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Driving While Black: Racial Profiling On Our Nation's Highways

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Jump to navigation Skip navigation. On a hot summer afternoon in Augustyear-old U. Gerald and his young son Gregory drove across source Oklahoma border into a nightmare. A career soldier and a highly decorated veteran of Desert Storm and Operation United Shield in Somalia, SFC Gerald, a black man of Panamanian descent, found that he could not travel more than 30 minutes through the state without being stopped twice: During the second stop, which lasted two-and-half hours, the troopers terrorized SFC Gerald's year-old son with a police dog, placed both father and son in a closed car with the air conditioning off and fans blowing hot air, and warned that the dog would attack if they attempted to escape.

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Halfway through the episode — perhaps realizing the extent of their lawlessness — the troopers shut off the patrol car's video evidence camera. Perhaps, too, the officers understood the power of an image to stir people to action. SFC Gerald was only an infant in when a stunned nation watched on television as Birmingham Police Commissioner "Bull" Connor used powerful fire hoses and vicious police attack dogs against nonviolent black civil rights protesters.

That incident, and Martin Luther King, Jr. How did more info come to be, then, that 35 years later SFC Gerald found himself standing on the side of a dusty road next to a barking police dog, listening to his son weep while officers rummaged through his belongings simply because he was black? Rossano and Gregory Gerald were victims of discriminatory racial profiling by police. There is nothing new about this problem.

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Police abuse against people of color is a legacy of African American enslavement, repression, and legal inequality. Indeed, during hearings of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders "The Kerner Commission" in the fall of where more than witnesses testified about the events leading up to the urban riots that had taken place in cities the previous summer, one of the complaints that came up repeatedly was "the stopping of Negroes on foot or in cars without obvious basis.

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Significant blame for this rampant abuse of power also can be laid at the feet of the government's "war on drugs," a fundamentally misguided crusade enthusiastically embraced by lawmakers and administrations of both parties at every level of government.

From the outset, the war on drugs has in fact been a war on people and their constitutional rights, more info African Americans, Latinos and other minorities bearing the brunt of the damage. It is a war that has, among other depredations, spawned racist profiles of supposed drug couriers.

On our nation's highways today, police ostensibly looking for drug criminals routinely stop drivers based on the color of their skin. This practice is so common that the minority community has given it the derisive term, "driving while black or brown" — a play on the real offense of "driving while intoxicated.

One of the core principles of the Fourth Amendment is that the police cannot stop and detain an individual without some reason — probable cause, or at least reasonable suspicion — to believe that he or she is involved in criminal activity. But recent Supreme Court decisions allow the police to use traffic stops as a pretext in order to "fish" for evidence. Both anecdotal and quantitative data show that nationwide, the police exercise this discretionary power primarily against African Americans and Latinos.

No person link color is safe from this treatment anywhere, regardless of their obedience to the law, their age, the type of car they drive, or their station in life.

In short, skin color has become evidence of the propensity to commit crime, and police use this "evidence" against minority drivers on the road all the time.

Racial profiling is based on the premise that most drug offenses are committed by minorities. The premise is factually untrue, but it has nonetheless become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because police look for drugs primarily among African Americans and Latinos, they find a disproportionate number of them with contraband. Therefore, more minorities are arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and jailed, thus reinforcing the perception that drug trafficking is primarily a minority activity.

This perception creates the profile that results in more stops of minority drivers. At the same time, white drivers receive far less police attention, many of the drug dealers and possessors among them go unapprehended, and the perception that whites commit fewer drug offenses than minorities is perpetuated.

And so the cycle continues. This vicious cycle carries with it profound personal and societal Black People Speed Dating Raleigh Nc Events Downtown Los Angeles. It is both symptomatic and symbolic of larger problems at the intersection of race and the criminal justice system.

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It results in the persecution of innocent people based on their skin color. It has a corrosive effect on the legitimacy of the entire justice system. It deters people of color from cooperating with the police Black People Speed Dating Raleigh Nc Events Downtown Los Angeles criminal investigations.

