WASHINGTON — Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., on Wednesday revived a bill to end racial profiling — an idea that won bipartisan support in 2001, but became a casualty of the terrorist attacks that year.
Cardin said racial profiling has increased since Sept. 11, 2001, but he said that day’s attacks should not be “used to demonize any one group.”
“It was not an attack on one community; it was not an attack on one group; it was an attack on our way of life,” Cardin said.
The legislation would prohibit racial profiling, which is the practice of a law enforcement agency relying on race, ethnicity, national origin or religion to select people for routine traffic stops, searches or other investigations, according to information from the Rights Working Group, an organization established after 9/11 to ensure the government protects civil liberties. The bill also would let people file a complaint to the federal government about racial-profiling incidents.
“In the last 10 years, members of Congress, advocates and law enforcement officers have raised concerns about the expanding use of racial profiling at both federal and local law enforcement agencies,” said Margaret Huang, Rights Working Group executive director. “The truth is, racial profiling doesn’t work.”
Racial profiling has been on the rise in the past 10 years, experts agree. Abed Ayoub, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee legal director, said racial profiling has affected everyone who is perceived to be Arab or Muslim.
“It’s been proven that racial profiling is bad policing and doesn’t make the community safer,” he said. “It wastes resources, and the government should not be engaging in, or any government program should not use, racial profiling.”
“Islamophobia” has played a part in increasing racial profiling in the past decade, said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who is sponsoring the legislation in the House. He said racial profiling has a long history in the United States connected with the legacy of enslavement.
“The cloud still follows us and I think that it was reinvigorated by 9/11 and ‘flying while Arab,’” Conyers said.
Maryland, too, has had its trials with racial profiling.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland sued the Maryland State Police to end race-based traffic searches in one of the nation’s first “driving-while-black cases,” according to ACLU of Maryland spokeswoman Meredith Curtis. That case was settled in 1995 with the police agreeing to not use racial profiling and to keep detailed records of all motorists searched for review by the court.
Again in 2010, the ACLU of Maryland sued the Maryland State Police in the Court of Appeals to turn over investigatory records showing how the department handled racial profiling complaints.
“They’re not interested in transparency related to these complaints,” Curtis said. “What we’re looking for is not what happened with the individual officers, we’re looking for responsiveness to these complaints and if a complaint wasn’t sustained. How seriously have they been treating these complaints?”
Elena Russo, a State Police spokeswoman, said she would decline to comment because the issue is pending in court.
No data for traffic stops was collected in 2010 for Maryland because the law requiring police agencies to collect it had expired, according to Tom Smith, Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions director of policy and process review. Smith said the law became effective again Jan. 1 after the General Assembly reauthorized it.
Gerald Stansbury, president of the NAACP in Maryland, also said racial profiling has increased since 9/11.
“It’s not just African-Americans who are being profiled now,” he said.
Sensitivity training is important to help end racial profiling and educate the public on the issue, Stansbury said. Police should make a stop when there is probable cause of a crime, not based on skin color or nationality, he said.
Laura Murphy, ACLU Washington, D.C., director, said the country reverted to racial profiling in three key areas: stopping people because of their race; immigration laws that target Arabs, Muslims and Sikhs; and the FBI using racial mapping to identify the number of mosques in a certain area.
“Racial profiling is ineffective, racial profiling is costly and racial profiling does not stand up for American values,” Murphy said. “In America, you’re only supposed to be investigated if you are suspected or engaged in criminal activity.”
The ACLU still receives many complaints of people being stopped on Interstate 95 because of their race, she said.
“We still have strong evidence today that African-Americans are disproportionately stopped on American streets and highways,” Murphy said. “There’s no lawful justification for it.”
Cardin and Conyers are set to introduce the End Racial Profiling Act this fall.
“When police use racial profiling they’re wasting time and resources,” Cardin said. “The terrorists are smarter than that. … We need to have good policework. Good policework requires good investigation.”