RacialProfiling of Minorities by Police
RacialProfiling of Minorities by Police
RacialProfiling of Minorities by Police
Racialprofiling is an issue with how police officers in the United Statesof America interact with minorities and, specifically, with AfricanAmerican men. Racial profiling is making an assumption or a judgmentof an individual based on their race and the characteristics of aparticular ethnic group (American Liberty Civil Union, 2015). Anexample of racial profiling occurred when a Neighborhood watchvolunteer named George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed blackteen named Trayvon Martin (Fulton, 2012). The white police officer,Zimmerman, had assumed wrongly that Trayvon was a criminal. Racialprofiling is a discriminatory practice that targets people on thegrounds of their race, ethnicity, religion, and nation of origin(Fulton, 2012). Profiles created by police officers categorize peoplewho commit specific crimes. These racially motivated profiles onlyestablish generalized information about a particular group, insteadof an individual’s actual behavior.
Racialprofiling may lead to the development of a wrong perception aboutmembers of a given racial group. “Creating a profile about thekinds of people who commit certain types of crimes may lead officersto generalize about a particular group and act according to thegeneralization rather than specific behavior” (National Instituteof Justice, 2013, para 1). One consequence of racial profiling bypolice officers, of any group, is it creates distrust and fear of aparticular race, based on suspicion and not fact, which can leadofficers to misjudge a situation and use excessive force resulting inthe death of African-Americans and minorities.
Howdo police officers racially profile human beings living in underclassneighborhoods? Low-income communities are under-funded,under-resourced and the majority of the people are either black orbrown, wear blue jeans or hoodies. Racial profiling or the use ofraces to determine the most likely suspects is not a reliable method.Although police officers are trained on ways of avoidingdiscrimination, some of them depend on individual characteristics(such as race) in identifying the likely suspects. This has increasedthe number of law enforcement agencies facing litigation for civilrights violations. It is difficult to suspect people based oncultural stereotypes, assumptions, and race. Taking from the aboveexample on George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, Georgesuspected Trayvon to be a criminal because of the clothes that he waswearing (NIJ, 2013).
Racialprofiling may change the way people from the profiled racial groupact and react to different situations. Although profilingindividuals on the basis of their suspicious behaviors has beenproven to be successful in fighting crime, the use of theindividual’s race as the bases of determining criminal behaviorleads to negative impacts on the people of color. For example, policeofficers who use racial profiling as a crime fighting strategy writemore traffic citations to minorities than to other groups. Duringtraffic stops, “black drivers (about 12.3%) are close to threetimes more likely to be stopped and searched than the white ones(about 3.9%) and about twice as likely as members of the Hispaniccommunity (about 5.8%) to be searched (Bureau of Justice Statistics,2015, para 8).
Thisaffects the minority groups emotionally and professionally sincestopping them for no apparent reasons waste the time they could havespent at work. The police car could be moving in the oppositedirection, but just seeing the police car creates an automaticreaction of anxiety among the drivers from the minority groups. Thisaffects African-American and other minorities mentally, emotionally,and professionally.For example, consider if you were an averageAfrican American and you wake up in the morning, get ready for work, on the way you happen to notice a patrol car, driving the oppositedirection, it does not matter, just seeing the police car creates anautomatic reaction of anxiety. The mind starts racing and thinking,asking questions. “Did that police car hit the brakes? Is he goingto turn around and mess with me? Was I going too fast? Is everybody’sseatbelt on? Did the police see me on the phone or was I on thephone?”
Racialprofiling is a legal technique in some states, where police officersare trained to target particular types of criminal, especially thosewho come from the minority races. However, it is unlawful for policeofficers to use racial profiling as the primary reason for stopping,questioning, and taking someone to jail. Racial profiling is notupheld in a court of law. However, a police officer is permitted tostop someone for some other, “legitimate” reason, such as notusing a turn signal. The court decided, if someone has been stoppedbecause of some “legitimate” reason, anything found during thesearch is permissible in court. For example, in Whren vs. the U.S.,the Supreme Court upheld Pretextual Traffic Stops by stating that inspite of law enforcements’ unconscious mindset, any trafficviolation is a legal basis for a stop (Cornell University Law School,2015). This is the court’s interpretation of the 4thamendment (search and seizure).