And in the courtroom, it causes jurors of all races and ethnicities to doubt the testimony of police officers when they serve as witnesses, making criminal cases more difficult to win.

Yet despite overwhelming evidence — including the police department's own statistics on traffic stops — officials in law enforcement continue to deny the reality of racial profiling on our nation's highways.

Some deny that the phenomenon of racial profiling even exists, while others declare with indignation that their officers do not stop motorists on the basis of skin color. Still others argue without apology that making disproportionate numbers of traffic stops of African Americans and other minorities is not discrimination, but rational law enforcement. But as one officer learned, such "honesty" can be a dangerous counterpoint to official denials of profiling.

Carl Williams, New Jersey's Chief of Troopers, was dismissed in March by Governor Christine Todd Whitman soon after a news article appeared in which he defended profiling because, he said, "mostly minorities" trafficked in marijuana and cocaine. Williams' remarks received wide media attention at a time when Whitman and other state officials were already facing heightened media scrutiny over recent incidents of profiling and public anger over police mistreatment of black suspects.

Whitman and her attorney general, Peter Verniero, recouped from Williams' remarks somewhat when they issued a statistical report on April 20, Black People Speed Dating Raleigh Nc Events Downtown Los Angeles, acknowledging that the problem of racial profiling is, as Verniero put it, "real, not imagined.

Surely Whitman had not forgotten that, for the past five years, her legal department had fought a court ruling that a policy of racial profiling was in operation on the New Jersey Turnpike? The court had lambasted the "utter failure by the State Police hierarchy to monitor and control As events in New Jersey demonstrate, even when faced with a lawsuit, statistical evidence from independent experts, public pressure and intensive news coverage, officials in law enforcement and government are not eager to just click for source the problem of racial profiling.

The ACLU believes that addressing the problem will require a multi-faceted effort. Our state affiliates and other civil rights advocates have brought lawsuits based on showings of discrimination by law enforcement agencies, but legal action is only a beginning; these cases are always difficult, long-term efforts that take considerable resources and plaintiffs of unusual fortitude.

For instance, a lawsuit filed in Oklahoma earlier this month on behalf of SFC Gerald and his son may take years to resolve. Legislation at the federal and state levels and local voluntary efforts can advance the momentum to collect accurate data on the problem and rein in overzealous — and sometimes illegal — law enforcement practices.

Fighting crime is surely a high priority. But it must be done without damaging other important values: And unless we address this problem, all of us — not just people of color — stand to lose. The pervasiveness of racial profiling by the police in the enforcement of our nation's drug laws is the consequence of the escalating the so-called war on drugs. Drug use and Black People Speed Dating Raleigh Nc Events Downtown Los Angeles selling are not confined to racial and ethnic minorities in the U.

But the war on drugs has, since its earliest days, targeted people of color. The fact that skin color has now become a proxy for criminality is an inevitable outcome of this process.

The primary mission of the Task Force was to intensify air and sea operations against drug smuggling in the South Florida area, but it was not long before the Florida Highway Patrol entered the fray. The emergence of crack in the spring of and a flood of lurid and often exaggerated press accounts of inner-city crack use ushered in a period of intense public concern about illegal drugs, and helped reinforce the impression that drug use was primarily a minority problem.

Enforcement of the nation's drug laws at the street level focused more and more on poor communities of color. In the mid- to lates, many cities initiated major law enforcement programs to deal with street-level drug dealing. The goal of these inner-city efforts was to make as many arrests as possible, and in that respect, they succeeded. Nationwide, arrests for drug possession reported by state and local police nearly doubled fromin toin Comparable figures for arrests for drug sale and manufacture rose fromin toin Minorities were disproportionately represented in these figures.

According to the government's own reports, 80 here of the country's cocaine users are white, and the "typical cocaine user is a middle-class, white suburbanite.

Thus a "drug courier profile" with unmistakable racial overtones took hold in law enforcement. The profile, described by one court as "an informally compiled abstract of characteristics thought typical of persons carrying illicit drugs," had been used in the war on drugs for some time.

