a "broad analysis of five existing quantitative studies" in order to determine if law enforcement officers do stop drivers "on the basis of race" (Scheb, 76-77). The results of that survey by the GAO were not very satisfying to the African-American community in particular, and other minority communities (Latino, for example). The GAO reported that there was "…no comprehensive, nationwide source of information on motorist agencies' traffic stop practices" (Scheb, 77).
However, researchers carefully examined 13 academic studies on the issue that had been conducted between 1996 and 2001; they were based on data from police-citizen contacts during highway stops. And they found -- in all 13 studies -- "…significant racial disparities in the rates at which citizens were stopped." The studies showed that there was indeed racial discrimination in a substantial number of these stops (Scheb, 77).
In conclusion, racial justice is an important part of a democracy, and where there is injustice there needs to be a change in the laws, and a change in the say police and other civil authorities treat citizens of all races and ethnicities.
Cole, George F., and Smith, Christopher E. The American System of Criminal Justice.