“It is our goal to help end race-based discrimination, rooted in this nation’s history of slavery and Jim Crow laws,” Barbara Bolling-Williams, chairwoman of the NAACP’s Criminal Justice Committee, said in the report. “An unfortunate and persistent reality of our history is the fact that people of color continue to be profiled and viewed as criminally suspect based on their race and ethnicity.”
The report, which is more than 60 pages, details the history of racial profiling in the United States and collects data and studies about “stop-and-frisk” tactics being used in various cities.
It calls on activists in communities including San Francisco, Baltimore and Newark to fight to get rid of those policies, citing a similar campaign in New York City that led to the passage of laws to curb stop-and-frisk law enforcement in the city.
The publication comes as civil rights leaders and activists continue to ponder how to turn the furor and anger spawned by the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., into tangible action. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was unarmed when he was shot and killed by a white police officer.
In preparing the report, the NAACP conducted an audit of local laws and law enforcement practices related to racial profiling in all 50 states and concluded that there are 20 states that do not have laws prohibiting racial profiling.
“State laws tend to vary widely, from that of Connecticut and Rhode Island, which are amongst the most comprehensive — yet Connecticut lacks a specific private right of action and Rhode Island lacks a good enforceable definition — to that of Kentucky, which basically lacks all of the necessary components for a good law,” the report states.
The survey found that 17 states ban the use of pretextual traffic stops and 17 states require mandatory data collection for all stops and searches; 15 require analysis and publication of racial profiling data.
“Racial profiling is a daily reality with often deadly consequences for communities of color, young people, the LGBT community, and other minority groups in the US,” wrote NAACP President Cornell William Brooks in a letter that was included in the report. “And despite the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law, and even with continued police killings of unarmed people of color in recent years, this country lacks any meaningful policy banning racial profiling. There exists little recourse for action for those victimized by this abusive practice.”
The report notes a series of legislative changes in the 1990s following the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots in Los Angeles. Video of King’s beating at the hands of several Los Angeles Police Department officers as well as a series of other high-profile police shootings and allegations of brutality – including the cases of Jonny Gammage in Pittsburgh, Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo in New York City and Timothy Thomas in Cincinnati – fueled dialogue on race and racial profiling.
By 2001, Congress seemed set to pass the End Racial Profiling Act.
But the report argues that the momentum for anti-profiling measures was drained dry following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, after which law enforcement agencies began relying heavily on ethnic and religious profiling to target those who may be linked to terror groups.
“In the post 9/11 era, it became publicly acceptable to racially profile certain communities again,” the report states.
The End Racial Profiling Act has been reintroduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich). However, with just a handful of legislative weeks left for Congress this year – and with the sharp divide in priorities between the Democrat-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House – it remains highly unlikely that Congress would pass racial profiling legislation this year, even if the bill could build significant support.