Inmost cases, police officers find reasons to stop the drivers from theminority groups, even when no reason seems to exist. This leads tothe prosecution of individuals from the minority groups on the basisof false allegations. Although racial profiling is an unfair practicethat target groups based on the color of their skin, the affectedgroups support law enforcement as long as the law enforcementpractices are applied fairly.
Theperception held by people of color regarding the issue of racialprofiling depends on their residential areas and the rate of crime inthose areas. African-Americans who live in high-crime areas and whoregularly hear others talk about police misconduct are especiallylikely to believe misconduct is common (NIJ, 2013) Recurring reportsof police brutality and dishonesty by the media is a major indicatorof the perceptions of misconduct and corroborate a common belief byminorities. African-American and other minority groups regularlystate that the police unjustly target them because of their racialbackground. This paper will argue that the legal practice of racialprofiling by police increase feelings distrust and fear ofAfrican-Americans and other minority.
AfricanAmericans are disproportionately racially profiled by police officers(McDevit, Iwama, & Bailey-Laguerre, 2014). African Americans feelthat they are unjustly targeted by police officers in the UnitedStates of America solely for the color of their skin. This has led tothe death of unarmed African Americans, dying at the hands of policeofficers, who took an oath and swore to protect and serve thecitizens of the United States of America and uphold the constitution. Indeed, black community as a whole undoubtedly needs the protectionof the police more than other segments of society because AfricanAmericans are more likely than others to be victims of crime(McDevit, Iwama, & Bailey-Laguerre, 2014).
NortheasternUniversity Institute on Race and Justice, in the state of RhodeIsland, collected race data from January 2013 to May 2014 on 300,144traffic stops (State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,2014). The study revealed the disproportionate treatment of thepeople of color on Rhode Island, where 27 out of 29 drivers from theminority groups were stopped. This study also concluded that 25 ofthe 29 Rhode Island communities’ minority drivers were more likelyto be searched than white drivers (McDevit, Iwama, &Bailey-Laguerre, 2014). These cases of discrimination are solelybased on the color of individual drivers.
Thecurrent legislation creates an environment for racial profiling andother forms of racial bias. It permits racial-based traffic stops andother various policing duties as long as there is a legal pretext forthese traffic stops. Most of the oppressive legislations wereformulated in the mid-1900s and they are still effective in somestates (Rice& Michael, 2010).Thefrequent use of these race-based tactics has brought great distrustbetween the African American community and the law enforcers. Inaddition, constant intimidation of the people of color is a majorcause of paranoia in the U.S.
Racialprofiling has also contributed towards the increase in thebrutalization of the people of color, which has in turn resulted inmany deaths. In addition, the significance of the issue of racialprofiling can be attributed to the fact that it aggravates otherchallenges that the people of color encounter with the criminaljustice, courts, and the crime control agencies. Although manyofficers stop and search drivers because of their skin color, they donot state that color was the major reason for stopping the driversfrom the minority groups. They try to find other reasons as theexcuse for the stopping, searching, and arresting of innocentdrivers. This makes blackness or the color of the drivers thesurrogate proxy or the indicator of criminal propensity (Rice& Michael, 2010).It appears that the tendency of the law to tolerate the race-baseddiscrimination has allowed the law enforcers to view all members ofthe communities of color as crime suspects, even in the absence ofsufficient proof.
Thefindings of the study conducted by the BJS (2015) revealed that manydrivers feel that they were stopped for valid reasons, although mostof those who were stopped were black Americans. The summary of thesefindings is as follows
Mostof the drivers who were stopped in 2008 reported that they were overspeeding.
About85 % of the drivers reported that they stopped for valid orlegitimate reasons. However, only 74 % of black drivers and 82 % ofthe Hispanic drivers felt that they were stopped for valid reasonscompared to 86 % of the white drivers.
About5 % of the stops were made to search the vehicle, the driver, orboth, but men were more likely to be stopped (7.4 %), compared tofemale drivers (1.6 %).