In April of this year, the ACLU of Northern California established a statewide toll-free hotline for victims of discriminatory traffic stops. It has a corrosive effect on the legitimacy of the entire justice system. Yawu Miller, a black reporter with the Bay State Banner, decided to find out how long two black men could drive at night in Brookline, a predominantly white community, before being pulled over by the police. In the early 's, the U.

ByMarkonni's drug courier profile was in use at over 20 airports. The characteristics of the Markonni profile were behavioral. Did the person appear to be nervous? Did he pay for his airline ticket in cash and in large bills? Was he going to or arriving from a destination considered a place of origin of cocaine, heroin or marijuana? Was he traveling under an alias?

In the s, with the emergence of the crack market, skin color alone became a major profile component, and, to an increasing extent, black travelers in the nation's airports and found themselves the subjects of frequent interrogations and suspicionless searches by the DEA and the U.

Carl Williams, New Check this out Chief of Troopers, was dismissed in March by Governor Christine Todd Whitman soon after a news article appeared in which he defended profiling because, he said, "mostly minorities" trafficked in marijuana and cocaine. Williams' remarks received wide media attention at a time when Whitman and other state officials were already facing heightened media scrutiny over recent incidents of profiling and public anger over police mistreatment of black suspects. Trust us, interesting singles over 50 are out there, and you don't have to put up with the stench of a seedy nightclub at 2 a. The minority population that operates motor vehicles in Philadelphia is highly unlikely to be any greater than these numbers, and in all likelihood is less. If your tried-and-true methods of meeting singles are getting stale -- flirting at the gym, going to bars, shmoozing at the dog park -- perhaps it's time for a change of venue.

These law enforcement practices soon spread to train stations and bus terminals, as well. Sometimes the discriminatory nature of profile stops and searches was so blatant that judges took notice. Ina racially biased drug courier profile was introduced to the highway more info by the DEA. That year the agency launched "Operation Pipeline," a little known highway drug interdiction program which has, to date, trained approximately 27, police officers in 48 participating states to use pretext stops in order to find drugs in vehicles.

The techniques taught and widely encouraged by the DEA as part of Operation Pipeline have been instrumental in spreading the use of pretext stops, which are at the heart of Black People Speed Dating Raleigh Nc Events Downtown Los Angeles racial profiling debate.

In fact, some of the training materials used and produced in conjunction with Pipeline and other associated programs have implicitly if not explicitly encouraged the targeting of minority motorists.

The consequences of these law enforcement practices and sentencing policies are painfully evident today in the demographics of our prison population. According to an April report prepared for the U. The African American proportion of drug arrests has risen from 25 percent in to 37 percent in Hispanic and African American inmates are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to be incarcerated for a drug offense. Today, blacks constitute 13 percent of the country's drug users; 37 percent of those arrested on drug charges; 55 percent of those convicted; and 74 percent of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.

At the same time that racial profiling by law enforcement was expanding, the Supreme Court's sensitivity to Fourth Amendment rights was contracting. The constitutionality of pretexual traffic stops — using a minor traffic infraction, real or alleged, as an excuse to stop and search a vehicle and its passengers — reached the U. Supreme Court in in a case called Whren v.

The question before the Court was, is a search constitutional if it would never have taken place if the police were not looking for an excuse to get around the requirements of the Fourth Amendment?

In its friend-of-the-court brief, the ACLU argued that pretextual searches violate the core principles of the Fourth Amendment, and warned that to sanction such searches was to "invite discriminatory enforcement. In practice, the Whren decision has given the police virtually unlimited authority to stop and search any vehicle they want. Every driver probably violates some provision of the vehicle code at some time during even a short drive, because state traffic codes identify so many different infractions.

For example, traffic codes define precisely how long a driver must signal before turning, and the particular conditions under which a driver must use lights. Vehicle equipment is also highly regulated.

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A small light bulb must illuminate the rear license plate. Tail lights must be visible from a particular distance. Tire tread must be at a particular depth.