From left, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., Judy Chu, D-Calif., and Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., appear as witnesses at a Senate Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights Subcommittee hearing in Dirksen entitled ‘Ending Racial Profiling in America.’ (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Several members of Congress and civil rights leaders presented at the Senate hearing on racial profiling Tuesday to discuss how blacks, Latinos and Muslims have been unfairly targeted in their states. The hearing before a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee is the first in the Senate on the topic since before 9/11.
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., was on the first panel of witnesses and said Alabama’s immigration law is promoting racial profiling by law enforcement because it allows them to target anyone they suspect of being in the country without legal status.
“The vast majority of law enforcement officers perform their jobs honorably and courageously, putting their lives at risk to protect the communities they serve,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “But the inappropriate actions of the few who engage in racial profiling create mistrust and suspicion that hurt all police officers.”
Data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that for the year 2005 black drivers (4.5 percent) were twice as likely as white drivers (2.1 percent) to be arrested during a traffic stop, while hispanic drivers (65 percent) were more likely than White (56.2 percent) or Black (55.8 percent) drivers to receive a ticket.
“Every year, thousands of people are stopped while driving, flying, or even walking simply because of their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration or citizenship status, or religion,” Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU wrote in a statement submitted to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. “They are not stopped because they have committed a crime, but because law enforcement authorities wrongly assume that they are more likely to be involved in criminal activity because of their physical appearance.”
In places like New York City the numbers are even more startling.
New data released to the City Council by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) summarizing stop-and-frisk statistics for 2011 revealed the highest yearly total stops to date - 684,330 - with huge racial disparities.
Eighty-seven percent of those stopped in 2011 by the NYPD were Black or Latino, and the low rates of correlation between stops and actual arrests persist: nine out of ten persons stopped were not arrested, nor did they receive summonses.
Several speakers went on to mention Trayvon Martin, the young, black, unarmed Florida teen who was shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
“Racial profiling is a moral and social problem that threatens our shared value of humane treatment of all people under the law,” said Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, at Tuesday’s hearing. “The recent and avoidable shooting death of an unarmed African-American teenager, Trayvon Martin, has focused attention on the need to ensure that our communities are protected from racial profiling and hate crimes,” Henderson went on to say.
“He [Trayvon] was profiled, followed, chased and murdered. This case has captured international attention and will go down in history as a textbook example of racial profiling,” said U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, who appeared as a witness at the hearing.
“Racial profiling leads to individual indignity and suffering, increases the likelihood that actual criminal behavior will go uncaught and unpunished, undermines the integrity of our criminal justice system, and instills fear and distrust among members of targeted communities. Racial minorities continue to be targeted at disproportionate rates by law enforcement, and the targeting is not and never will be effective,” Henderson went on to say.