Blackdrivers are estimated to be three times (12.3 %) more likely to bestopped compared to white drivers (3.09 %) and Hispanic drivers(about 5.8 %) (BJS, 2015).
Inmost cases, the justifications made by police for stopping blackAmerican drivers are often perceived as rationality, instead ofracism. Most of the stakeholders in the judicial system claim thatAfrican Americans are involved in a disproportionate share of crimes(Rice& Michael, 2010).This justification is intended to create a perception that dedicatingmore resources and efforts towards black Americans will make adifference in terms of a reduction in the number of crimes.Consequently, police officers have made society to believe thatstopping and searching black American drivers will help them find andarrest more criminals than when searching the white drivers (Rice &Michael, 2010). In the case of drugs, more whites are involved indrug abuse and trafficking compared to black Americans, but moreblack Americans are incarcerated for substance abuse and traffickingthan whites (Rice & Michael, 2010). Using rational logic, if apolice officer stops more African American and searches them morethan other groups, then most likely you are going to find morecriminal activity amongst them. For example, like the possession ofdrugs which African-Americans do not do more in comparison to whites,they just go to jail more for it (Rice& Michael, 2010).
DrugCrimes in Traffic Stops & Profiling
Aclaim that the majority of those involved in the crimes related todrug trafficking are black Americans is dubious because it is notsupported by any empirical findings. For example, the availablestatistics provided by the government on drug offenses fail to give aclear racial breakdown of the people involved (Rice & Michael,2010). However, statistics indicate with clarity that the majority ofthose arrested and incarcerated for drug related and other offenses(such as homicide, robbery, rape, assault, and theft) are blackAmericans.
Allthe major categories of offenses (such as rape and homicide) are morelikely to be reported to police because they affect victims directly.Drug offenses are less likely to be raised with the responsibleauthorities since they do not have a direct effect on victims.Although the data available may be useful in measuring the activitiesof the law enforcement agencies and other actors, the number ofpeople arrested for drug cases fails to indicate the extent of thistype of crime with a reasonable level of accuracy (Rice &Michael, 2010). In addition, the racial breakdown of the peopleincarcerated for drug cases is intended to indicate the efficiency ofthe institutions involved while communicating close to nothing aboutthe underlying crime.
Otherstatistics have contradicted the common belief held by society byshowing that black Americans may even be less likely to be involvedin drug crime and drug use. For example, a study conducted byLamberth in Maryland indicated that there were no statisticaldifferences between the number of black drivers and the white driverswho were stopped along the highways, investigated and found withdrugs (Harris, 2015). In a similar study, the U.S. Customs Servicesfound out that the whites were more likely to be trafficking drugsthrough the airports than blacks. The study involved an invasivesearch of all passengers at the airports. The study indicated thatabout the 43 % of those involved were either black or Hispanic, butthe majority of those indicted were white (Rice& Michael, 2010).
Theabovementioned studies confirm that the general perception that blackAmericans are disproportionately engaged in drug related issues isnot based on any empirical data. This belief can be considered aself-fulfilling assumption that is founded on racial prejudice. Itappears that police officers conclude that black people are morelikely to get involved in drug issues because they only search blackdrivers, which increases the probability of indicted more blacks(McDevit, Iwama, & Bailey-Laguerre, 2014). This in turn increasesthe likelihood that more blacks will be arrested and incarcerated,which confirms the biased assumption that blacks are more likely tobe criminals compared to whites.
Legislationand Judicial Decisions
Theprocesses of law making and policy formulation have created anenvironment for racial profiling to flourish. This is confirmed bycontextual excuses used by the law enforcement officers whenarresting the suspects. Although the constitution states clearly thatpeople should not be searched or arrested without some reasonablecause, the decision made by the Supreme Court in Whren vs. U.S.creates a leeway for the police officers to use pretext in order tosearch and arrest them (Rice & Michael, 2010). The ordinance iscommon in the case of black drivers, who are often searched andarrested because of their racial backgrounds.
