Posted by on June 27, 2014 in Blog

By Emily Cooke
Summer Intern, 2014

Even the sun burned in a show of solidarity on Wednesday in front of the Capitol, as its heat matched the fervent, impassioned rhetoric of the many caucus leaders and political activists gathered at a press conference on profiling. Leaders from the Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus congregated in front of the Capitol building, a hallowed beacon of American democracy, to address what is decidedly “un-American” and an affront to democratic values— profiling.

Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, set the stage for authors of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. John Conyers, by emphatically demanding an unconditional end to profiling by federal law enforcement. During the summer of 2013, Sen. Cardin and Rep. Conyers introduced ERPA in both the Senate and the House. Almost a full year later, the June 25th press conference on profiling proves that demands have not changed, and the cries for justice have only gotten louder.

In a display of unyielding unity behind their cause, individuals victimized by profiling also commanded the microphone at Wednesday’s press conference to impart their own powerful stories. It was the account of Anita, an African-American woman senselessly detained at an airport, and the young American Sikh profiled just a few steps away from the conference at Cannon Office Building, that successfully cast profiling as not only a political issue, but a personal one. 

For Sen. Cardin and the victims of profiling that stood proudly behind him, “it’s time to end racial profiling at every level of law enforcement.” The speakers at the press conference convincingly laid out the glaring inadequacies of the DOJ Guidance, and the way profiling inculcates a culture of fear among the numerous minority communities in the United States. Designed to guide the use of profiling by federal law enforcement officers, the DOJ Guidance is rife with oversights that allow profiling based on religious affiliation, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, at borders, or in cases of national security.

AAI has been a part of this conversation to end profiling and amend the Guidance since it was introduced in 2003. In fact, to quote Sen. Cardin or Rep. Conyers at the profiling press conference would be to detail the very same concerns AAI expresses in a “Post 9/11 Civil Rights and Liberties” issue brief. While profiling does not disproportionally impact one minority community more than another, AAI recognizes that in a post 9/11 world, the burden of the Arab American community has grown far heavier. Like those who attended the conference on Wednesday, AAI has and will continue to ensure that all American citizens are “more than a profile.”

Fortunately, the path to reform is abundantly clear. ERPA would effectively prohibit the use of profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion, and a revised DOJ Guidance would eliminate the loopholes that currently sanction profiling in cases related to border or national security.   

Unfortunately, and by no fault of their own, the voices championing reform sound increasingly like a broken record. As Rep. Judy Chu acknowledged Wednesday, the Guidance has not been revised in ten years, allowing codified loopholes to continue usurping the democratic rights and liberties of millions of Americans. While Guidance insufficiencies are blatant, and the necessary reforms are obvious, Rep. Chu specifically cited the NYPD’s surveillance program targeting Arab-Americans to condemn Washington’s regrettable lack of progress.

Boasting support from an impressive array of minority community leaders, politicians, and activists, this press conference united behind one vital plea—that the Obama Administration and Attorney General, Eric Holder, act to ensure that “bad police work will not continue to make good people feel like second class citizens.” This press conference was, however, a positive reminder that political success is not always measured exclusively in tangible laws—rather, achievement might just come in the form of collective action among incredibly diverse American communities.

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