Racial profiling is has pervaded the entire fabric of the criminal justice system in the United States. Federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities are all responsible for the propagation of the vice in the country. Racial profiling has led to a lot of mistrust between minority groups and law enforcement authorities. Only recently, has the government risen up to the challenge of eradicating the vice and ensuring that the criminal justice system serves every American regardless of race, nation of origin, religion, and ethnicity.
Racial profiling refers to the use of an individual’s race or ethnicity as a basis for suspecting him to have committed a crime. In other words, it is the targeting of an individual by law enforcement authorities based on his personal characteristics. These personal characteristics include his national origin, ethnicity, religion, or race. Racial profiling often implies that there is an impermissible use by the law authorities to stop, search, detain, or question based on solely these characteristics (The Leadership Conference, 2011).
‘Impermissible use’ is directed towards the authorities’ erroneous predisposition that individuals from a certain race, country, religion, or ethnicity are more likely to commit crimes than others. Therefore, it is not racial profiling if the police and judiciary rely on subject description of personal characteristics when there is a link between an individual’s personal characteristics with a specific crime or incident.
How Racial Profiling Affects the Criminal Justice System
Racial profiling has had a major impact on the criminal justice system. There is a formidable lack of trust in the law enforcement authorities in the country due to racial profiling. People from minority groups completely distrust the law enforcement agencies. The infamous ‘Driving While Black or Brown’ phenomenon has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt. Evidence presented in studies of law enforcement practices and civil law suits has shown that majority of black and brown people are routinely stopped in their cars or on the streets by law enforcement authorities without warrant. This mistrust hampers any cooperation between the law enforcement agencies and minority neighborhoods meaning that insecurity and crime can grow unabated in such areas.
It has also been established that law enforcement authorities from federal to local authorities use race, country of origin, and ethnicity as the determining factor in identifying individuals to investigate for drug trafficking, street crimes, and gang involvement (Brewer and Heitzeg, 2008). This means that more individuals from minority races have been investigated for drugs and gang involvement than the majority whites. This translates to more of these individuals from minority groups ending up in prison simply because of their personal characteristics (Ferkenhoff and Isakson, 2001).
These events have made the people lose faith in the entire criminal justice system. The populace no longer believes that the system is working for their best interest. If this is the case, then the people might disengage from the system or even opt to disinherit the entire system altogether. For instance, in many minority neighborhoods, the police often find it difficult to apprehend criminals. This is because the mistrust breeds contempt for law enforcement authorities. The people living here would rather protect the criminals than give them up to the police because they believe such arrests are racially instigated (Ferkenhoff and Isakson, 2001).
Other than mistrust from the public, racial profiling also wastes the precious resources that the criminal justice system possesses. It diverts the scarce resources from the intended purpose to time-wasting endeavors. For instance, in 1998, the U.S. Customs Service removed racial profiling from its procedures, which led to a 300% increase in the discovery and seizure of contraband goods as well as other illegal activities (121).
Consider the inefficient allocation of police resources in 2008 when police descended on a small town of Yaqui Indians and Hispanics looking for undocumented immigrants. After terrorizing the 6000 residents, forcing them into their homes, and conducting impromptu background checks, the 100-man police force only arrested nine undocumented individuals (ACLU, 2009).
When it comes to fighting terrorism, focusing on race has been known to be an ineffective measure to discover and stop terrorist activities. Focus on Arabs, South Asians, and Muslims who are law-abiding citizens and are not a threat to national security, diverts the criminal justice system’s scarce resources that would have been better utilized by focusing on individuals with known ties to terrorist activities and connections (ACLU, 2013).
Changes Implemented by the Criminal Justice to Deal with Racial Profiling
Several changes have been made to the criminal justice system and the legislative law governing it to curb the proliferation of racial profiling in the country. The End Racial Profiling Act was introduced to the Senate and the House of Representatives in April 2015. The purpose of this Act is to prohibit racial profiling on a national level.
The Act addresses the evil practice in five main levels. First, it defines racial profiling as a form of racial discrimination by all levels of law enforcement in the country thereby making it an illegal practice. Secondly, it provides federal prohibition against the practice. Thirdly, it creates a platform for the collection of data on the vice in order to determine its true extent in the criminal justice system. Fourthly, it mandates all levels of law enforcement to retrain law enforcement officers on how to stop the vice and prevent further proliferation of the vice in the system. Lastly, it holds accountable all law enforcement agencies that insist on continuing to use racial profiling while conducting their duties.
Sufficiency of Changes
Advocates of the ERPA believe that this is the only piece of legislation that can stop the vice from continuing. They believe that legislature of this nature and authority can help end racial profiling at the federal, state, and local levels. This is because the law addresses the majority of the issues brought by racial profiling already discussed.
However, there still needs more to be done when it comes to the particulars of racial profiling. For instance, the Department of Justice needs to declare it the sole authority on the enforcement of federal immigration laws. Over the years, the federal government has been delegating its duties to the state and local enforcement authorities making these agencies the inherent authority in enforcing immigration laws. This has led to an increase in racial profiling in these levels. The DOJ needs to rescind its previous opinion made in 2002 that gave these authorities the power to enforce immigration laws as they saw fit.
Federal counterterrorism efforts such as the Operation Front Line have also been accused of using racial profiling in their operation. Independent experts need to review the counterterrorism agencies to determine the extent of racial profiling in these programs. These experts need to make recommendations on how to curb racial profiling in these counterterrorism agencies.
Civil rights and humanitarian groups need also to raise awareness about the vice in the public sphere. Their efforts should be targeted towards re-teaching the public on the erroneous assumptions that underline racial profiling. These groups should also invest in teaching the public and local law enforcement authorities on the devastating effects that racial profiling has on the fabric of the society. The humanitarian groups should also continuously demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the practice on counterterrorism and curbing illegal activities.
From the above information, it is clear that racial profiling has penetrated every corner of the criminal justice system in America. It is also clear that the changes that have been made to eradicate the vice have not been as successful as one would have hoped. The ERPA 2015 is the most promising piece of legislature available to fight racial profiling in the criminal justice system. The law makes the practice illegal nationwide and those found practicing it can be held accountable by the law.
However, the law is broad and only deals with major aspects of the insidious practice. Other measures need to be put in place in order to deal with the minute details of the problem of racial profiling. These measures include encouraging civil groups to educate the public on the detrimental effects of racial profiling in a society, independently reviewing the Operation Front Line and other counter terrorism operations, and giving the DOJ more powers when it comes to enforcement of immigration laws.
American Civil Liberties Union (2013). Race and Criminal Justice. Retrieved on 28/1/2016 from http://www.aclu.org/criminal-law-reform/race-and-criminal-justice
American Civil Liberties Union (2009). The persistence of racial and ethnic profiling in the United States: A follow-up report to the U.N. Committee on the elimination of racial discrimination. Retrieved on 28/1/2016 from https://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/humanrights/cerd_finalreport.pdf
Brewer, R.M., & Heitzeg, N. (2008). The racialization of crime and punishment: criminal justice, color-blind racism, and the political economy of the prison industrial complex. American Behavioral Scientist, 51 (5): 625-644.
Ferkenhoff, E., & Isakson, N. (2001, April 7). Ashcroft Calls on Police to End Racial Profiling. Chicago Tribute. Retrieved on 28/1/2016 from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2001-04-07/news/0104070172_1_gen-john-ashcroft-justice-department-top-priority
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (2011). Restoring a National Consensus: the Need to End Racial Profiling in America.