Racial Profiling - Laws, Challenges, Reform Efforts

Racial profiling, or the discriminatory act of targeting an individual on suspicion of a crime based on their race or ethnicity, remains pervasive in our society. In 2022 alone, the NYPD pulled over 670,000 motorists. Black and Hispanic drivers made up 55% of stops, but accounted for 86% of arrests and 85% of vehicles searched. White drivers, meanwhile, accounted for 24% of stops, 7% of arrests, and 5% of searches.

Countless incidences of racial profiling go unacknowledged every day. Racial profiling poisons communities’ relationship with law enforcement, perpetuates harmful stereotypes, and puts lives in danger. What’s more, it is still exceedingly difficult to hold law enforcement accountable without the help of a seasoned civil rights attorney.

Laws Concerning Racial Profiling

Americans are theoretically protected from racial profiling by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, while the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the government from denying citizens who are in similar situations equal protection by the law. The amendment’s Equal Protection Clause bars most law enforcement decisions based on race.

State laws concerning racial profiling differ. For instance, 23 states currently have some sort of “stop and identify” statute. In 2015, California passed a law prohibiting racial and identity profiling by law enforcement, and requires law enforcement agencies to report data to the Attorney General’s Office on all vehicle and pedestrian stops, as well as citizen complaints alleging racial and identity profiling. Texas passed similar legislation in 2011, requiring all law enforcement agencies to report racial profiling data their governing body, as well as a dedicated Commission.

The End Racial Profiling Act was introduced in 2001 and would have nationally outlawed racial profiling by law enforcement. At the time, around 80 percent of Americans surveyed agreed that police use of racial profiling should be stopped. However, following the attacks on our nation on September 11th, 2001 and the rise of Islamophobia, the Act did not move forward as public opinion shifted overwhelmingly to “protecting national security.”

Challenges in Litigating Racial Profiling: Qualified Immunity

The doctrine of qualified immunity has increasingly encroached upon the public’s ability to take legal action against racial profiling by law enforcement. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, law enforcement officers used to be able to be held financially liable for violating an individual’s constitutional rights. In 1967, the Supreme Court introduced qualified immunity, which protects law enforcement officers from civil lawsuits if it was determined they had acted in good faith and with probable cause. In 1982, the Supreme Court expanded qualified immunity to grant protection to law enforcement officers regardless of their intensions. The Supreme Court also established that unless there is a legal precedent that closely matches the facts of the officer’s conduct, the officer cannot be found directly liable, no matter how egregious their actions.

Reform Efforts

Many high-profile civil rights lawsuits are raising public awareness of the real-life indignities suffered by victims of racial profiling and shifting public opinion toward reform efforts. These suits are not just limited to law enforcement. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and I notably represented Keyon Harrold Jr. and his father after a 22-year-old woman assaulted the then 14-year-old Harrold Jr. at a SoHo hotel after wrongly accusing the teenager of stealing her phone. The case is another example of the reality of “Living While Black” and illustrates that racial bias still triggers false accusations of criminality toward Black Americans. The subsequent national backlash against the woman and the hotel is a hopeful sign that racial profiling will no longer be tolerated by the public.

Whether committed by law enforcement in the line of duty or by a civilian, racial profiling is a dangerous public health issue that needs to be stopped. While nationally outlawing the practice has proven difficult, it is not impossible to receive compensation if you have been subject to unjustified racial profiling. Having an experienced civil rights attorney fighting on your behalf can help get you get the justice you deserve.

Read the article as published on Medium.com