Racial Profiling: A Worldwide Problem

Published July 23, 2009

Recent developments in racial profiling cases show that the problem causes grief on both sides of the Atlantic.

As police dispute Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates’ claim that discrimination caused his arrest when Gates was mistakenly thought to be breaking into his own home, two other issues have left communities located thousands of miles apart with similar concerns about racism.

Profiling is the unconstitutional police practice of detaining citizens based on ethnicity rather than evidence of wrongdoing. In Los Angeles, a federal court has ended a decree designed to help stop racial profiling that was partly connected with cops who allegedly helped arrange rapper Notorious B.I.G.’s murder. Meanwhile, in the former medieval monarchy of Suffolk, England, Blacks have been found 6.3 times more likely than Whites to be stopped by police.

“The police police differently in high-crime zones, and you’ll find that African American officers, as well as White officers and Latino officers, and Asian officers, all change how they police,” lawyer Connie Rice told KPCC Radio after the L.A. ruling. “They do a pre-emptive policing that I think is actually unconstitutional.”

U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess removed a mandate that the Los Angeles Police Department meet more than 100 requirements to avoid being sued by the government. Among the requirements was an end to racial profiling by cops in the anti-gang unit that some have connected with B.I.G.’s 1997 shooting. Some of the officers investigated had moonlighted as security for Death Row Records.

Critics like Mark Rosenbaum say that ending the nine-year-old decree was premature: “Too much evidence” remains “that skin color makes a difference in who is stopped, questioned and arrested by the LAPD,” adds the legal director of Southern Cali’s American Civil Liberties Union.

Meanwhile in Britain, data presented to the Suffolk Police Authority shows that arrests were made in 14 percent of cases when a Black or “minority ethnic” person was stopped during the past year, compared with 10 percent of White stops, despite the Whites’ larger population. Though Suffolk officials report a slight improvement from the previous number of Black and ethnic minority stops, observers agree that the problem remains. Officials say they have increased monitoring to ensure that stops are made in a way that one community council describes as “legally, sensitively and in a way that considers the impact it has on others.”

Written by Eddie B. Allen Jr.

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