By Tralonne Shorter
Racial profiling has long been a crisis in our country stemming as far back to slavery when slave masters and police would use brutal excessive force as a method of control. The practice continued into Jim Crow when protestors would stage civil demonstrations opposing segregation and thrives today though institutional racism.
Before today’s camera phones captured the police racial profiling and killing of unarmed black males like Walter Scott, Mike Brown, Eric Garner; there was Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, Sean Bell and most notably Rodney King. Though there were significant eye witnesses, only two police officers were convicted and served jail time for these brutal racial profiling practices.
While recent high profile incidents of racial profiling focus on black males, women are also targeted by law enforcement.
In 2012 Abraham Joseph, a former Houston police officer is serving a double life sentence for raping undocumented immigrant woman while on duty. In one instance he “handcuffed a woman and raped her repeatedly on the trunk of his police car, confident that she wouldn’t report him”, but she did. Click here to read more stories like this.
In March 2015, Malaika Singleton of Sacremento, CA, a black women with dreadlocked hair filed a suit against the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with the help of the California affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) because “there was a pattern among black women, particularly those with their hair in a natural style, being singled out for these discriminatory and intrusive hair searches. TSA reached an agreement to ensure that all passengers are treated with respect and dignity. TSA agents at Los Angeles International Airport will undergo training to emphasize racially neutral practices, and the agency will specifically track complaints to assess whether a discriminatory impact may be occurring,” reported on Huffington Post.
In 2011, Shoshana Hebshi, a 36-year old half-Jewish, half-Arab mother sued FBI and airline (prepared by ACLU) after being yanked off a flight and stripped searched on the 10th Anniversary of September 11th. She and two Indian-American men sitting in her row were targeted by federal agents who entered the plane, ordered them off the plane, handcuffed them, and pushed them down the stairs into vehicles. She was then placed in a cell, where she was ordered to strip naked, squat, and cough while an officer looked at her. Earlier this week Ms. Hebshi settled with TSA and the airline.
The intersection of race, gender, religion and violence is often unexplored in discussions of racial and religious profiling. As a women’s organization committed to racial justice, we believe it is critical to elevate the serious problems women of color face when it comes to racial profiling and the need for laws that ban racial profiling practices.
On the eve of our National Day of Action, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Representative John Conyers reintroduced the End Racial Profiling Act. Yet every Congress since 1998, there has been some version of legislation introduced that bans racial profiling practices among law enforcement.
The journey to overcoming racial profiling will be arduous. Undoubtedly, hearts and minds cannot be legislated. But behavior can.
It took the landmark Supreme Court decision in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case to rule desegregation unconstitutional and overturn separate but equal. The historic passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994 made domestic violence a crime, and no longer considered a private family matter.
Beyond ERPA we must look into the ways communities of color are policed, and other criminal justice issues such as mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipeline, and access to justice.
Consider another example. 7 year old Aiyana Stanley Jones who was shot and killed by Detroit police officer after a botched no knock raid.
The presumption that people of color are guilty based on race, gender, immigrant status, religion or national origin is discriminatory and it is unacceptable. Hopefully, with the reintroduction of the End Racial Profiling Act, “it stops today.”
- Racial profiling is a common practice carried out by law enforcement agents conducting traffic and pedestrian stops. A U.S. Department of Justice report on police contact with the public found that African Americans were 20 percent more likely than Whites to be stopped and 50 percent more likely to have experienced more than one stop. This report also revealed that although African Americans and Hispanics were more likely to be stopped and searched, they were less likely to be in possession of contraband.
- On average, searches and seizures of African American drivers yielded evidence only 8 percent of the time, searches and seizures of Hispanic drivers yielded evidence only 10 percent of the time, and searches and seizures of white drivers yielded evidence 17 percent of the time.
- A 2000 General Accounting Office report found that during fiscal year 1998, U.S. Black women airline passengers were nine times more likely than U.S. White women airline passengers to be X-rayed or stripped searched after being frisked. Yet, Black women were less than half likely as white women to be found carrying contraband.
- A 2013 report released by the Missouri Attorney General Office, unveiled that black women in Ferguson were stopped by police more than anyone.
- The International Association of Chiefs of Police issued an executive guide in June of 2011 that addressed misconduct by law enforcement officers who sexually assault women. Women such as sex workers, undocumented immigrants, or limited English proficiency are at greater risk.
Tralonne Shorter is the Senior Advocacy & Policy Associate for Racial Justice and Civil Rights at the YWCA USA.