Posted by on February 09, 2015 in Blog

By Eve Soliman
Winter Intern, 2015

The historic civil rights movement that has seen so much progress continues to be extremely important in pushing for greater equality and confronting societal ills. One of those battles is the use profiling by government law enforcement agencies. Over the past decade, profiling has had a harmful effect not only on the African American community, but the Arab American community as well. Profiling – whether based on race, religion, gender, national origin - is an issue that has brought together a strong partnership between the Arab American, American Muslim, Hispanic, and African American communities across the United States; and it remains a definitive challenge to each group’s civil rights.

The shared struggle against profiling is plainly illustrated by several programs launched by the New York Police Department; a police force known worldwide for their experimentation with new programs to combat crime. In recent years the NYPD has specifically targeted communities of color – specifically the African American, Arab American, and American Muslim communities - using profiling techniques that have highly questionable legality – and many of these programs have ended because of that. But not only does profiling violate the equality of all people and the protections afforded to all U.S. citizens, but programs that use profiling have been repeatedly proven to be ineffective. Take for example the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk program that is widely believed to be legal permission for police targeting of African American males. Of the individuals stopped nearly nine out of ten are innocent and only 2.6% of all stops conducted yielded weapons or other contraband. Police bias in Stop and Frisk is evident: blacks or Latinos make up 90% of all people stopped, 85% of all individuals frisked were black and only 8% of white people were subjected to frisks. The issue of racial profiling and the police force identifying certain areas as crime hot spots is a contributing factor to the disproportionately high incarceration rates of black men.

The same NYPD is responsible for the damaging consequences of the mass surveillance program they launched post 9/11 that targets the Arab American community. The NYPD’s Zone Assessment Unit, sponsored by the CIA, was established to map and monitor the activity of Arab Americans and American Muslims in New York and collected data from other jurisdictions, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And just like the statistics proving Stop and Frisk is an ineffective policing tactic, the NYPD’s surveillance of the American Muslim community did not result in a single lead on terrorist activities in New York.

The African American and Arab American communities have come together to reform the use of profiling by law enforcement agencies and the federal government more broadly. Continued policy changes like the passage of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) and USA Freedom Act are important in combatting profiling and protecting the civil rights of communities of color. Together, leading advocates from communities of color have lobbied Attorney General Eric Holder to reform the laws that permit law enforcement agencies to use profiling as a policing tactic, legal guidance that was found in the Department of Justice’s “Guidance on the Use of Profiling by Law Enforcement.” When AG Holder issued revisions to the key legal framework earlier this year, communities of color stood together to thank the Department of Justice for their efforts, but also to demand that better, more comprehensive reforms be made. Despite the significant strides that have been made towards equality within the social justice system of the U.S.’, the discrimination remains a threat to the progress made by the civil rights movement and we must continue to fight for more equality and protection for all citizens.


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