Racial Profiling is one of the top civil rights issues in the United States today. Across the country government officials, civil rights advocates, academics, law enforcement executives, and members of the general public are discussing this social issue. In June of 1999 President Clinton signed an Executive Order directing the Attorney General to develop a plan whereby Federal Agencies would begin to collect data on the race and gender of the people they stop to question or arrest. Federal legislation (The Traffic Stops Statistics Study Act of 2000, H.R. 1443, S.821.) that provides for the collection of data from traffic stops by federal officers has been introduced to both Houses in Congress in a bipartisan effort. In 2001, President Bush has directed Attorney General John Ashcroft to place Racial Profiling and Data Collection as a top Justice Department priority. Currently, at least 300 law enforcement agencies across the nation have voluntarily decided to collect racial data on traffic stops. Clearly the issue of racial profiling is of top National concern, and is considered by many to be the Nation’s most important Civil Rights issue of the new millennium.
The intense media exposure has called attention to the practice of racial profiling, but it has also contributed to the perception of racial profiling. In 1999 a Gallup poll found that 42% of African-Americans believe they have been stopped by police because of their race, 77% of African-Americans believe racial profiling is widespread, and 87% disapprove of the practice. ² Whether practice, or simply perception in any given community, racial profiling beliefs contribute towards minority cynicism and mistrust toward the criminal justice system. Effects of these negative attitudes include:
- Individuals are less likely to cooperate with people they do not trust, and may develop questions regarding all aspects of the criminal justice system
- Individuals with these perceptions may respond inappropriately to law enforcement officers out of a fear of being harmed, or to retaliate for past-perceived injustices
- Some law enforcement officers (if uneducated re: racial profiling) may perceive minorities to be inherently more likely to commit crimes, and may be more inclined to respond with a higher degree of force, thus escalating situations unnecessarily
- Safety concerns for officers and community members may be increased in more hostile environments
- Left unchecked, mistrust towards the criminal justice system can lead to riots, looting and excessive violence
² THE GALLUP POLL, September 24-November 16, 1999