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Why we need ERPA: Racial profiling lingers amidst proof of targeting

By Aaron Kearney, Government Affairs Intern

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Racial profiling has forever been a potent issue in American society. Though many see it as taboo and outdated since the end of the civil rights movement, a concept of societal inferiority our citizens have risen above, we as a public seem to cave into our racial pre-disposition far too often. Sometimes this is for the public eye, but most of the time it is only seen by those that have to bear the brunt of its tortures’ implications.

This can be anywhere—from students being unjustly spied on at their universities, to simply being an African American walking to your fathers sub-division home. Many see racism and stereotyping as an engrained problem with no legitimate solution, but this is just not true. We as citizens, could make huge strides towards eradicating stereotyping and its disastrous repercussions, starting with the End to Racial Profiling Act (ERPA).

ERPA cannot change the way one acts or thinks towards a group of people; tragically, that is an innate problem. What ERPA can do, however, is keep the leadership of our country—public officials and law enforcement whose job it is to serve and protect—from caving to their racial convictions. It is clear that the leaders who are involved in local and federal law enforcement consistently seem to hold some type of racial bias. It is unclear to this day why African Americans make up 40% of the prison population and only about 12% of the total population in the U.S. Many factors play into these statistics but genetically it is impossible for a race to be more “crime-prone” than another; so why are these racial disparities so large?

September 11th 2001 created a new wave of racial bias that has soaked the country to this day, and whose wake created a rift in our leadership. This crack was substantially widened as an Islamophobic crazed Congress proceeded to allow the passage of such legislation as the PATRIOT Act. In principle, the controversial legislation infringes on the rights of all but has extensively singled out Muslim American “terror suspects.” Another example is the installment of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration system, prefaced to contain all “dangerous peoples” but specifically forced the registration of native from 25 countries temporarily in America, 24 of which were Muslim dominated states.

By 2003 NSEERS undertook almost 80,000 registrations, investigated almost 14,000 cases and made 2,870 detentions based solely on racial bias. By the time the program was disbanded in 2011, it had found zero terror suspects. It did not stop here however, systematic acts of injustice continuing with our leadership’s choice to torture and irrationally detain thousands of people at Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Force base and Abu Ghraib, set in motion the targeting of Muslims that today has become a routine occurrence abroad and at home, most recently displayed by the despicable surveillance of student groups by the NYPD.

In the latest version (SB 1670), ERPA’s potential impact would start with provoking change at the crown of our judicial system, which has been caked in racial bias since its creation, the U.S. Constitution itself being signed and approved by only white males. What the bill does (the first of its kind in a decade) is look to raise accountability within policing departments and create incentives for officers to practice good law enforcement as oppose to racial based oppression. The bill holds stipulations that include a more comprehensive statistical intake of any investigatory activities, additional multifaceted reports and investigations when accusations of abuse arise, and subsidy rewards for districts that comply with the law and keep clean records of abuse. As for now, the bill has been stagnating in committees in both the House and the Senate as the previous drafts done in 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2008.

ERPA’s major proponents claim that its implications will substantially increase the overall success of our policing because it will open up a more trusting bridge in troubled communities that have lost faith in their protectors. The bill will also take resources focused on profiling acts and instead hone them in on creditable investigatory leads—the way criminal investigation is suppose to work in theory. In the case of the NYPD surveillance, it seemed absurd that the department would focus money, personnel and effort on a harmless group of kids instead of on established crime leads. Racial profiling, in its rawest sense is just bad, contradictory law enforcement, as was stated by former Assistant Attorney General on Civil Rights, Ralph Boyd, when he claimed, “Religious or ethnic or racial stereotyping is simply not good policing.”

The biggest critic of the bill, Frank Gale, an African American who is the second vice president of the National Fraternity Order of Police, claims that racial profiling does not necessarily exist in policing. He stated, “This bill provides a ‘solution’ to a problem that does not exist, unless one believes that the problem to be solved is that our nation’s law-enforcement officers are racist.” He also went on to say that the Supreme Court has already ruled that racial profiling is illegal and the law will only implement further bureaucratic hoops to hop through.

The flaw in Gale’s argument comes at the expense of not only law enforcement but the moral substance of our society, the fact that all humans in some way stereotype based on racial markers. Every human exudes some type of pre-conceived notion generalizing demographics. Mr. Gale’s arguments, though idyllic seem out of touch, not acknowledging that there is a problem is in direct contradiction with every recorded statistic in law enforcement implementation. In 2011, the NYPD recorded almost 700,000 pedestrian stops, 91% of which were of non-whites. Further, 88% of those stopped were never found guilty of any crime. In 1999, 72% of young African American males in a Gallup poll claimed they had been racial profiled by police; the poll went on to show that 52 % of the same group had unfavorable views of their local police.

Other opponents of the bill include Roger Clegg, from the conservative think tank, the Center for Equal Opportunity, who claimed that although stereotyping is generally bad in policing, it becomes necessary in light of a constantly transforming atmosphere of crime. During the Congressional hearings on the case,Clegg stated that racial profiling becomes not only acceptable but necessary when looking to prevent incidents like future terror attacks.

He specifically alludes to the fact that stereotyping Muslims and Islamic organizations becomes acceptable in fighting Bush’s War on Terror. Clegg’s perverted support of actions like those solidified in the lines of the PATROIT Act and NSEERS, as well as in the proceedings of the NYPD early this year are, much like Gales statements, in direct contradiction with every statistical collective on the efficiency of policing in its relation to profiling. The blank words of the opposition seem to perpetuate exactly what ERPA is trying to combat, inefficiency based of predetermined falsehoods.

As SB 1670 sits dormant in committee, now is the necessary time to advocate on behalf of its implications. ERPA cannot end racism or stereotyping; that is up to individuals and their ability to break down social barriers. What it can do, however, is create communities that don’t fear the police, but support them. ERPA can empower minority youth to feel more comfortable in their own neighborhoods; it can show the world that the U.S., in a time of hysteria and paranoia, can lead by example by staying true to its liberal democracy and embracing its melting pot of diversity as opposed to annihilating it. ERPA is the change we need for our streets to be safer and our society to be stronger. The late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) once stated that “the business of civil rights remains the unfinished business of America.”

It is time to finish the business. It is time to end racial profiling.

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