Racial profiling—the targeting of individuals because of race, ethnic identity, national origin or religion—has no place in our nation. The recent, tragic and avoidable shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager in Florida, has focused national attention on the need to make sure minority communities are protected from hate crimes and racial profiling, a practice that is ineffective in crime prevention, undermines effective law enforcement, and erodes civil rights.
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly states that “no State shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Last October, in keeping with the U.S. Constitution, I introduced legislation that would put an end to racial profiling and ensure that all Americans have “equal protection under the laws.”
My bill, the End Racial Profiling Act, S. 1670, would prohibit the use of racial profiling by federal, state or local law enforcement officials. It also would prohibit state and local law enforcement officials from using race as a factor in criminal investigations. It has the support of the NAACP, ACLU, the Rights Working Group and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Racial profiling demonizes whole communities. Following the murder of Trayvon Martin, I met with members of Maryland’s faith and civil rights communities and heard about repeated incidents in which racial profiling has been used to target minorities for suspicion.
We must put an end to such targeting based on race or ethnic identity. I am pleased that the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are investigating all the circumstances surrounding the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, including the investigation that was conducted by local authorities.
Maryland law enforcement has had problems with racial profiling. In the 1990s, the ACLU brought a class-action lawsuit against the Maryland State Police for illegally targeting African-American motorists for stops and searches along Maryland’s highways. The parties ultimately agreed that “the need to treat motorists of all races with respect, dignity and fairness under the law is fundamental to good police work and a just society … (and) that racial profiling is unlawful and undermines public safety …”
Racial profiling is not an effective policy and often saps scarce law enforcement resources that could be utilized more effectively. Minority communities—African Americans, Arabs, Muslims, Hispanic communities—know all too well the anger and frustration of being singled out because of their race, religion or ethnic origin. One of the major reasons racial profiling doesn’t work is because it corrodes public trust and makes it less likely that affected communities will voluntarily cooperate with law enforcement and community policing efforts.
It is time that we make clear that racial profiling has no place in law enforcement.