Alaw that was developed by the City of Chicago making it an offensefor gangs of youths to stand along the street is an indication thatthe law making processes target people of color. This is because thetargeted streets of Chicago are more likely to be occupied by blackAmerican youths (Justia, 2015). Before the declaration of thelegislation as unconstitutional, it had resulted in the arrest ofthousands of black and Hispanic youths.
Racialprofiling and prosecution of those who are arrested because of theirskin color has a devastating impact on people of color, especiallyblack Americans. It is estimated that close to one out of every threeblack Americans aged 20 and 29 years have been in prison, jail, onparole, or on probations in the mid 1990s (Rice & Michael, 2010).In the case of the city of Washington, DC, about 50 % of black menaged between 18 and 35 years have had contact with the criminaljudicial system on the allegations related to drugs (Rice &Michael, 2010). Although the criminal judicial system has a role toplay in ensuring that criminals are separated from the society, itbecomes unreasonable when the systems assumes that about half of theentire population of black Americans are drug offenders. The excusemade by psychologists who support these incarcerations is that blacksare at a higher risk of becoming offenders because they go througheconomic and social hardships more than any other racial group failsto make sense.
Thecriminal history of individual members of the minority racesincreases their chances of being arrested and incarcerated. Theseriousness of the previous offense or the criminal record ispositively associated with the risk of being imprisoned for anotheroffense (Morton & Blaustein, 2000). In addition, black youths whoreside in areas with a high rate of crime are at a higher risk ofbeing suspected compared to those living in areas with a lower rateof crime. The law enforcement agencies focus more of their attentionand resources to the poor neighborhoods because they assume thatthese residential areas are more likely to have a large number ofoffenders. However, this may not always be the case because theyouths living in the affluent areas may easily engage themselves inthe drug trafficking business and other types of crimes that give apromise of a good return.
Theongoing trends where the courts seem to tolerate the use of racialprofiling in law enforcement has raised doubts whether the legalsystem will offer a solution to the issue of race-baseddiscrimination. Many black Americans have lost their lives in spiteof the judicial interventions that have proven to be ineffective. Forexample, Dontrell Hamilton was shot and killed by a police officernamed Christopher Manney in spite of the fact that he was unarmed andthere was no apparent reason to use the live bullet (Ford, 2014).
Figure1: Color differences between Hamilton and Manney
Distrustof Police & Legislative System
Racialprofiling has forced black Americans to have a completely differentperception of the criminal judicial system from how the whites viewit. Many black Americans, especially those who have been profiled inthe past believe that the judicial system treats them differentlybecause they have a different skin color. For an instant, the surveyconducted in the year 1999 revealed that black Americans are twicelikely to feel dissatisfied with the police as well as the judicialsystem compared to white Americans (Rice & Michael, 2010).
Theperception that the judicial system and police have been profilingblacks has been adopted by the general public where even many whitesare now convinced that the police and the stakeholders in thejudicial system practice racism against black people. Many citizenshave lost trust in the entire judicial system. Although black driversmay be stopped after committing some traffic violations, the searchthat follows confirms that the drivers are not just stopped for theirmistakes, but because of their skin color. In most cases, policeofficer gives an excuse that they are searching for drugs. However,it would be needless to conduct the search if the drivers werestopped for violating minor traffic rules.
Anotherargument made by police is that offenders should be arrested orprosecuted even if they are black. In the pioneering study on policesentencing and racial disparities, the Sentencing Project authorstated that the rate of arrests is influenced by the context in whichthose arrests are made (Nellis, Greene, & Mauer, 2008). In mostcases, the number of people arrested reflects the efficiency ofpolice officers. In other words, the rate of arrests reflects thefrequency in which crimes are reported and the decisions made bypolice regarding those offenses. That’s why when looking at arrestrates it is important to remember the context in which arrests aremade. According to the most reliable statistics provided by theFederal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR),African American are disproportionately involved in violent andproperty crimes. For Example, 39% of violent crimes and 31% ofproperty crimes are committed by African Americans (Nellis, Greene, &Mauer, 2008).
