Rep. Keith Ellison Says Congress Can’t Afford to Ignore Racial Profiling

The ACLU is promoting a bill called the End Racial Profiling Act to curb shady practices by law enforcement.

By Shani O. Hilton Oct 28, 2011

Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison takes issue with the assertion that Congress is in a cost-cutting mode. At a American Civil Liberties Union panel on racial profiling yesterday, Ellison was asked what kinds of conversations are happening in Congress around the costs of profiling.

Ellison said he didn’t buy that Congress was actually cutting costs—except in ways that further conservative ideological goals. "We can’t afford home heating oil for seniors," he said, meanwhile pouring money into defense and surveillance is getting "ramped up."

"We should be extremely careful with the American public dollar," Ellison said.

Racial profiling is happening in the U.S. on three major levels, according the the ACLU. There’s historic racism in policing, like stop and frisk policies; there’s intelligence gathering and racial mapping being conducted by the FBI largely in Muslim communities; and there’s immigration and border enforcement profiling.

On the last point, the ACLU says that under the Secure Communities program, 93 percent of people deported have been Latino—yet Latinos only make of 75 percent of undocumented immigrants.

Members of the panel didn’t hesitate to call profiling immigrants illegal. Joanne Lin, a legislative counsel for the ACLU said, "The words of our constitution apply to every person within the borders of this country, whether they’re citizens or not."

Moreover, under Secure Communities, 60 percent of people deported did not have serious crimes on their records—which runs in direct contradiction to Homeland Security’s contention that only the "worst of the worst" are being targeted.

The ACLU’s Mike German, a former FBI agent, says that profiling members of the Muslim community is counterproductive: "Racial profiling makes people of color less likely to report activity to the government," he said.

These days, he added, "suspicious activities" are often innocuous as taking notes or photographs. Lin says these activities "stand in as a proxy to justify citizens using their bias to report."

And historic racism in policing continues. Programs like "stop and frisk" in New York lead to black men being stopped more frequently, detained longer, and subdued with more violent tactics—even though white people who get stopped are more likely to have illicit items on their persons.

The ACLU is supporting a bill called the End Racial Profiling Act, which was re-introduced earlier this month and is intended to eliminate racial profiling in law enforcement.