This past February revealed that the NYPD had been conducting secret surveillance of American-Muslim communities on the East Coast for years – from mosque surveillance to monitoring communications between Muslim Student Association members at various universities, the privacy rights of Americans citizens were gravely violated.
That same month saw the murder of a young African-American teenager in Florida by a Neighborhood Watch Volunteer who claimed the boy “looked suspicious.” He was unarmed, carrying only a bag of Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea from a nearby convenience store.
And just last week, the U.S. Senate hosted a congressional hearing on the End Racial Profiling Act – a bill that would seek to eliminate racial, ethnic and religious profiling of American citizens. It could not come at a more desperate time.
“Racial profiling is un-American. It is against our values, it wastes valuable resources, and it should have no place in modern law enforcement,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), who sponsored the legislation. “It’s time that we move forward in guaranteeing to every American in this country equal justice under the law.”
S. 1670, or the End Racial Profiling Act, would prohibit the use of racial, ethnic or religious profiling by federal, state, or local law enforcement officials, and would create a consistent standard of procedures for receiving, investigating and resolving complaints about racial profiling for all law enforcement agencies. If departments do not comply with the new procedures, they could lose federal funding.
In addition, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), co-sponsors of the End Racial Profiling Act, have gathered signatures from Congress members asking for the reformation of the Department of Justice’s policy on racial profiling. Revisions to the guidance would include measures that prevent profiling based on religion or national origin, and would eliminate loopholes that allow profiling at U.S. borders.
Of the many testimonies heard throughout the hearing, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim-American to be elected into Congress, voiced his own personal concern over the recent religious profiling of American-Muslims.
“I was very proud when my son was elected as President of the Muslim Student Association at his college,” said Rep. Ellison. “But I wondered, was my 18-year-old son subject to surveillance like the students were at Yale, Columbia and Penn? I worry to think that he might be in somebody’s files simply because he wanted to be active on campus.”
It’s a question that many Muslim-Americans are asking themselves. ‘Will our children be subject to investigation because they choose to be involved with their religion?’ Just as African-American parents across the country may be wondering if their son or daughter will be the next Trayvon Martin. And Latino-Americans in states such as Arizona must wonder if they will be interrogated based on the way in which they speak English. It’s a harsh reality in the United States, where there is no comprehensive federal law to protect minority communities from becoming victims of profiling by law enforcement officials.
Opposition to the legislation came in the testimony of Frank Gale, an African-American captain in the Denver County Sheriff’s Department, and a top official in the Fraternal Order of Police.
“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 patently racist and that their universal training is based in practicing racism,” said Gale during the hearing.
Backers of the legislation were quick to acknowledge that the majority of law enforcement officials are professional.
“Let’s be clear,” said Sen. Durbin during his opening statement at the hearing. “The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers perform their jobs admirably, honestly and courageously. They put their lives on the line to protect us every single day. But the inappropriate actions of a few who engage in racial profiling create mistrust and suspicion that hurt all police officers.”
Rep. Ellison has voiced similar sentiment. “What most officers don’t realize is it only takes one person in a blue uniform to act out before people say ‘the police’ did this to me.”
Find out what you can do to support the End Racial Profiling Act, check out CAIR-Chicago’s Action Alert!