Racial Profiling

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On February 4, 1999, Amadou Diallo, an unarmed 22 year-old immigrant from New Guinea, West Africa, was shot and killed in the narrow vestibule of the apartment building where he lived. Four white officers, Sean Carroll, Kenneth Boss, Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy fired 41 bullets, hitting Diallo 19 times. All four were members of the New York City Police Department's Street Crimes Unit, which, under the slogan, "We Own the Night," used aggressive "stop and frisk" tactics against African- Americans at a rate double that group's population percentage. A report on the unit by the state attorney general found that blacks were stopped at a rate 10 times that of whites, and that 35 percent of those stops lacked reasonable suspicion to detain or had reports insufficiently filled out to make a determination. Thousands attended Diallo's funeral. Demonstrations were held almost daily, along with the arrests of over 1,200 people in planned civil disobedience. In a trial that was moved out of the community where Diallo lived and to Albany in upstate New York, the four officers who killed Diallo were acquitted of all charges (“The Diallo” online). Racial Profiling is any police or private security practice in which a person is treated as a suspect because of his or her race, ethnicity, nationality or religion. This occurs when police investigate, stop, frisk, search or use force against a person based on such characteristics instead of evidence of a person's criminal behavior. It often involves the stopping and searching of people of color for traffic violations, known as “DWB” or “driving while black or brown.” (Meeks 17).

After 9/11, racial profiling has become widely accepted as an appropriate form of crime prevention. People were sought after based solely on the fact that they were of Arab descent. But racial profiling did not start with September 11th - racial profiling has been around for ages. Tracy Maclin, a professor at Boston University School of Law, says that racial profiling “can trace its historical roots [back] to a time in early American society when court officials in cities like Philadelphia permitted constables and ordinary citizens the right to 'take up' all black persons seen 'gadding abroad' without their master's permission.” (Meeks 164).

The term "profiling" first became associated with law enforcement’s interference in drug trafficking during the late 1970s. In 1985, the Drug Enforcement Administration instituted Operation Pipeline, an intelligence-based assessment of the method by which drug networks transported bulk drugs to drug markets, and began training local and state police in applying a drug courier profile as part of highway drug interdiction techniques. Under Operation Pipeline, police were trained to apply a profile that included evidence of concealment in the vehicle, indications of fast, point-to-point driving, as well as the age and race characteristics of the probable drivers. In some cases, the profiling technique was distorted, so that officers began targeting black and Hispanic male drivers by stopping them for technical traffic violations as a pretext for determining whether or not drivers were carrying drugs (Weitzer 133). A 1998 Department of Justice investigation of these practices raised awareness of this issue and defined racial profiling as the practice of singling out members of racial or ethnic groups for relatively minor traffic or petty criminal offenses in order to question and/or search them for drugs, guns, or other contraband (“History” 1).

In 1999, the American Civil Liberties Union launched a nationwide campaign against racial profiling, entitled “Arrest the Racism: Racial Profiling in America.” This campaign included research, phone hotlines to report incidents, online complaint forms, advertising campaigns that included radio, television, print and billboards, advocacy for legislation, and a communications program synchronized with litigation efforts across the...
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