Onedownfall of the UCR is that it does not account for crimes that gounreported. Therefore, it cannot give an accurate account of therelationship between crime and race. The underclass and low-incomeneighborhoods are saturated with police officers and citizens areoverrepresented in the criminal justice system, which is associatedwith racial profiling as well as the perceptions of individuals thatlive in particular communities. This evokes fear and distrust ofpolice officer among the African American community (Nellis, Greene,& Mauer, 2008).
Peopleneed to keep in mind the contextual and pretext factors that lawenforcement, especially the police officers, consider when makingarrests. The Fourth Amendment states that police cannot stop anddetain an individual without some reasonable cause. However, aSupreme Court decision allowed police officers to use a pretext inorder to search for evidence. This implies that the underlying causeof police search and arrest is not the guiltiness of an individual,but the skin color. Therefore, the disproportionate representation ofblack Americans in the prison system is questionable. This calls forthe identification of viable solutions to the issue of racialprofiling as considered in the recommendation section below.
Theissue of racial profiling that occurs during police stops can beaddressed by fixing body cameras in police uniforms. The presentresearch analyzes a lot of the statistics on traffic stops and therecan be practical solutions to this issue (BJS, 2015). The camerasshould be coupled with adequate police training on the enforcement ofthe traffic rules without discriminating against the people of color.This training should be done by a special committee, with themajority of its members being minorities, along with input frommembers of these communities. The purpose of the recommendedcommittee would be to come up with ways that will change the basis ofhow and what is determined as possible criminal activity. TheDepartment of Transportation should also be involved in the trainingin order to ensure the participation of all key stakeholders. Thisnew training can be designed by a committee chosen for this by localand state authorities and judges with the assistance of professorsthat teach multiculturalism and agencies like the NationalAssociation for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as well asprofessionals in criminology.
Thesegroups and individuals would be selected based off their knowledgeand insight on the matter. The multicultural professionals should beselected based on their knowledge of minority cultures. The state aswell as the local authorities would be involved based on the logicthat they will inevitably be in the process. The professors would beselected due to the fact they are used for teaching as well as havingin depth knowledge of institutional racism. The NAACP or otherprogressive organizations would be involved because their mission isto advance equality of the people of color in terms of social,economic, and education by fighting against race-based forms ofdiscrimination (NAACP, 2015).
TheNAACP or other progressive organizations would be involved becausementioned in their company’s mission statement “The mission ofthe National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is toensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality ofrights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.(NAACP, 2015). They would be able to come up with ways that changethe basis of how and what is determined as possible criminalactivities.
Thesecond recommendation proposed in this paper will address legislativeissues. Legal reforms can alleviate mistrust and fear caused byracial profiling. As brought up earlier in this research paper, thelaws, legislations, and policies have been used in the past toconvict and incarcerate African Americans and members of otherminority groups. This is because some laws and policies seem tolegitimize racial profiling of minorities. This is indicated in thecase of Whrenv U Swhere the Supreme Court decided to uphold pretextual stops (CornellUniversity Law School, 2015). Therefore, the formulation of laws thatare intended to clarify when the law enforcement officers can stopdrives can ensure that members of minority groups are protected fromunreasonable stops, search and apprehension.
Thesolution would be challenging, as stated earlier, the court’sinterpretation of Whren v U S Supreme. “The court decided that ifsomeone has been stopped because of some “legitimate” reason,anything that is then found is allowed in court” (CornellUniversity Law School, 2015). Although it is true that any evidenceof crime that is found after police search is admissible in thecourt, the Supreme Court’s decision failed to address theunderlying issue of profiling. Courts of law make decisions on thebasis of the existing laws, which means that legislators should focuson reforming laws and policies that govern police practices in orderto eliminate the leeway and chances for racial profiling.
Thestakeholders need to challenge the way the current laws allow policeto follow someone long enough for a small offense as long as theircolor is darker. Doing this would require the help of lawyers whospecialize in racial discrimination matters as well as the help ofthe Supreme Court to be able to complete this change. The cost ofthis would be relatively low, considering that it would most likelyonly be the cost of lawyer fees, judge salaries, and miscellaneousexpenditure. In the long run, this could be effective due to howfuture cases are handled before they reach the courts.With this“loophole” cemented over the most probable outcome would bereduced unreasonable traffic stops and a more equalized or fairarrest for criminal activities.
Recommendationto be Implemented
Themost appropriate recommendation that needs to be implemented is thefixing of cameras in police uniform coupled with adequate training inthe enforcement of laws without discrimination. This is the mostviable recommendation because it will have a direct impact on theunderlying issue of profiling. The steps that would need to be takento implement this recommendation include setting up of a committeethat oversees and write up the needed policies to be implemented. Theway it can be implemented is a quarterly training that is required bylaw enforcement agencies as well as reviews with these classes tomake sure the officers understand what’s going on and comply withthe law. This can be a very useful approach and over the course of afew years can be assessed to determine its effectiveness.
Fundingfor this recommendation can be fairly low because it only requiresdedicated teachers and researchers on the subject to conduct theinterviews and relay the information. The essential people for thiswould be the local and state authorities, judges, multiculturalprofessors, NAACP, experts in criminology, and citizens from theminority groups. These groups of individuals would be in charge ofdesigning the program that teaches law enforcement agencies a moreunbiased way of policing, with a follow up interview that will makesure that officers stay informed and compliant. In addition, data ontraffic stops, searches, and arrest need to be made public andaddressed continually.
Oncethe committee is formed and policies have been made, the stakeholderscan now embark on the implementation phase. The process ofimplementation should include setting up of classes that should beheld quarterly, followed by interviews that will ensure that theprogram stays updated and effective. The number of traffic stops andarrests made by each police officer at the start of the programshould be recorded and a follow-up be made to determine if there isany change that can be associated directly with the program. Thissolution will improve the practices of the law enforcers and enhancefairness in the law enforcement. This is a necessary step to helpimprove minority distrust of the police and the legal system.
Thissolution would help to improve proper use of judgment in trafficstops. This is a necessary step to help improve minority distrust ofthe police and the legal system because research has shown thatpolice disproportionately target minorities when deciding to followand/or search.
Thispaper argues that racial profiling, which is a legal practice in somestates, increases distrust and fear among the African Americans andother minority groups. African-American Sandra Bland died in policecustody after being pulled over by a white cop, because she did notput on her turn signal when changing lanes. Walter Scott feared thepolice, fled on foot after a routine traffic stop was shot in theback, and killed by a white police office. Eric Garner was put in anillegal choke hold by police officers, and died on the sidewalk inNew York. It is still impossible to tell what transpired between thewhite policeman Darren Wilson and African-American Michael Brown ofFerguson. The fear and distrust African-Americans and otherminorities feel is very real. To alleviate this anxiety there needsto be a change in laws and policies that govern the policingpractices.
Theimplementation of body cameras on uniformed officers, revamping ofpolice training, addressing the bias in police discretion duringtraffic stops are effective strategies that can reduce racialprofiling. Police and other law enforcement agencies with videomonitoring will have to be more accountable and transparent to thecommunities they serve. The body cameras will have to be revealedwhen the public asks for them and they should be accessible on theinternet immediately. Law enforcement agencies will have to complybecause its use has become a part of police practice.
Althoughthe second recommendation was not selected for implementation in thispaper, limiting the capacity of the police officers to determine whoshould be stopped and searched will restore the confidence of thepreviously profiled communities. This can be achieved by implementingthe second recommendation, which involves legal reforms. The currentlegislations that govern police practices should be changed toinclude procedures and criteria for determining the offender, insteadof using color as the basis of suspecting people. The AfricanAmericans will start trusting police officers and other lawenforcement officials since they will be assured that they cannot bestopped and arrested on the grounds of their skin color. In addition,training police officers on the most appropriate ways of enforcinglaws without discriminating against the people of color will restoresanity in the law enforcement sector and ensure that the laws targetoffenders instead of targeting members of particular races. Moreover,there will be a general decrease in criminal activity due to theincreased transparency and effectiveness of law enforcement with thenew policies, with other hopeful positive ripples throughout theprocess.
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